Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Herkimer was founded by Orthodox Christian immigrants from Galicia (Halychyna), a region now split between southeastern Poland and western Ukraine, and the region of Pidkarpats'ka-Rus', a region now part of eastern Slovakia and western Ukraine. A substantial portion of these two neighboring geographical areas are in the Carpathian Mountains. There were also founding parishioners who immigrated from the Russian Empire. The first service was held in an Episcopal Church in December 1916 by the Priest Peter Halkowich, who was appointed the first pastor of the parish by Metropolitan Platon. The parish was founded under of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Metropolia of America, which later would become the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America (OCA).
In 1921, under the pastorate of Rev. Nicholas Hubiak, the parishioners desired to build a church. It was to be built next to the parish home on Steele St. in Herkimer. This project was approved by the bishop and a great deal of the construction was performed by the parish members themselves. In July of 1925, the church was finally finished with the consecration of the church building by Archbishop Platon. The Rev. Paul Lisok served the parish as rector during this period.
Following the end of World War I, immigration continued as families helped their relatives in Eastern Europe obtain work in the United States. During this period, many families came from the cities and surrounding areas of Buchach and L’viv, Ukraine. The new church struggled through this country's most trying time, the Great Depression. In 1933, the parish decided to purchase a plot of land in East Herkimer to be used as a cemetery for the faithful. It was consecrated by Metropolitan Theophilus on August 9, 1936. In that same time, the parish found time to celebrate its twentieth anniversary.
During the ensuing years the parish continued to grow with the addition of new families. More immigrants arrived following World War II from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland, most of them fleeing a war-torn Europe, escaping communism and seeking a safer life in the United States. The parish family continued to grow.
During the early 1960s it became apparent that the edifice on Steele St was much too small for the increasing number of parishioners now worshipping with the community. Thanks to the leadership and foresight of a very progressive church committee, led by Archpriest Theodore Kondratick and Parish Council President Paul Sokol, a proposal for the building of a new church was presented to the parish on March 31, 1963. Metropolitan Leonty extended his blessing to the parish for this momentous undertaking. Ground was broken on May 24, 1964 at the new site on the top of a hill in East Herkimer, approximately 1 mile from the present church structure. The beautiful view from atop the hill and its accessibility made it an ideal location for the new church. The new building was to be a combination of Byzantine and contemporary architectural styles designed by Myron Jordan of Richfield Springs, and built by Louis Cassella. The new house of worship, built to the Glory of God, was consecrated on August 1, 1965 by Archbishop Nikon.
Undoubtedly, the church with the "gold domes" is still an eye catching sight as one travels east or west along the waterways and roadways of the historic Mohawk valley. It is still a common occurance for travellers to stop and take photos of the beautiful church.
As in the past, members rallied to support this huge financial undertaking. Many individuals and families bought "bonds" to help reduce the mortgage. With hard work and dedication, the parish relieved themselves of this financial burden in February of 1967 when the final repayment of the last "bond" was accomplished.
Shortly thereafter, a new need arose for the congregation. The old house located next to the new church did not enhance the spirit of the new community. Although the mortgage for the new church was only very recently paid, a definitive decision to proceed with the financial burden of construction for a new rectory was accepted. The positive attitide that occupied the hearts and minds of the parishioners surely had to be God-inspired as to their ability to accomplish this task. Under the direction of the Archpriest Dimytri Oselinsky and Parish Council President William Homyk, construction of the new rectory was begun on July 25, 1971, which again fulfilled the dreams and desires of the faithful. Again, blessed with hard working and God-loving families and individuals, and excellent leadership, the congregation relieved themselves of the rectory mortgage on September 21, 1980.
In the ensuing years, the parish has undertaken several other projects to enhance their church. Not quite as glamorous as a new church, but still vitally needed projects. New roofs for the church and rectory, interior cleaning and painting, exterior brick repairs to the bell tower, and new carpeting were but some of the projects undertaken in time for the 75th anniversary, which was held in 1991. Since that time, other projects included the replating of all gold and brass articles in the church and full handicapped accessibility. One of the most memorable undertakings for this parish has been the tireless effort of a group of people who for more than two years toiled diligently and frequently, to amass more than 7,500 recipes from the parish members. This true "labor of love" has resulted in the most surprisingly successful cookbook to be offered for sale. More than 700 pages and countless recipes along with ethnic, religious, and items of special interest fill the book. Our own member, Anne Anthony, accomplished all of the artwork. It has been so successful, that the first 1,000 copies were sold in one week. They have been distributed throughout the 50 states and more than 15 countries! At this time, we have gone into multiple printings, with over 10,000 copies sold to date.
The new members of our parish, both converts and those who have joined our parish, have been a blessing to our spiritual life, as they have brought with them a refreshing new outlook and spiritual dedication to support God's Holy Church and His work. The dedication of our choir, parish council and the faithful parishioners is an example of God’s love reflected outwards to others. Over the years, our parish has been blessed with several young families who have taken on many leadership positions within the parish.
in 2016, our parish celebrated 100 years of ministry living the Orthodox Faith in Herkimer. This span of time encompassed many joys and heartaches. As the times changed, so did the parish and its members. However, one thing has not changed since the newly arrived immigrants to the Mohawk Valley at the beginning of the 20th century first bore witness -- the love, loyalty and belief in Almighty God who has made all things possible for His people persists. Along with honest work and striving to live according to the Lord’s commandments, the parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church continue to move forward while preserving the ancient Faith handed down from the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples, who then passed on the Faith to us.
Our parish has changed over time. As we remember and preserve our heritage, we are not confined to serve only one or two specific ethnic groups. We welcome people of every ethnic background. Contrary to some misconceptions, one does not have to be Greek, Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian or any particular ethnicity to be an Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christianity is a way of life, not an ethnicity. We are all God's creation, and it is the True Faith in Jesus Christ that unites us. People of all backgrounds are welcome in the Orthodox Church and we at Saints Peter and Paul's are honored to share our Orthodox Faith with everyone. Come in and join us in prayer anytime! Our doors and arms are always open.
To Him be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; now and ever and unto ages of ages! Amen.