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Sowing the Seeds
The seeds of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Willimantic, Connecticut, were first planted on August 16, 1916. Under the guidance of Rev Constantine Buketoff, Holy Trinity began to be organized as a worshiping community of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Faith. A two-story building was purchased at 226 Valley St and was converted to a house of worship and rectory for its first pastor, Rev Joseph Kurila. Fr Joseph lived on the top floor with his family, and the bottom floor was converted into a chapel. The chapel itself was heated with a wood stove and had no hot water, current parishioner Mr George Zlotnick, now 88, recalled with fondness. Parish records indicate a total of 27 priests served the parish between 1916-1957. It was not at all uncommon for a priest who was passing through Willimantic en route to begin another pastoral assignment, to stay for a month or two to serve the Holy Trinity community. In the year 1920 alone, six priests served the Holy Trinity community.
Pursuing the Vision
Although many changes followed in the years ahead, one constant remained; a vision for a permanent church in which to glorify God. The Building Committee had its initial meeting on May 27, 1945. Although records show monthly meetings were held, only one brief passing comment was made for nearly the next two years. Momentum to erect a church began to build during the summer, 1948. It was during the pastorate of Very Rev Prokopy Radiuk (1945-55), the Holy Trinity Community purchased a parcel of land on November 3, 1948, on the corner of Valley Street and Mansfield Avenue for $2,300. It was negotiated down from its original asking price of $2,500. This is the site, 414 Valley St, of the current church. Donations to purchase the land in 1948 were offered by Mr & Mrs Pafnuty Juzak, Mrs Anna Hnath, and the Holy Trinity Sisterhood. After the land had been purchased, just $432.84 remained in the church’s savings account.
Pouring the Foundation
Although the foundation was poured in 1950 (see photo), because of financial limitations, nearly a decade passed before the church was entirely constructed and consecrated. It has been reported the City of Willimantic strongly urged the community to finally build the church, or else … The result was a small church; a simply constructed and architecturally designed church, some have suggested. The size of the church however, perfectly fit the needs of the community at that time, and still does today. By God’s grace, Holy Trinity was received in to the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America (now Orthodox Church in America) on January 4, 1957, after several years in other jurisdictions, according to OCA archivist, Mr Alexis Liberovsky. The details of this sojourn outside our church’s current jurisdiction is not known or indicated in records kept at the national OCA church office in Syosset, NY.
The New Location
On September 13, 1958, the current church was ready to be consecrated. After the final Divine Liturgy was held at 226 Valley Street on September 7, many sacred items such as the gospel, icons, crosses, and banners were carried in a solemn procession, led by +Archpriest Ilja Adamov, to the new church. Six days later, on September 13, 1958, Holy Trinity as it is known today, was consecrated by +His Eminence, Metropolitan LEONTY (Turkevich).
+Fr Ilja remains the priest most easily identified with Holy Trinity. He served the parish as rector on two separate occasions: 1956-1971 and 1973-1981. He was the driving force behind the new church during his first pastorate. In humble recognition for his combined 23 years of dedicated service, the +Fr Ilja Adamov Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in his memory in 2002. Holy Trinity has distributed over $6,000 worth of scholarship assistance to its graduating high school seniors since then.
The original icons were written by +Mr. Serge Bodasiuk who also wrote iconography for Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Frackville, PA. The Holy Ascension website identifies +Mr. Bodasiuk, who had lived in New York City, “as one of the finest iconographers in the country.” +Mr. Bodasiuk passed away on August 30, 2001, at age 75; his burial site is not given on this website. According to former parish pastor V. Rev. David Koles, +Mr. Bodasiuk’s last known address was in Kew Gardens, Queens County, NY. This address was used on the packing crate delivered to Holy Trinity with several of Mr. Bodasiuk’s icons. Based on his discovery of this information, Fr. David suggested that Mr. Bodasiuk worked out of an art studio in Kew Gardens at the time he wrote the Holy Trinity icons. Fr. David determined the altar table at Holy Trinity was built from the icon packing crate itself, according to parishioner Reader Steven Bradford of Willimantic. Having an altar table constructed from a packing crate may be unexpected and unusual, but it is consistent with the humble origins of Holy Trinity Church.
In the early 2000’s, full length sets of altar coverings in several liturgical colors were gifted to Holy Trinity by Mr. and Mrs. Viktor (Paraskeva) Sukharev of Moscow, Russia.
The Early Years
In the early years on Valley Street (1960-1980), Holy Trinity was an extremely active parish. Church dinners and plays, both in English and Russian, were held regularly. Like most Russian churches of that era, local residents turned to the Orthodox Church when looking for ethnic food. The women at Holy Trinity would gather several times a month to make hundreds of pierogis which were sold to the public.
The burning of the church mortgage occurred on April 30, 1972. Fr Myron Manzuk, who served the parish from April 1972-March 1973 during his final year as a student at St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, participated in this event. The adjacent church rectory, built for an assigned priest and his family, was completed in 1966.
Difficult times followed, however. During +Fr Ilja's second pastorate at Holy Trinity (1973-1981), he buried 53 parishioners. Worship was now served in English, replacing the existing church Slavonic. The change was not readily embraced, and often battle lines were drawn. Membership declined steadily throughout the 1980's and in to the 90's. Holy Trinity was even forced to close for several months in 1995. Occasionally, a local priest would be asked to serve a Sunday Divine Liturgy for the faithful, but overall parish life languished. In January 1996, Liturgy began to be served two times a month, with less than a dozen people in attendance. In 1998, Divine Liturgy began to be celebrated weekly, and parish life began to grow.
A New Beginning
Around the year 2000, several students from the University of Connecticut began to attend Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity. Soon thereafter, a local Orthodox Christian Fellowship chapter was organized. The students, along with an Orthodox clergyman and an Orthodox professor, met with the students on the Storrs campus and served Compline. A discussion always followed, and God's grace became manifest. The students brought their friends to Holy Trinity. We were on to something.
Several families then joined the community, and Holy Trinity was transformed from an aging church community, even one that was closed, into one that was very young and dynamic. The effort the UConn OCF made to sustain life and encourage growth at Holy Trinity can never be emphasized enough. While at Holy Trinity, the OCF students teach church school, sing and direct the choir, read the Epistle, and serve in the altar.
Renovation and Renewal
In March 2002, dear friend Zina Pisarko gifted our parish with an icon of the Holy Trinity for our center analoi, With that humble gesture, a church beautification project ensued. Interior painting, new rugs, and a restored cupola followed.
On October 15, 2006, Holy Trinity joyfully celebrated its 90th Anniversary; and on September 13, 2008, 50 years to the day the current church was consecrated by +Metropolitan LEONTY, a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was served by His Grace, Bishop NIKON, Bishop of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese, surrounded by visiting area clergy.
During this celebration, a new iconostas, with eight new icons, was blessed and sanctified to replace the original icons which had been in the church for the first 50 years. These original canvas icons mounted on a simple wood frame are still a part of the current Holy Trinity Church.
The new icons, done in the traditional Byzantine style, were commissioned by +Mr George Goutsev of Sofia, Bulgaria, The hand carved icon screen and Royal Doors were commissioned by +Mr Goutsev's close friend and neighbor, +Mr Peter Nedkov. +Mr Nedkov also made a hand carved tabernacle for our altar, a gift from Mr & Mrs Nicholas Sinchuk of our parish.
Sadly both artists have reposed in the Lord. +Mr George Goutsev fell asleep in the Lord on May 25, 2011. And +Mr Peter Nedkov, the author of our hand-carved iconostas at Holy Trinity, fell asleep in the Lord on July 19, 2012 after undergoing extensive surgery for stomach cancer in September, 2011. May the memories of +Mr George Goutsev and +Mr Peter Nedkov be eternal!
Holy Trinity has always seen the need to reach out and embrace Orthodox Christians of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds; in short, to be apostles. There truly is no church, no witness and no mission unless all its members are of a missionary mind. This is essential to the further growth of Orthodoxy in North America. To see oneself as someone who is called from God to share of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and witness to the Kingdom of God to come, is truly what it is to be Orthodox. It was a similar missionary spirit which brought Orthodoxy to North America 207 years ago, and it is that same zeal which allows Orthodox churches -- and Holy Trinity in Willimantic -- to experience the spiritual growth it does today.
The Orthodox Church in America has canonized many saints since August 1970, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future. It is the direct result of these humble men and women hearing the word of God and keeping it -- the true sign of holiness (Luke 11:28)--that we are permitted the wonderful possibility of worshipping at Holy Trinity since 1916.
Remembering Those Who Came Before Us
We remember the beloved founders and benefactors of our church; those who have departed to God’s Kingdom. We consecrate their work and all their prayers to God, We ask that every prayer offered to our Lord from our church, that every sacrifice made, be received and blessed by God.
May God keep our humble parish in his everlasting love; and continue to bless and be merciful unto all of us. –FMV