EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCHES. There are many parallels between the beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox church and those of the Roman Catholic church, but there are also fundamental differences. Some of the beliefs and traditions unique to Eastern Orthodoxy help to explain both the role of the church in the life of Cleveland's Orthodox immigrants and the impact of American society on the churches. Eastern Orthodox Christians contend that all bishops have equal authority, rejecting Roman Catholicism's claim of universal supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, i.e., the Pope. During the Middle Ages, Eastern Orthodoxy evolved into several independent exarchates and patriarchies, with the patriarch of Constantinople as honorary leader. However, each of the other patriarchies was a separate entity with its own leader or patriarch (autocephalous). Supreme authority resided in the Ecumenical Council. Each patriarchy was identified by region or nationality, such as Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox. Such designations were really a convenient but inaccurate way of saying, for example, the "Eastern Orthodox churches of the Greek Rite." Thus, the Orthodox churches in immigrants' homelands were closely tied to regional, national, and cultural heritage, in some areas representing the people's sole expression of nationality.
Many Eastern Orthodox immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Near East settled in Cleveland between 1880-1924. They brought strong allegiances to their homelands' mother churches and soon formed parishes which maintained ties to the mother churches and helped preserve ethnic traditions. Liturgies continued to be performed in the languages of the first-generation immigrants, and priests were generally born and educated in the Old World. The tradition of autonomy was observed among Cleveland Eastern Orthodox churches; ethnic-language liturgies discouraged multi-ethnic congregations. Gradually, however, changes occurred. Communist takeovers of certain countries in Eastern Europe strained relations between the mother churches and their American branches. Questions of allegiance and politics divided parishioners. In one case, that of St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, such a dispute found no resolution short of schism within the church and a lengthy legal battle. Second- and third-generation descendants, no longer fluent in the language of their ancestors, found it difficult to understand ethnic-language liturgies. Many churches requested bilingual priests, and some adopted English for the liturgy. At the same time, assimilation of ethnic descendants into mainstream American culture and a weakening sense of identity with European nationalities produced a sense of religious community across nationality lines among some members. One expression was the creation of the Orthodox Church of America, which several Cleveland churches joined.
Another challenge faced by early Eastern Orthodox churches in Cleveland involved the movement of parishioners to the SUBURBS. By the 1950s the inner-city neighborhoods of many older Orthodox churches often contained few members of the original ethnic community. In some cases, such as with Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, these churches attracted ethnic members throughout Greater Cleveland and continued to serve as the cultural, social, and spiritual center for their ethnic congregations. Other churches relocated to suburban areas, and new Orthodox parishes formed there. By the 1960s more than 100,000 Clevelanders belonged to the city's 12 Orthodox Christian churches. In the 1980s the U.S. Eastern Orthodox churches did not have a central headquarters. Many churches were organized along national lines and still connected with their respective mother churches. In 1995 Eastern Orthodox churches in Greater Cleveland included the Russian, Greek, Carpatho-Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Romanian, Serbian, Armenian, Syrian, Albanian, and American Orthodox. A Greek Orthodox monastery, ST. HERMAN OF ALASKA MONASTERY AND HOUSE OF HOSPITALITY, was also located in the city.
Although all of the Eastern Orthodox churches in Cleveland shared many of the same experiences, each church also enjoyed a unique ethnicity. Thus, church responses to the various pressures from within and without differed. Although the homelands of the CARPATHO-RUSSIANS, UKRAINIANS, and BYELORUSSIANS were under the control of the Soviet Union for many years, each group in America maintains its own ethnic Orthodox church. The majority of Cleveland's early Russian Eastern Orthodox churches were established by Carpatho-Russian immigrants from the northern Carpathian region of Eastern Europe. The city's Ukrainian Orthodox churches, separate from the Russian Orthodox churches, were founded by Ukrainian immigrants primarily from the Carpathian Mountain regions and the Western Ukraine. Most of Cleveland's Belarusians came here as White Russian refugees from Germany, Belgium, and England after World War II.
The first Orthodox parish in Cleveland was St. Theodosius, founded in 1896. In 15 years this Russian Orthodox church grew from a simple frame structure on Literary Rd. at W. 6th St. to the ST. THEODOSIUS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL, which was still one of the foremost Russian Orthodox churches in America in the 1990s. In 1904 the first Ukrainian Orthodox services in Cleveland were conducted in a small hall on W. 14th St. The St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church was completed in 1933 at 2280 W. 11th St. As parishioners moved to the suburbs, the church followed. From 1957-66, worship was held in the old Parma city hall. In 1966, a new St. Vladimir Church at 5913 State Rd. in PARMA was completed, with the domes added in 1974. Several other Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches were located in Greater Cleveland in 1986. These included St. Michael Russian Orthodox Church, Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church, St. Sergius Russian Orthodox Church, SS. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Autocephalos Orthodox Church, St. Andrew Eastern Orthodox Church, and St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Cleveland's only Byelorussian parish was formed in 1950 and conducted worship in a W. 25th St. residence until a new Belarusian Autocephalic Orthodox church, Our Lady of Zyrovicy, was constructed (W. 25th Street and Scranton Rd. SW). Fifteen immigrant Greeks started the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation in 1912 in the Arch Hall at the corner of Ontario and Bolivar. One year later the church moved to a hall at W. 14th St. and Fairfield. The building was razed in 1917 and replaced in 1919 by the present ANNUNCIATION GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH. The newer parishes of SS. Constantine & Helen, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox, and St. Paul Greek Orthodox were established as people moved to
the suburbs. In 1904 immigrant Romanians organized ST. MARY'S ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH, reportedly the first Romanian Orthodox parish in America. There is also a smaller Romanian Orthodox parish in Greater Cleveland named Bunavestire Church.
Serbian immigrants founded a Serbian school-church congregation and named it St. Sava in 1909. The parish soon outgrew the small house in which services had been held, and the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church relocated to E. 36th St. and Paine Ave. in 1918. After World War II, as the church grew and more Orthodox SERBS settled in the suburbs of Cleveland, church members decided to build a new church at 6303 Broadview Rd. in Parma. However, before this church could be consecrated, 2 factions emerged within the congregation, each fighting for control (see ST. SAVA SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CONTROVERSY).
ARMENIANS settled in Cleveland between 1908 and the end of World War I. Religious services were initially held in space made available by several local Protestant churches, especially Episcopal churches. In 1963 the St. Gregory of Narek Armenian Apostolic Church was built on Richmond Rd. in RICHMOND HTS., the first Armenian church in Ohio. In 1928 ST. GEORGE ORTHODOX ANTIOCHIAN CHURCH-Antiochian was founded by Syrian immigrants in the heart of the largest Syrian community in Cleveland. Albanian immigrants first arrived in Cleveland in the 1910s. In 1938 they established the society of St. E. Premte. In 1944 the society purchased land for a church. The first structure, a hall was completed in 1955. Rev. Stephen Lasko came to serve the parish that year. The hall on Jasper Ave. served the parish until a church building was completed in 1965. St. E. Premte Orthodox Church, an Albanian Orthodox church is located at 10716 Jasper Rd. SW.
Continuing Americanization is evident in several local Eastern Orthodox churches. The first parish in the U.S. to call itself the American Orthodox Church was Cleveland's Christ the Saviour American Orthodox Church. It was founded in 1964 in Parma by Rev. Stephen Jula, assoc. pastor of St. Theodosius. In 1976 the 250-member church relocated to NORTH ROYALTON. The church, part of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in America, uses English in services and shares the same liturgy as other Eastern Orthodox churches. The first Orthodox church in Greater Cleveland to conduct all its services in English was Holy Trinity. The parish was organized in 1963 and conducted services at Parma Memorial Hall. By 1965, when ground was broken for a new church, the congregation had grown to 400 people. In a similar situation, St. Innocent Orthodox Church in WESTLAKE was organized in 1983 and has conducted services since 1984 in a chapel rented from a Protestant church on Hilliard Blvd. There were approx. 60-70 individuals in the congregation in 1986. By the mid-1990s, 26 orthodox churches, including St. Herman of Alaska and St. Nectarios Shrine, served Greater Cleveland. Many of these churches and their parishioners enjoyed renewed ties with countries that had been freed from Soviet domination.
Nicholas J. Zentos
Lorain County Community College
Cuyahoga Community College
See also specific Orthodox immigrant groups.
Links: Greater Cleveland Council of Orthodox Clergy Webpage