Wooden Chapels and Orthodoxy in America

    

Long before the first temple was constructed in Jerusalem, the God of all creation dwelt among his people in a tent. This mobile, wilderness tabernacle preceded the temple of Solomon by several years.

And when the Orthodox Christian faith arrived in the United States, many of the first churches were essentially log cabins.

Log buildings were not only popular for settlers’ homesteads, but were also commonly used by Russian immigrants as places of worship. Log-based churches were common in Russia, as well as in Alaska. When Orthodoxy reached the continental United States, the first church building exhibited a sort of “log cabin” construction.

Russian settlers built an outpost in Northern California in 1812, and the first Orthodox church in the continental United States was built at Fort Ross. In its early years, it served the Orthodox settlers in their divine services, but its spiritual impact extends far beyond the early 1800s.

Thom Nickels—who was raised Catholic—recounts his memories as a 12-year-old at the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair. There he noticed a significant difference between the modern, Vatican Pavilion, and a replica of the “log cabin” Orthodox church at Fort Ross:

My first glimpse of Orthodoxy was at the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair. I’d gone to the Fair with my family primarily to visit the Vatican Pavilion, a modernist white building that had a futuristic look and that effectively mirrored the reformatting of Catholicism taking place in Rome at the Second Vatican Council . . . Inside the Pavilion there was also the modernist Chapel of the Good Shepherd with its minimalist altar table, glass stained windows but not much else . . .

At the time, I sensed that the chapel design hinted at coming changes in Catholic Church architecture. I was right . . . My sense is that many Catholics then excused minimalist, Protestant looking church interiors if there was enough stained glass to take the mind off what had been eliminated.

Not far from the Pavilion was a small log cabin church with a three-bar cross on top. I knew the cross to be Russian Orthodox. The chapel was a replica of the first Orthodox chapel in America built in the 1800s at [Fort Ross], California. While the rustic exterior put one in mind of Lincoln Logs or Lewis and Clark expeditions, the interior — we had to peer through the windows because the chapel was locked — revealed something startling: a small chandelier illuminating a colorful iconostasis in the center of which were circles of electric candles and a replica of the framed (miraculous) icon of Our Lady of Kazan.

The beauty of that small log cabin church far surpassed anything in the great white Pavilion monolith with its cold and empty Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

It was then that I asked myself: What is this thing called Orthodoxy?

The log chapel at Fort Ross holds a special place in my own heart, as well. As far as I can recall, it was the first Orthodox church building that I had ever seen.

I was still a Protestant Christian and in my early twenties, visiting Uncle Preston in Stockton, California. He took me sight-seeing, and we walked around Fort Ross together. That’s when I saw the log chapel, and first read about Orthodox Christianity’s entrance into the continental United States. At that time, it was merely an historical curiosity.

Little did I know that ten years later, I would convert to the Orthodox Christian faith, be ordained as a deacon, and be writing this very post about that Fort Ross chapel.

I am forever grateful to the faithful people who built that simple church for God in the early nineteenth century. They probably didn’t realize their efforts would impact people, and their devotion to Christ, for centuries to come.

In this, we should be reminded to never underestimate the impact God can make through us, when we give Him small and even humble offerings. Even through the building of a humble, log chapel, God does more than we could possibly imagine.

See also
The Saints of Fort Ross The Saints of Fort Ross The Saints of Fort Ross The Saints of Fort Ross
One came by schooner, and then horseback. Two came by steam locomotive, and then stagecoach. Holy men on a mission-they came, they prayed and departed. Their presence at Fort Ross, Russian colony turned California State Park, is exceptional. It is the only public park in the United States that has been graced by three saints. In a sense, Fort Ross is a kind of hallowed ground.
"I Give Thanks to the Lord:" An Interview with Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan
Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan
"I Give Thanks to the Lord:" An Interview with Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan
Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan
I always desired to serve in church or in a monastery, but I had no idea where or how. Most important for me was to help people and pass along what I had received from others. Simply put, I always relied on the will of God. And the Lord led me.
Eating Crawfish Like An Orthodox Eating Crawfish Like An Orthodox
Rod Dreher
Eating Crawfish Like An Orthodox Eating Crawfish Like An Orthodox
Rod Dreher
Shawnee and I were in a shop in town this weekend when someone asked her what the documentary was going to be about. One thing she said stuck with me: “The culture of death is everywhere. I’m wanting to show people, especially young people, that there’s another way. That there’s hope.”
A Different Light: Youthful Travelers in Contemporary America A Different Light: Youthful Travelers in Contemporary America
Nun Nectaria (McLees)
A Different Light: Youthful Travelers in Contemporary America A Different Light: Youthful Travelers in Contemporary America
Nun Nectaria (McLees)
Twentieth-century readers knew Kerouac’s On the Road and Jack London’s earlier hobo classic, The Road, but how many of us know what the 21st-century counter-culture is up to, their life-styles and aspirations? We see the tattoos, nose-rings, attitudes, but do we hear the cries of the heart from young people searching for truth? In the following interview Rainbow (Xenia) Lundeen and Seth (John) Haskins, both baptized Orthodox after this conversation, share the by-ways they’ve taken in trying to live out the Gospel in their lives.
Orthodox Field Guide: Orthodoxy in America Orthodox Field Guide: Orthodoxy in America
Jamey Bennett
Orthodox Field Guide: Orthodoxy in America Orthodox Field Guide: Orthodoxy in America
Jamey Bennett
Orthodoxy came to America in four waves. The first wave was by missionary activity in Alaska, a land that belonged to Russia at the time.
Metropolitan Hilarion and Metropolitan Ilarion Lead Anniversary Celebrations at Fort Ross, CA Metropolitan Hilarion and Metropolitan Ilarion Lead Anniversary Celebrations at Fort Ross, CA Metropolitan Hilarion and Metropolitan Ilarion Lead Anniversary Celebrations at Fort Ross, CA Metropolitan Hilarion and Metropolitan Ilarion Lead Anniversary Celebrations at Fort Ross, CA
On August 25, 2012, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, and His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, officiated at Divine Liturgy in Fort Ross, CA, the first Russian settlement in California.
Comments
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 700 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 700

Subscribe
to our mailing list

* indicates required
×