Like many other Orthodox parishes in America which were formed in the early part of the 20th century, Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Herkimer began with Slavic immigrants who arrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s, eventually settling in and the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. This area of New York state was predominately populated by northern Europeans in the countryside and villages, and southern Europeans in the urban areas. There were few Orthodox parishes outside the major cities. Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church began with twenty-five Orthodox immigrants from Galicia (Halychyna), a region now part of Poland and Ukraine, and the region of Podkarpats'ka-Rus', a region now part of Slovakia and Ukraine. Large portions of these two territories are in the Carpathian Mountains. There were also founding parishioners who immigrated from the Russian Empire. It was these twenty-five people who organized the very first parish family of our church. The first service was held in an Episcopal Church in December 1916 by Fr 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 Orthodox Church in America (OCA).
In 1921, under the pastorate of Fr Nicholas Hubiak, the concept of a permanent church structure was pursued. It was to be built next to the parish home on Steele St. This project was approved by the bishop and a great deal of the construction was performed by the members themselves. In July of 1925, the dream became a reality with the consecration of the church building by Archbishop Platon. Fr Paul Lisok served the parish as rector during this period.
Time passed. Some familiar faces no longer mingled in the crowd, while new ones appeared, and the new church struggled through this country's most trying time, the Great Depression. In 1933, the parish made a decision 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. This progress continued for many years as the church "grew and waxed strong."
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 Fr 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 breathtaking view from atop the hill and its easy 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, for just the right opportunity, to take photos of the glowing morning sun, glistening and dancing through the trees and off the golden domes and three-barred crosses.
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 Fr Dimitri 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 the installation of an elevator. As with past generations, foresight and planning continue to play an important part in any progress that is achieved.
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 printinga, with over 10,000 copies sold to date.
One of the greatest aspects of our parish is the renewed dedication of the people on a whole, to the benefit and growth of their Christian life. The greatest area of improvement has been with our children, their parents and the church school. We have truly been blessed with dedicated children, parents, teachers, and parish support. 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. Over the years, a study of parish history shows a constant emphasis of the willingness and dedication of the members to come together to work, to undertake a project regardless of size, see its completion, and successfully resolve any financial burdens in a very reasonable amount of time. The unity and love for God and each other of the members of our parish remains the strongest asset of Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church.
To say the passing of a century was always joyful and uneventful would not be true. 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 an unquenchable desire, the parishioners of Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church can attest to their proud heritage and the result of many years of loyalty to the Church of God: His Holy Orthodox Church. Our parish has changed over time. As we remember our heritage, we also welcome people of every ethnic background. One does not need to be Greek or Russian to be Orthodox. Everyone is welcome in the Orthodox Church and we at Saint 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.
Glory be to God!