In 1988, a group of about 50 adults and children, most of whom lived in the western part of the National Capital Region, with the blessing of Metropolitan Vitaly, formed an Orthodox mission. Initially, reader’s services were held in parishioners’ homes. With the arrival from Africa of Fr. Gerasimos Kambites, who had been working as a priest and physician in Uganda, Sunday and Festal Liturgies were served when his busy schedule permitted.
In August 1989 the Synod gave its blessing for the community to operate as a regular parish. Services were held in a small, temporary chapel in Fr. Gerasimos’ basement. It was here that the community, which earlier had been named in honour of the Holy Transfiguration and later the New Martyrs of Russia, chose its name. Parishioners sought a patron saint but could not agree on a saint or feast, and when they were asked to submit suggestions, seventeen were proposed! The solution was to write each of the names on a slip of paper and place the slips into a spare chalice, which stood on the altar-table during the Divine Liturgy. At the end of the Liturgy, the celebrating priest, the late Fr. Alexis Guerbilsky of Montreal (who often served in our parish), invited the youngest member of the parish, a little girl of about two, to pull a name from the chalice. The name that Fr. Alexis read out was that of St. Xenia. There was a gasp, a silence, and then tears of joy, and now only concord. The congregation joyously sang the Troparion and Megalynarion to their new patron saint.
Not long after this, the growing parish began to rent the historic Old March Town Hall in northern Kanata for Sunday morning Liturgies, each week setting up and taking down its temporary iconostasis and other church furnishings. While the premises were comfortable, they were not our own, and the arrangement proved difficult. After searching the west end of the city, the parish, in the fall of 1990, negotiated, with a federal agency, a very favourable lease on an abandoned one-room schoolhouse. This property, while modest, had an office, an attached trailer which was to house a parish hall and kitchen, and sufficient grounds for parish events such as picnics, and for parking.
With each parishioner contributing his or her own talents, the classroom was quickly converted into a wonderful chapel. The walls were adorned, an iconostasis built [which is still in use at the temporary Montreal cathedral in Lachine, Quebec], and icons, books, furnishings and vessels were collected and brought into the church. The parish received assistance in the form of gifts of church items from neighbouring parishes in London, Toronto and Montreal. The first services were held for the Nativity of Christ in 1991.
As the parish and its Liturgical needs grew, it became clear that a full-time priest was required. With the agreement of Archbishop Alypy, Fr. German Ciuba, then serving in Milwaukee, was invited to become rector. Fr. German arrived during Great Lent of 1991. Under his spiritual leadership the parish flourished. There was now a full cycle of services; the choirs, including mixed, men’s, and children’s, became very proficient and sang not only at St. Xenia’s but from time to time were invited to sing in other churches. For example, the men’s choir was invited to sing at the Glorification of the Optina elders in Montreal. Fr. German organized a parish school for the children. The parish began its tradition of the annual Bliny fundraiser, which became the primary source of outside income. The sisterhood embarked on many ambitious fund-raising programs aimed at beautifying the little church, such as church picnics. A parishioner-iconographer, originally from Russia, began to paint icons in the traditional style, using egg tempera paints.
While the little schoolhouse church had a very prayerful and warm atmosphere, it was becoming inadequate for the parish’s expanding needs. At the same time, it was quite an old building with fundamental maintenance problems which the government did not wish to correct. The parish repaired the furnace and replaced the roof but could not afford more. Still, a building committee was formed in 1994 to consider alternatives including construction of a new church, but the latter was outside the realm of the parish’s realistic possibilities.
One very cold evening in late January 1995 there was a great tribulation. In the middle of the night the alarm went off, and when parishioners arrived at the church they found that the plumbing had frozen and then burst, and water and other effluent had flooded the building. While they laboured to clear the debris and limit the damage, one of the older members began to pray through his tears, “St. Xenia, you have not abandoned us in the past. Please help us now! We need a new church where we can glorify God and praise you fittingly!”
St. Xenia heard this prayer! Less than two weeks later this man miraculously came into a very large amount of money, which he immediately pledged to cover the cost of the construction of a new church.
A building committee, a serious one this time, was formed, with the first task being to obtain the Metropolitan’s blessing. The committee visited Vladyka Vitaly in Montreal, where he received them warmly and approved the building of a new temple. His conditions were that it be in the western part of the Capital region, and that it have one helmet-shaped dome in the tradition of ancient Russian church architecture.
A suitable plot of land, about 1.25 acres in size, was found in an undeveloped area which was slated to become part of the new city centre of Kanata. Because of many stipulations from the area’s developers and city government, the purchase took a long time to complete. In the meantime, the committee considered design ideas which would meet the Metropolitan’s conditions. Our iconographer suggested that the church be modelled on St. George’s Sobor in Yuriev-Polskoy, not far from Moscow. Originally built in 1230-34, it is a stone church with two prominent features, its massive cupola, and its carved exterior, the most ornate of all Russian churches, being completely covered in bas-relief. In 1471 the upper part of the church collapsed and was rebuilt several times over the next decade, resulting in the church as it stands today.
This design was accepted. Once an architect considered capable of rendering the church was found, he worked closely with the committee to ensure that the design of the new St. Xenia church would retain the main proportions of St. George’s church, including the dome and wings, while incorporating contemporary design, material and colour requirements, accessibility features (ramps, washrooms), and a parish hall and kitchen below. Because the parish valued its choral tradition, great care was taken to ensure that the acoustical properties of the church would be worthy of the building itself.
The fall and winter of 1995-96 were anxious but the land purchase finally went through as did the approval of the final design by the City of Kanata and, most importantly, the Metropolitan!
The site was blessed in May, 1996 and construction on the church and manse began immediately. In mid-summer Metropolitan Vitaly presided over the service of the blessing of the foundation stone (zakladka), during which the Metropolitan placed the relics of the Holy New-Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth into the stone. Another important event during the construction was the blessing and raising of the cross and dome in September.
By the time the cold weather arrived, the exterior had been completed and the church was sealed. Work continued through the winter on building systems, drywall, flooring and finishing, and the iconostasis. The congregation finally got the news in January that we could move into the new church in a few weeks. In the last week of January, after the final service at the old church, parishioners began to remove, with great sadness, all the church-related items. This sadness turned to joy as they were carried into the new church. The first services were held in February 1997. It was interesting to note that the parishioners and priest, who had visited the site nearly every Sunday after Liturgy since the start of construction, were in awe of their new surroundings. For the first time this was not just a building site but a church. After the first beautiful Vigil, Fr. German remarked, “I neither knew in which church I was serving, nor recognized which choir was singing.”
It has now been several years since those days. Parish life continues apace. Beautification of the church has continued. The icons for the iconostasis have all been pledged and they are nearing completion. The screen itself will then be decorated with iconographic ornamentation. New candlestands and analogia are being built. The parish is looking into having the entire interior frescoed sometime in the future.
The congregation had by then nearly tripled in size. To raise funds the sisterhood organized not only the Bliny but also picnics, the Pelmeni festival and bake sales, and published a cookbook, “From our Russian Roots.” The choir continues to be one of the joys of the parish, and gave a concert at the church in 1997, a recording of which is available. That same year the parish hosted the Eleventh Annual Russian Orthodox Musicians’ Conference, with the voices of over 125 attendees filling the church with their beautiful chanting at the divine services.
In late 1997 Fr. German returned to the United States and was assigned to the parish in Old Forge, Pennsylvania. Fr. Mark Burachek was assigned to us from Paterson, New Jersey, and served as our priest for 6 years. In the winter of 2004 Fr. Mark was transferred to Our Lady of Kazan Church in New Jersey. Fr. Viatcheslav Davidenko came from Atlanta, Georgia to replace him, but left in 2007. After a short period of uncertainty with respect to long-term priest assignments, Fr. Oleg Mironov from Voronezh in Russia was appointed as our priest, with Archbishop Andronik elevating the status of our church to a Cathedral by choosing it as the seat of the Canadian Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Archbishop Andronik remains our rector today.
St. Xenia’s was honoured to host its second major Orthodox gathering when it welcomed young Orthodox Christians to the Annual St. Herman’s Youth Conference, in December 2000, the first time this conference had been held in Canada.
In the difficult times being experienced by the Russian Orthodox church today, St. Xenia’s remains a loyal parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and strives to faithfully preserve its worthy path in Canada’s Capital.