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Saint Gregory Russian Orthodox Church

History (English)

ПРОЧИТАТЬ НА РУССКОМ ЯЗЫКЕ (To read in Russian - Click Here)         

Like many Orthodox churches in America, St. Gregory’s was born in the early part of the last century after the great influx of Slavic immigrants. These immigrants were young, motivated, and hard working people who gravitated to the tough work of the steel mills. A colony of immigrants quickly developed in Homestead around the 4th Avenue mill. They were united by their heritage but at first isolated in a predominately Protestant Pittsburgh. But these immigrants were not about to convert. Instead, they converted a Protestant church structure to Orthodoxy!

In 1912 Maxim Lemena, a young member of the newly founded Russian Brotherhood. Began negotiating to buy the structure with only fifty dollars in his hand. The Slavic people gathered round in support, and their zeal so inspired the local Protestant residents that pressure was brought to bear on the bank to make the mortgage and loan affordable. St. Gregory’s church was born out of a sense of ecumenical good will. By 1913 an altar was built, icon screen installed, and cross mounted, all by the hard work of members. Fr. Darin, a visiting priest, performed the first services. The congregation grew immensely; within a few years St. Gregory’s children’s school had an enrollment of 75.

Although the people were poor, their mood was happy with their efforts to bring the old religion into their new lives. Quickly their dedication was tested, however, by the devastation of the 1918 flu epidemic, but the people of St. Gregory’s stood strong and through women’s bazaars raised funds for maintenance of the church. In the ensuing years, St. Gregory’s thrived as the center of its people’s spiritual and social lives. There were many liturgies inside and many ball games outside.

Comfortable in their converted building, the parish of St. Gregory’s was forced to dislocate when the demands of World War II necessitated new Homestead mills. All properties below the tracks, including St. Gregory’s, were to be demolished. The parish was offered 75 thousand dollars for the land and structure, and with that money purchased the West home, a large old home on a big lot on 15th Street well up on the hill from the expanding mills. The parish selected two experts to create the design of the new church, and Dr. Andrey Avinodff, the director of Carnegie Museum who is also known for designing the Russian Room in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. 

With too little money in a time of inflating prices, construction of the new church was slow. During a construction halt, the new church basement became the new church, with its own icon screen. Little by little, the structure arose, services moved to the new upstairs shell, and details were added. Finally, in 1951 the architectural vision realized and the completed structure was consecrated. Since that time, St. Gregory’s has remained one of Pittsburgh’s most beautiful churches thanks to the continuing upkeep efforts of its parishioners. In 1963, when Archbishop Benjamin passed away during the Sobor, St. Gregory’s was chosen to house his body in state-a great honor and testament to the richness of our small church.

 

Equally important to the body of the church-its building and members-are the priests who head the parish over the past ninety years. We have been unusually blessed with two priests who chose to dedicate their careers to St. Gregory’s. The very Reverend John Zitinsky was parish priest for 28 years. Russian born and educated, he provided a sense of continuity with the past for the new immigrants. In addition, most of the new church construction was accomplished under his leadership. In the 1950’s after seeing the great building project completed, Fr. Zitinsky retired and soon passed away.

 

Then, in 1958, Fr. Stephen Shuga, a young American born graduate of St. Tikhon’s Seminary, came to lead the parish in the years of Americanization, as more and more members were themselves America born. Under Fr. Shuga’s direction, St. Gregory’s has become a model of modernized and Americanized Orthodoxy that sacrifices nothing of its Orthodox authenticity. Visitors marvel that the substance and style of traditional Orthodox services are still to be found at St. Gregory’s. The spiritual richness of Fr. Shuga’s services is inspiring to all who attend. The parish is privileged to have had Fr. Shuga and his family with us for over 50 years.

 

And so it continued once again. From 1928 till current time St. Gregory came through many obstacles, but she persevered. The church, which was asleep, was reawakened. From attendance of 28 people at service, to its peak attendance and membership of 225 at which time the church was once again alive. Then came the closing of the still mills and Mesta Machine. This helped to displace what young families we had, had to seek employment out of state. But this did not discourage the church. For those who stayed faithfully rolled up their sleeves and baked and fried foods. They held raffles and other events to help sustain their church.

 

Thank God for all these hard working and loyal people. For without them, the ongoing struggle would have been much greater than otherwise.


Many improvements were made in the past 50 years. Here are just a few: new parish home was built, new alter table and appointments, new church robes, rugs in the church, stained glass windows, roof repairs, painting, church basement remodeling, landscaping, pointing of the church building and many, many more projects throughout the life of this church if to mention they would take many pages.

 

Surely our Fore Fathers would be proud of all for being so loyal and faithful in having their visions and dreams fulfilled and preserved as well as we of the present have to be proud of what we have done as a Family of God. Praying that this house of God will continue for many, many years to come.



Serving Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas.

Nearby communities include Duck Hollow, Munhall, Squirrel Hill, Swisshelm Park, West Homestead, Whitaker.

St. Gregory Russian Orthodox Church    214 East 15th Avenue, Homestead, PA 15120    412-462-8256