The formal beginning of St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church of Edwardsville, Pennsylvania, goes back to June 5, 1910. On that day, with the blessing of Archbishop Platon, Father Vasily Oranovsky celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in the modest school hall on Short Street.

 

The earliest parishioners had been members of The Church of the Holy Resurrection, in Wilkes-Barre, PA. This church had been converted to Orthodoxy by Father Alexis Toth (now Saint Alexis of Wilkes-Barre) and attracted immigrants from all over Wyoming Valley, growing rapidly. By 1907 it had about 70 families living on the West Side, mostly in Edwardsville. The distance to the church caused many hardships and inconveniences to the west-siders and their children both in carrying out their religious obligations and also taking part in educational and social activities. The most conscientious among them realized that to preserve their religious and cultural heritage in its entirety, they should be organized into a distinct Orthodox Christian community.

 

With the blessing of Father Toth, in 1907, they set up a committee to formulate plans and take the necessary steps toward the realization of their goal. All the West-Side families were contacted and contributed $25.00 each. As the first step in the realization of their goal, a lot was purchased on Short Street and a school building was erected at a cost of $8,000.00. The building was soon opened and it became the center of educational, cultural and social activities. Father Toth appointed his assistant, Father Gregory Shutak, to have charge of all the activities in this building. Father Shutak conducted evening classes in religion and Russian culture.

 

 

 

By 1910 the group was ready to form a parish and to build a church. A special meeting was held in which a decision was reached to petition Archbishop Platon of New York .

 

On June 5, 1910, Father Gregory Shutak brought Father Vasily Oranovsky to Edwardsville. They served Vespers together, after which Father Vasily read to those present  the resolution of Archbishop Platon of May 26, officially opening the new parish and appointing him the first pastor. Father Vasily called upon the people present to elect starosta and other officers to help the pastor with the administration of the parish. He stressed that these men should be devout, God-fearing Orthodox Christians, loyal and worthy sons of the Holy Mother Church. The first committee was elected was and proceeded to select the name for the new parish. Father Vasily proposed St. Nicholas, Father Gregory proposed St. Vladimir; Michael Hoblak proposed St. Dimitry and John Senko proposed St. John the Baptist. John Senko’s idea appealed to most of the people, and was chosen as the name of the newly established parish.

 

At first the Divine Services were held in the school hall on Short Street. Early in 1911 a committee was appointed to select a site for new church edifice. This committee found a suitable property on Slocum Street (later renamed Zerby Avenue) which was purchased for $6,750.00.   The laying and the blessing of the cornerstone took place on March 24, 1912.

One of the earliest services of the parish of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church, at the school hall on Short Street.
An early photo of the completed church at 93 Zerby Avenue, Edwardsville, PA.

The church was completed during the summer of 1913 and was solemnly consecrated on Labor Day by Archbishop Platon, who was assisted by Bishop Alexander and priests, among whom was Father Anthony Repella (who later served as Rector of St. John the Baptist for many years). The building costs were as follows: Architect - $514.96; Contractor - $13,411.00; Church windows - $514.24; Bells - $637.72; Steam Heating Plant - $642.07; Iconostasis and Altar - $1,187.93; Icons - $418.18; Chandelier - $125.00; Painting inside of the church - $270.00. Total cost - $24,028.45.

One of the earliest photographs of the Parish of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church. Along with many dignitaries, Fr. Alexander Hotovitsky and at least two future parish priests can be seen in this photo.

The parish is unique in that two North American Orthodox Saints were closely involved in the process of its' creation: Saint Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, who was instrumental in establishing the original parish, and Saint Alexander Hotovitsky, whose signature is on the original mortgage.

 

 

Father Alexis Toth stands otside the original Short Street property . At right is the original dee signed by Alexander Hotovitsky.

From those early days, St. John the Baptist has celebrated many milestones, weathered many trials, welcomed friends, converts and clergy, and continues to be a vibrant member of the community. Today, the parish continues to carry on the mission of the Orthodox Church in America, and is confidently entering the second century of its’ existence.

The parish of Saint John the Baptist during their Centennial Celebration.

A Parish of

The Diocese of

PHILADELPHIA

and Eastern Pennsylvania

93 Zerby Avenue

Edwardsville, Pennsylvania • 18704

570-287-7186

info@stjohnsedwardsville.com

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