Holy Transfiguration of Christ Orthodox Cathedral has played an important role in the history of one of the largest ethnic neighborhoods in the State, as well as having importance as a center of the Carpatho-Russian and Serbian ethnic immigrant communities, and as the earliest Orthodox Church in Colorado.
The church is located within the heart of Globeville, an old ethnic community in north Denver. Unlike other ethnic enclaves in the state, Globeville was unique in that it originated as an independent community in the late 1880s. The Globe Smelting and Refining Company was organized in 1889. The company purchased ranch land and platted a small town for its workers. The other nearby smelters and packing houses attracted more workers to the small town. Two years later, Globeville was incorporated with its own city hall, post office, hotel, several stores, and no less than 16 saloons. The old town jail can still be seen incorporated into the structure of the Ingbar Pipe and Steel company on the Northwest corner of 48th and Washington Streets. By 1893, the population of Globeville was 2,550 and the figure grew to 4,000 by 1907. By 1910, much of the community had been annexed by Denver to the south. The various ethnic groups tended to stay together and settle in different areas of the town. For the Carpatho-Russian and Serbian immigrant communities, their ethnic neighborhood consisted of the area immediately surrounding Logan Street and East 47th Avenue.
The smelter workers and other industrial workers who located in Globeville in the late 1880s and early 1900s included immigrants from almost every central and eastern European country. Among these immigrants were Slavic peoples from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, chiefly from the provinces of Galicia and Hungary, who were known as Carpatho-Russians. Although traditionally Eastern Orthodox, these peoples found themselves living under the rule of traditionally Roman Catholic Poland and Austria, and were considered by these governments to be second-class citizens. Many of these immigrants were subject to cultural and religious oppression. Under these circumstances, many found themselves subject to the "Uniate" or "Greek Catholic" church: Eastern Rite Christians under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the late 19th Century, many Carpatho-Russians began leaving their native lands for America to be free of the economic, political and religious oppression and conscription into the armed forces of the Austria-Hungary Empire. Some of these immigrants arrived in Denver, Colorado and settled in Globeville. Many of these early immigrants were single men without families or those who had left families behind while they searched for work and a good place to settle. When they had earned enough money, these men would bring their wives, children and sometimes parents to this country or they sent enough money home for the families to make the trip alone.
In his article "Czechs and Slovaks in Colorado, 1860-1920," M. James Kedro says of immigrant settlements, "...the ethnic neighborhood was usually a haven where acclimation to a new environment might be achieved with less stress." and "These communities, in conjunction with the church and fraternal benefit societies ... did permit the immigrant to cope with drastically new surroundings" (Colorado Magazine, Spring 1977). In the late 1890's, religious, educational and social institutions were being established to meet the needs of the new community and to help bridge the gap between the Old World cultures and the road to American citizenship.
For the Carpatho-Russians and Serbs, the primary institution became Holy Transfiguration Church. In 1898, a band of "Slavish" people began meeting for services in one of Globeville's two German Reformed Churches. In September of 1898, the parish was incorporated as the "Greek Catholic Church, Transfiguration of Christ". The founding members, each of whom contributed $50, were: George Pristash, Stephan Kulick, John Cintala, Sr., George Slovak, John Mindzak, Michael Kohut, Panko Homyak, Peter Kohut, John Wysowatcky, George Lesko, and Michael Dugan.
In that same year, six lots were purchased at the present site of the church (East 47th and Logan Streets) for the sum of $350. Work on the construction of the church was begun that same year. The total cost of the lots and of construction of the church amounted to $4,082.
The new parish also sent for a priest, Fr. Nicholas Seregely, from Austria-Hungary. Fr. Seregely had been ordained by the Uniates in Europe. The appearance of this new, Eastern Rite parish seems to have initially confused both the Denver press, who at various times identified the church as Croatian Orthodox or as Maronite (Lebanese) Catholic, and the local Roman Catholic Bishop, who was unfamiliar with the Eastern Rite and who cut off Fr. Nicholas' income and sought to close the parish. Fr. Nicholas apparently kept both the problems with the Bishop and his own financial straights from the parish, and continued to serve the parish until his death, which was reported in the Denver Post to have been from starvation, in 1903.
With the death of Fr. Nicholas, the parish found itself confronted with both the loss of a pastor and with an attempt by the local Roman Catholic Bishop to replace their Eastern Rite Liturgy with the Latin Rite. Confronted with these challenges, in May of 1903 a special parish meeting was convened, and the parish decided to petition Bishop Tikhon, Bishop of the Russian Orthodox American Mission, to receive the parish into the Russian Orthodox Church. On June 15, 1903, the request was granted, and Bishop Tikhon sent Fr. John Nedzelnitsky from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to receive the parish into Orthodoxy. Thus, Holy Transfiguration became the first Orthodox Church in Colorado.
According to the Russian Orthodox Almanac of 1905, there were at this time only about 30 Russian Orthodox Churches in the entire United States, not including Alaska and Canada.
On September 27, 1903, Fr. Vladimir Kolneff arrived to take over the parish. During 1903 and 1904, Fr. Vladimir supervised the construction of the Iconostas, and the building of the Russian School (on the site of the present Parish Hall), which in future decades became known as "The Old Saw Mill", a Globeville landmark, popular neighborhood gathering place and early social focus of the Slavic community.
Holy Transfiguration is one of the few church structures still existing in the United States that was consecrated by Bishop (now Saint) Tikhon, who was the Russian Orthodox Bishop of America from 1898 to 1907. It was St. Tikhon who accepted Holy Transfiguration parish into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1903. In 1904, St. Tikhon visited the church, and ordered the parishioners to construct an iconostas in order to conform the church to Orthodox worship in preparation of the building's consecration. Upon consecrating the church in 1905, St. Tikhon personally constructed the original altar table by hand and placed relics of his own patron saint, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, in the original altar table. The original altar table is still contained within the present altar table, which was constructed around and above it. St. Tikhon also presented the Church with a diploma, or "Gramota", from the Holy Synod of Russia, the highest Ecclesiastical authority in the Russian Orthodox Church at that time.
In February of 1907, St. Tikhon returned to Russia, where he ruled as Bishop of Yaroslavl until 1914, when he was transferred to the Diocese of Vilnius. In 1917, St. Tikhon was elected Metropolitan of Moscow, where in 1917-1918 he presided over the All-Russia Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which decided to restore the Russian Patriarchate, which had been suppressed in 1700 by Czar Peter the Great. On November 21, 1917, St. Tikhon was elected by his fellow Bishops to be the first Patriarch of Moscow in over 200 years. As Patriarch, St. Tikhon endured the intense persecution of the Church by the Bolsheviks, until his death on April 7, 1925.
In October of 1989, Bishop Tikhon was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, with the title "St. Tikhon, Enlightener of North America and Confessor of Moscow". An icon of St. Tikhon appears on the iconostas in Holy Transfiguration Church. St. Tikhon is now one of the most revered saints by the Orthodox of North America.
Several benevolent societies were connected with the church. The oldest of them is the Russian Orthodox Society Transfiguration of Christ. This society was connected with the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The next oldest is the Serbian Benevolent Society "Balkan" connected with the "Serbobran" Aid Society of Pittsburgh, Pa., now the Serb National Federation.
Early pastors of Holy Transfiguration included Fr. Gregory Shutak (1905-1908), Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich (1908-1909), Fr. Dimitri Holovitsky (1909-1913), Fr. Elias Klopotovsky (1913-1914), and Fr. Iouniky Kraskoff (1914-1916). In 1913, Mr. Stephan Kulick, a prominent parishioner, undertook a pilgrimage throughout North America to raise funds for the construction of a rectory. This was accomplished in 1914, when the old rectory on the Southwest corner of 14th and Logan Streets was sold and a large red brick rectory was constructed next to the Church.
After the departure of Fr. Iouniky in 1916, Holy Transfiguration endured a curious episode that illustrates both the difficulties of the early Orthodox Church in America and its relations with the Roman Catholic Church. A new priest, Fr. Theo Kulchinzky, arrived at the Church doorstep claiming to be sent by "the Bishop". He was welcomed, and served for a year before the Parish Council discovered that Fr. Theo was surreptiously commemorating the Roman Pope during the Divine Liturgy. Apparently, the new priest was in fact a Uniate sent by the Roman Catholic Diocese in an attempt to reclaim the Parish! When confronted by the Parish Council, Fr. Theo admitted his origins, and was told that, while the parishioners had no desire to return to Roman Catholicism, they liked him personally and would have no objections to him continuing to be Rector so long as he converted to Orthodoxy.
Fr. Theo declined this offer, and Holy Transfiguration received a new priest, Fr. Michael Kaymakan, who served from 1917 until 1922. During his tenure St. Michael the Archangel Chapel was constructed in the Orthodox section of historic Riverside Cemetery in memory of John Wysowatcky, a young parishioner who fell in combat during the First World War.
The 1920s were a time of troubles for Holy Transfiguration, as for the Orthodox Church in America in general. At the time, although Orthodoxy in America was united, the administration of the Church was highly reliant on missionary funds from Russia to pay the salaries of priests and all the administrative expenses of the Diocese. With the fall of Russia to the Bolsheviks in 1918, communications with Russia were cut off, as were the source of funds. To make matters worse, Bishop Evdokim, the ruling Hierarch in America, was trapped in Russia, leaving control of the North American Diocese to Bishop Alexander (Nemolovsky), who when faced with mounting debt began to mortgage parish properties held in the name of the Diocese. Sadly, Holy Transfiguration was one of these. Whatever the merits of Bishop Alexander's actions, this act was interpreted by the parishioners as "the Bishop sold our church".
Adding to the confusion was the "Living Church" schism, named after the Soviet-controlled puppet church set up by the Soviet government in opposition to the canonical Russian Orthodox Church. The Soviet government sent "Bishop" John Kedrovsky, a Living Church Bishop, to America where he presented himself as the Hierarch of the "Russian Orthodox Church in America". Matters became so confused that at one point the parishioners of Holy Transfiguration filed a lawsuit naming every "Bishop and so called Bishop" in America and asking the court to give the Parish control of the Church property.
At this point, Fr. Michael Kaymakan left the parish, and Fr. Alex Boguslavsky arrived at the parish on assignment from the canonical Russian Orthodox Bishop. A few months later, Fr. Joseph Takach arrived on assignment from "Bishop" John Kedrovsky of the Living Church. The people seemed to feel sympathy for Fr. Takach, who shared their Carpatho-Russian background and language.
A bitter split ensued in the Parish which was to endure for four years. Initially, the Fr. Boguslavsky faction retained control of the Church, while the numerically larger Fr. Takach faction held services in the Grey's Dry Good Store, formerly at 46th and Washington Sts. in Globeville. However, in the meantime the holder of the mortgage foreclosed on the Church, and the property was purchased at a Sheriff's sale by Mr. Lesko, a member of the Fr. Takach faction. Fr. Boguslavsky then withdrew, and was succeeded by Fr. Nicholas Kushevich, who retained control of the Rectory while the Fr. Takach faction remained in control of the Church building. Finally, in 1926 Fr. Kushevich was dislodged from the Rectory, leaving Fr. Takach in control of the entire Parish.
In the early 1920s, the original red brick of the Church was covered with a white, stucco veneer. Parish oral history relates that this change was made because, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the parishioners considered it inappropriate to worship in a "Red" church. However, this may also have been intended to retard damage to the brick exterior.
Despite his dubious origins, Fr. Takach managed to unite the divergent elements of the Parish. He ensured an equal place for the Serbian Orthodox community, and through his influence prominent parishioner Vaso Chucovich gave the Church $3500 to redeem the remaining mortgages on the Church property. Out of respect for this act, and "in order to promote better understanding with our Serbian Orthodox Brothers," the Church was renamed the "Russian-Serbian Church, Transfiguration of Christ."
Fr. Takach died in an automobile accident in 1930, while on a trip to serve house blessings in the Calhan area. In the final analysis, Fr. Takach managed to reunite a divided parish, eliminate the mortgage, and serve the needs of the scattered Orthodox Slavic communities throughout Colorado. Although associated with the Living Church, he never once attempted to impose any of the dubious and uncanonical "reforms" advocated by that group upon Holy Transfiguraton. His passing was sincerely mourned, and he was long remembered by the Holy Transfiguration parishioners.
The Stock Market crash of October 1929 and subsequent Great Depression caused severe difficulties for the Holy Transfiguration community. In 1929, Holy Transfiguration listed 176 contributors and an annual income of $5,407.09; by 1933, the list of contributors had fallen to 58, and the annual income had declined by almost 70% to $1,724.45. During this time, the children of impoverished parishioners found themselves leaving school for low paying jobs in the slaughter houses and pulling sugar beets, and marriage plans were delayed for years because of obligations to younger brothers and sisters or aging parents.
Fr. Takach was followed by the mercurial Fr. John Mahonchak, who served from 1931-1932. Fr. John is chiefly remembered for stating "I don't like the way this is going" and pulling a revolver on Starosta John Machuga during a rather contentious annual parish meeting. He was succeeded by Fr. Vladimir Richloff (1932-1936), who finally returned the parish to canonical regularity under the Metropolia and who served as Rector until his death.
Fr. Vladimir was succeeded by Fr. Athanasy Markowich, who served a record 23 years as Rector of Holy Transfiguration. Fr. Athanasy shepherded the parish through World War II, during which one of the parish youth, Theodore Dorak, died in naval combat. He, too, is commemorated at St. Michael the Archangel Chapel. The aftermath of World War II saw a second great wave of Orthodox immigration to the Denver area, as large numbers of Orthodox refugees and immigrants from Europe made Holy Transfiguration their spiritual home. In 1946 Metropolitan Theophilus awarded the parish a Gramota for its efforts in refugee relief, as well as its contributions towards replacing the New York Cathedral which had been lost during the Kedrovsky upheaval.
After years of service, Fr. Athanasy was deposed from the priesthood in 1959 after his arrest and prosecution for criminal offenses of a moral nature, an event causing great scandal for the Parish and community. Years later, upon his death he was allowed an Orthodox burial as a lay monk. By this time, the parish found itself facing a challenge of a different sort; the building between 1948 and 1964 of two interstate highways (I-70 and I-25) through the heart of the Globeville neighborhood, with the loss of 31 homes and most neighborhood businesses, combined with the construction of the 232 unit Stapleton Public Housing Project on the northern edge of the community. These twin projects destabilized the old ethnic neighborhoods that had stood unchanged since the 1890's, accelerated flight of the second and third generation church members to the suburbs, and threatened the Globeville neighborhood with irreversible decline.
Fr. Athanasy was succeeded by Fr. George Benigson (1960-1964) and Fr. Paul Ziatyk (1964-1971). During this time, the Parish experienced a burst of growth and prosperity. New icons were commissioned for the church. Recognizing the growing diversity of the parish, the name of the church was again changed, to "Holy Transfiguration of Christ Eastern Orthodox Church," in 1960. Given the decline in the Russian-Serbian ethnic neighborhoods in Globeville, Fr. George launched a successful building drive to provide funds for the future relocation of the church, and property was purchased in suburban West Denver. In 1964, the Globeville neighborhood experienced a serious and destructive flood when the South Platte River overflowed, causing extensive damage to both the rectory and the "Old Saw Mill," or parish hall, and coming within an inch of flooding the church itself. Holy Transfiguration used its building fund to loan money to local parishioners finding themselves in severe financial straights as a result of the destruction, and every penny was eventually repaid. In 1968, Holy Transfiguration become one of the first parishes in America to adopt the "Revised Julian Calendar," when the Parish voted by a margin of more than two to one to make the change.
By 1971, Holy Transfiguration was strong and healthy, and a move by the Parish to a new neighborhood seemed imminent. A fund had been collected, and new land purchased. Both Catholic schools in the Globeville neighborhood had closed, as had the Lutheran Church, and the Volga German Congregational Church had moved to the suburbs. Thus, when Fr. Andrew Harrison arrived in Denver in 1971 as the new priest, he clearly understood his assignment as being the successful relocation of Holy Transfiguration to a "better" neighborhood. In 1971, a ballot was held, and a significant majority of the Parish membership voted to sell the property and move the Church. One may ask, then, why this move was never accomplished. The answer appears to be inertia, combined with regret at abandoning four generations of history.
In 1972, a new church building had been located and a contract for purchase negotiated. However, at the last moment Nickolai Zeniuk, the Parish Starosta, refused to sign the documents for the real estate closing, since he did not want to be the one to abandon the old church. Suprisingly, the Parish Council did not press the matter, and the sale was canceled. As a result, a group of parishioners who favored the move to the suburbs took matters into their own hands by forming a mission church under the patronage of the newly canonized St. Herman of Alaska. Fr. Harrison, who was attempting to serve both communities, was forced to make a choice, and in January of 1973 became pastor of St. Herman's, which located itself in Littleton, Colorado.
Reduced in numbers and unsure of the parish's future in Globeville, Holy Transfiguration entered a period of uncertainty in the mid-1970's which lasted a decade. No definitive decision had been made to leave Globeville, or to stay. During this time, the parish was served by Fr. Dragan Filipovich (1973-1975) and then by Fr. James Worth (1976-1984), the only native son of the parish to enter the priesthood. Uncertainty over Holy Transfiguration's future was exacerbated by a 1975 proposed urban renewal plan by the City of Denver which recommended "depopulating" and "totally industrializing" the Globeville area. Consequently, no money had been spent on major restoration of the church, hall or rectory.
The end of this uncertainty coincided with the arrival of Fr. Joseph Hirsch, in 1984. The decision was made to definitely remain in Globeville, and in 1984 the rectory was completely remodeled and a new, concrete sign was installed in front of the church. In the first months of 1985, under the direction of parishioner John Milosovich, an in-depth set of goals and objectives for the direction of Holy Transfiguration was undertaken resulting in a strategic plan. Under this plan, the Parish Council undertook plans to erect a new parish hall, repair and repaint the Church, install a new gold leaf dome and build a covered patio onto the Rectory. All of these projects were completed by Saint Sava's Day of 1986.
Over the next decade, Holy Transfiguration experienced a renaissance in terms of membership. In 1984, the average age of the parishioners was 63 years; by 1996, the average age had dropped to 24 years, a tribute to the growth in membership and the numerous young families who found in Holy Transfiguration a spiritual home. Starting in 1985 the Parish sponsored a Summer Orthodox Youth Camp under the direction of John Milosovich, which serves about 100 Orthodox children yearly from across the region. Holy Transfiguration renewed its work for charitable relief, sponsoring first the Archangel Michael Orthodox Community Services and its successor, the Orthodox Community Outreach Center, to minister to the needs of the poor and destitute in urban Denver. In 1988, Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco raised the Church to the status of a Diocesan Cathedral, in recognition of its place as the "mother church" for the Orthodox faith in the Rocky Mountain region.
Since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1990-1991, the Church became the spiritual home for a new influx of immigrants from the Orthodox lands of Eastern Europe, including Romania, Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria. Parish improvements continued, with new Byzantine-style icons being commissioned from noted iconographer Fr. Theodore Jurevich and installed upon the old iconostas in 1991, and an ambitious iconography project began to commission large, medalion-style icons of the major feast days for the church ceiling. This project was completed in time for the Parish centennial. In 1995, Holy Transfiguration was blessed with the ordination to the Holy Diaconate of Fr. Averky Davis, who has served since that time as the Parish's first permanently assigned Deacon. In 1998, a nine foot Troitza was erected immediately behind the Church building in honor of Holy Transfiguration's centennial.
Thus, through 100 years of toil, triumph, and tribulation, Holy Transfiguration preservered in every challenge that our Lord offered it. Looking towards the next 100 years, may He grant that Holy Transfiguration and her people continue to stand as a lighted city set upon a hill, and may the spiritual foundation of our Temple stand unmoved, even to the consummation of this age.