A Brief History of St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Narol
The story of St. Nicholas Church and its founders began around the turn of the twentieth century. During the years 1870 to 1910, North America saw the influx of many immigrants from Eastern Europe who had left their native homelands in search of greater economic and religious freedom. Many Ukrainians came to Manitoba during this period and settled in the rural areas. Between the years 1900 and 1910, immigrants from Brody in Galicia, a region in Western Ukraine, came to Manitoba and settled along the Red River in the area north of Winnipeg. They settled along the east bank of the Red River as far east as Birds Hill. Most of these new Canadians were either peasants, or of working-class extraction. For these immigrants, dissatisfied with the changes occurring in their native country, the region along the Red River offered potentially good farming and a fresh start. In fact, this area of the province is still noted for its market gardening.
These new immigrants also brought with them their own form of worship, and a unique religious and cultural heritage. Rooted in the eastern Christian tradition from their country of origin, most of these Ukrainian settlers were Byzantine Catholics from the town of Brody (in Western Ukraine). While there was a fluidity between the Orthodox and the “Greek” Catholic rites, this did not explain why, when the time came to organize a parish where the newcomers could worship together, the new parish was Orthodox Christian.
One very powerful possibility is that the Russian Mission was active in the area. A most dynamic member in the Mission was (saint) Igumen Arseny (Chavstov), who was assigned to Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Winnipeg from 1908 to 1910. Igumen Arseny (Chavstov) was fluent in Ukrainian and also in many of the Russian dialects. He was a very compelling preacher, and “from almost the moment he arrived in Canada, the Canadians loved him”. Arseny concentrated his efforts in welcoming back the Ukrainian Catholics into the Orthodox Church, and in appealing to the Galicians and Bukovynians who were emigrating en masse at the time. Thus, it appears that the Holy Spirit was very active in the blessed Arseny as he did his mission work.
In 1911, after some deliberation, the people in Narol, Manitoba, formed the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. In 1913, they received the title for the land, donated by Roman and Anna Bilyk, and for the church. The trustees were Platon Rozhdestvensky, the Archbishop of the North American Russian Orthodox Mission; Andrew Nebozenko; Nicholas Pronishen; Wasyl Barchyn; and John Rybarchuk.
Once the foundations for parish life had been laid, the actual construction of the building could begin. The church that was built was a simple, wooden, oblong-shaped building. Along with the church, a belfry was also constructed on the west side of the lot. Behind the church was a small area which was eventually to become the cemetery. The construction of the church and belfry was carried out by members of the parish and other local people.
As far as it is known, the exterior and interior construction was carried out to completion without any delays. The interior of the parish was simple, yet representative of Orthodox Christian traditions at the time. The iconostasis and icons were built at this time by two local people by the names of Anthony Kolton and Thadeus Ewachniuk (later ordained a priest to serve in Western Canada) . These men had the skill needed to make the church icons and they were also willing to sacrifice their time to make them. Thus the building of the parish was accomplished through what was almost entirely a community effort.
Like many Orthodox Churches, St. Nicholas was served on a intermittent basis, by local clergy. As such, St. Nicholas never had formal church services on Sundays during this period. The celebrants would travel to St. Nicholas only during the week, and thus, all the services were held on weekdays, which suited the flexible schedule of the local farmers. The various celebrants would generally make special trips to the parish for religious holidays. While the liturgies would be performed on weekdays, Sundays would often consist of the parishioners getting together to sing reader’s services. Celebrations and other cultural events would be organized by the parishioners throughout the year. During these early years, St. Nicholas had a sisterhood, and the business affairs of the church were handled by the parish council.
Parish life continued, almost unaltered, during the 1930’s. While the depression and later war years had the effect of changing people’s lives and values, the people continued worshipping in the same manner as they always had done. In fact, during these troubled times, the Church became even more important. Some of the members who remember the 1930’s feel, with great certainty that the Church played a very significant role in unifying the people and giving them hope. Rather than being years of spiritual impoverishment, the 1930’s saw somewhat of a revival of the religious life of the members of St. Nicholas. Much of this renewed religious life was a direct result of the spiritual guidance given by the then Bishop Arseny.
After World War II ended, many of the soldiers returned to their homes to begin a normal life again. However, in 1946, the church building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. (The priest at this time was Father Anthony Horowsky.) After this natural disaster, the parish members knew that a new church building would have to be constructed, and that this would be a major undertaking. After much deliberation and fund raising, the new building was completed in 1951.
Not only had the physical dimension of the parish life changed as a result of the 1946 fire, but the psychological & spiritual disposition of many of the parishioners had changed as a result of World War II.
Those who had been overseas, and had seen and experienced life and death in a profound way, had come back to rural Manitoba with a much greater world view. They now wanted more out of life than the rural community could offer, and sensed the need to move to Winnipeg and beyond. Intermarriage also played an important role. Many of the young adults who were members of St. Nicholas married outside of the Orthodox Church and went to their spouses’ churches. One couple, Steve and Marie Bilan, stayed with St. Nicholas. Marie remembers that at the time of their wedding at St. Nicholas in 1961, the Church had no pews, and did have beautiful hardwood floors.
The next years were stable ones for the parishioners of St. Nicholas. The new Church continued under the leadership and guidance of Father Efemy Moseychuk from 1952 to 1982. During this period was the momentous granting of autocephaly in 1970 by the Moscow Patriarchate to the Metropolia, also known as the Russian Mission or Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America. The Local Church would now be known as the Orthodox Church in America, whose official language would now be the vernacular language of the said country and whose official calendar would be the new or Gregorian calendar. True to form, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Narol affirmed its membership in the Orthodox Church in America, and began to use more and more English in the services.
Fr. Efemy continued to serve St. Nicholas parish casually until 1984. He was often quite a serious man, but also had a humorous side. One year shortly before Christmas, Fr. Moseychuk asked Sophie Barchyn if she could procure two silver dollar coins for him. Sophie was somewhat perplexed, but after some deliberation and anxiety, was able to get the two coins through a sister that worked in Winnipeg. Just in time for the Christmas liturgy, Sophie presented the valuable coins to Fr. Efemy, wondering if she’d get two dollars back for them. The priest simply thanked her, and that was that. Then, after liturgy, Derek Barchyn, who was a ten-year-old altar server, proudly showed his mother the shiny new coin. She asked him, “Did you get that from Fr. Ephymy?” Derek answered, “Yes. He gave me one, and the other altar boy, Michael Koniak, one.” So the mystery was solved!
Officially between 1982 and 1987, Evan Lowig was the rector of St. Nicholas and involved the members in catechizing and adult education classes. Evan often commented on how well the cantors knew their music, and how all felt a great need for mission. He also championed Galician chant as a treasure of St. Nicholas Church’s musical heritage. Is of note that during this time English started to be used more than Slavoinc in its services.
During 1988 to 1991, Fr. Daniel Baeyens and later Fr. Vladimir Wenda, while rectors at Holy Trinity Orthodox Sobor’ in Winnipeg, served St. Nicholas as they could. It was under Fr. Vladimir that St. Nicholas parish changed to the new calendar.
Then on June 23, 1991, Robert Stephen Kennaugh (affectionately known as Father Bob) was ordained to the priesthood and assigned to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Narol, and has been with the community ever since. Under Fr. Bob’s guidance, St. Nicholas has moved to an entirely English liturgy. The parish is teeming with young families, most being converts to Orthodoxy. St. Nicholas has a liturgy three Sundays out of four, led by Matuskha Dianne Kennaugh’s lovely voice.
In 2012, Fr. Bob was granted retirement, and the parish took the bold step of more than doubling its budget to bring in Fr. Gregory Scratch and his family from Ottawa, as its first “full time” priest. This started a new chapter for St. Nicholas, that was marked by steady growth of those seeking the riches of Orthodox Christianity.