The History of the Cathedral

Metropolitan Veniamin St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was founded in San Francisco on March 12, 1934 with the blessing of Metropolitan Veniamin and Bishop Antonin of Alaska and Washington.

At that time the church and parish was located at 443 Divisadero St.

The church on Divisadero was very small. In 1960, with funds raised by the parishioners, a Lutheran church (built in 1919) on 15th St. was purchased. It was completely remodeled; the iconostasis, icons, and all the furnishings were brought from the old church.

From 1935-39 the services were conducted by Archbishop Antonin, Igumen Feodor and Archpriest Feodor Kochetov.


Archbishop Antonin Archimandrite Antonin received the blessing and permission from Metropolitan Platon of North America to come to America to serve the church. He arrived from Jerusalem in 1923 and was assigned as pastor of an orthodox church in Vancouver, Canada where he served for a few years.

In 1930 Archimandrite Antonin was consecrated a bishop. The service was held at Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco and attended by Bishops Feofil, Aleksey and Pavel. He was assigned to the North American exarchate in Alaska where he served for a few years.

Bishop Antonin traveled a few times to Washington, D.C. where he was received in the White House by President Roosevelt. They had many discussions on spiritual and secular issues.

He was also a frequent participant in the councils attended by the archbishops and church hierarchy of America.

After the death of Metropolitan Platon he attended the meeting in which Archbishop Feofil was elected as the new Metropolitan of North America. Archbishop Antonin decided to transfer to the Exarchate of Moscow and was assigned as Bishop of Washington.

He came to San Francisco and, with the former protodeacon of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Father Peter Kotlyarov, and founded St. Nicholas Cathedral. Soon after, he was elevated to Archbishop.

Twice, while in Alaska, he found himself in extremely dangerous conditions. Traveling on a small tugboat, he was caught in a severe storm and almost perished. Both times he survived.

During the second storm all of his companions perished from cold and hunger; but, he was thrown onto a deserted island where, without food for 13 days and suffering from severe frostbite of the feet, he barely survived. Articles in the American and Russian newspapers presumed that he had perished; but, by chance, he had been saved by an Aleut hunter. He wrote of his rescue “Perhaps my rescue doesn’t appear to all as the clear evidence of God’s work. His will that I be saved was a call to all orthodox to recognize and glorify God’s divine name.”

Archbishop Antonin passed away May 2, 1939 in Calistoga, California.

(Newspaper “Íîâŕ˙ Çŕđ˙” May 3, 1939)

The following priests served as pastors of St. Nicholas Cathedral:

1939-59 Archpriest Peter Kotlyarov

1959-83 Igumen Mark (Shavikin)

Archpriest Peter Kotlyarov Bishop Mark (Shavikin)


On Sunday, July 24, 1960, the new Cathedral of St. Nicholas was consecrated. A large gathering of Moscow Patriarchate hierarchy gathered for the festive service, including Metropolitan Boris of North America and the Aleut lands, Archbishop Dionisii of San Francisco and Western America, Igumen Mark, Mitrofan Archpriest Iosif Gavrilyak, Archpriest Peter Kotlyarov, Archpriest Feodor Kochetov and Archpriest Nicholai Levkovich (from San Diego, Ca).


After the consecration, liturgy was served. During the service Metropolitan Boris, by the recommendation of Archbishop Dionisii and by patriarchal decree, elevated Igumen Mark to Archimandrite – the highest status a monk can obtain, calling him to faithfully and worthily serve the Orthodox Church.

After communion, during which many children and adults participated, Metropolitan Boris gave a very profound sermon.

Remembering the historical stages of the Christian Church, he pointed out that, even though orthodoxy in the third century experienced persecution and the Arian heresy, the Holy Church triumphed.

He also referred to the ranks of saints, and in particular, the Great St. Sergei of Radonesh, who helped Russia rise from the Tatar yoke.

He noted that during our era orthodoxy was subjected to discord, but that this has since passed and now the Russian Orthodox Church is at a new point and is flourishing.

Metropolitan Boris spoke of the separatist group which he called the “Leontiev group”. Patriarch Alexei (of Moscow and all Russia) offered them full autonomy, but group declined the offer.

Metropolitan said he had discussed this offer with many of the hierarchy in America and they had more or less all acknowledged the power of the Moscow Patriarchate, but the Leontiev group, nonetheless, still declined to recognize the Patriarchate.

Metropolitan Boris called this dissent a sign of the times. People change the government, but the holy church will remain the same; just as Christ told the Apostle Peter “And on this rock I have built my church and the powers of death will not prevail against it”. The Metropolitan then relayed the blessing of Patriarch Alexei of Moscow and all Russia to all Russian orthodox people.

The Bishop noted that when one left his homeland – across the ocean to a better way of life, it became very easy to be critical. A critical clergy can forget the vow they had made before accepting their hierarchical position. They had fled from those difficulties which the Russian people had suffered for 40 years.

The Russian Orthodox Church, having experienced severe difficulties, is now living by strict canonical rules. The church is now growing and developing.

He appealed to all to work together harmoniously in the field of Christ and wished all Russian American orthodox people the best, calling for all parishioners of St. Nicholas Cathedral to not be embarrassed by their small parish, but to be friends among themselves and to work for the wellbeing of their church under the guidance of Archimandrite Mark. He also praised the work of Archbishop Dionisii, the church starista, the council and sisterhood and all others in the parish. The council and sisterhood were especially praised and given certifications of recognition, read by Archpriest Iosif Gavriliak.

During his sermon Metropolitan Boris spoke loudly and with conviction. It was clear that he was accustomed to speaking in a large cathedral, overcrowded with worshippers.

During the Metropolitan’s extremely moving sermon, many were overcome with deep feelings and cried.

At the conclusion, “Many Years” was sung to Patriarch Alexei, Metropolitan Boris, Archbishop Dionisii, Archimandrite Mark, the church council, sisterhood and all parishioners. “Everlasting memory” was sung in memory to the departed Patriarchs Sergei and Tikhon, priests and parishioners of St. Nicholas Cathedral.

After the service a festive meal was served and many cordial words were spoken by Metropolitan Boris, Archbishop Dionisii, Archimandrite Mark, Archpriest Feodor Kochetov and Archpriest Nicholai Levko and others.

(Newspaper «Íîâŕ˙ Çŕđ˙», July 15, 1960, N. Yazikov)


In 1969 Archimandrite Mark was elevated to the episcopate. During his tenure many hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchal Orthodox Church visited the cathedral and celebrated services. Among those visiting were Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Ladoga, Metropolitan Pitriim of Volokolamsk, Bishop Vasilii (Rodzianko) and many others.

The following priests served at St. Nicholas Cathedral:

Archpriest Peter Raina Archpriest Vladimir Veriga 

1984-86 Archpriest Peter Raina

1986-90 Archpriest Vladimir Veriga. During this time the icon “The Image of Christ not made by Hands” (located in the altar alcove) was painted by an iconographer from the Troitsa-Sergiev Lavra.

1990-93 Hieromonk Tikhon (Chizheskiy).

1993-96 Archpriest Alexander Karpenko.

Hieromonk Tikhon (Chizheskiy)      Archpriest Alexander Karpenko

During ’94 & ’95 exterior and interior church repairs were completed and a new cupola and cross were erected. Restoration of the Icon of St. Nicholas was completed. And with donations from the parishioners new doors were installed.

On September 21, 1993 His Holiness Patriarch Alexei of Moscow and all Russia visited the United States.



His Holiness Patriarch Alexei was met at the airport by Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco and Western America, heads of different Christian denominations, parish representatives, the general public and many journalists. The Patriarch’s visit coincided with the Declaration (No. 1400) of Russian President Yeltsin regarding the disbanding of the Russian Supreme council.

There was a short press conference in which the Patriarch appealed to all Russian branches of power, government departments, the armed forces, the law enforcement establishment and to all Russians to refrain from any actions, which at this critical moment, could lead to a civil war.

On the evening of September 21, the San Francisco community organized a reception in honor of Patriarch Alexei. Present at the reception were Metropolitan Theodosius (of Washington and America), hierarchal members of the Russian delegation, of the American Orthodox church, Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco and the Western United States, Bishop Antonii, of the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archbishop Anthony Quinn of the Roman Catholic church in SF, and representatives from many religious groups and California state government branches.

On September 22, Patriarch Alexei traveled to Fort Ross (150 miles from SF), the southern most point to which Russian settlers and missionaries came. Fort Ross was established in 1812 by I. A. Kuskov, the deputy director of the Russian American company. A small chapel (named Holy Trinity) was built during the 1820’s and in 1836 Innokenti Veniaminov visited.

In 1974 Fort Ross became a national historical park and many renovations were begun. The Patriarch, along with Bishop Tikhon and the priests, sang a moleben to all American saints, the Blessed Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Martyr Yuvenaly of Alaska, St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, and Martyr Archpriest Ioann Kochurov and Martyr Peter the Aleut.

After the moleben, the Patriarch emphasized, in his own words, the relationship between Russian America and the Valaam and Konovets monasteries (located in northern Russia). Monks from these monasteries came to this territory with the Christian mission.

In recognition of this relationship the Patriarch presented a gift to Fort Ross – an icon of the Venerable Fathers Sergei and Herman of Valaam. The relationship with Alaska and Russia was not just one sided. As the Patriarch noted “two of my predecessors of the Moscow Patriarchate, St. Innokenti, Metropolitan of Moscow, and St. Tikhon, Patriarch of all Russia, occupied this position.

While at Fort Ross the Patriarch met with young students and representatives from the Russian immigrant community.

In the afternoon the Patriarch visited the Theological Institute of Patriarch Athenagoras, located near the University of California, Berkeley (across the bay from SF). Patriarch Bartholomei sent a special greeting to Patriarch Alexei on the occasion of his visit. The welcome was read by representatives of UC Berkeley. The Patriarch also met Paul Manolis, the director of the institute, and Glen Booker, its president. Church representatives sang a moleben in the institute’s chapel (named in honor of St. Dimitri Solunski). After the moleben, the Patriarch spoke of the importance of orthodox education in the contemporary world.

The Patriarch then attended a gathering organized by Bishop Antoniy (of the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate); present were several priests from local Russian orthodox churches, other orthodox jurisdictions, as well as heads of different Christian faiths. Afterward, at the Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the Patriarch served great vespers in English, Slavonic and Greek. After the service Bishop Antonii hosted a reception in the parish hall. At the Bishop’s appeal, money was collected for the Moscow Theological School.

On September 23 Patriarch Alexei concelebrated Liturgy at Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, with Metropolitan Theodosius, Bishop Tikhon and Bishop Antonii. Also celebrating were several archpriests and priests from the SF hierarchy. After the Liturgy the Patriarch blessed a plaque, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the founding of the cathedral. After the service the parishioners organized a banquet for the Patriarch.

In the afternoon the Patriarch visited St. Nicholas Cathedral (Moscow Patriarchate) and sang a moleben. Afterward, there was a festive banquet attended by Bishop Pavel of Saraiski (Administrator of the patriarchal parishes in America), the cathedral’s dean, Father Alexander Karpenko and the parishioners.

In the evening Bishop Tikhon hosted an official dinner in honor of the Patriarch.


On the Patriarch’s arrival in San Francisco (September 21)

Your Beatitude Theodosius, Blessed Bishop Tikhon of SF, all hierarchy and priests. Ladies and gentlemen. Brothers and sisters.

We have come to America in order to be with you, orthodox and non-orthodox, at the beginning of the 200 years of the organization of the Orthodox Church on your continent. And to acknowledge the great contribution of the Russian Orthodox Church and orthodoxy in its goal of strengthening spirituality in American society – in the development of its culture, education, morals.

I pray that your success will last into the next century as evidence of the service to the Holy Orthodox church in your great land and of your service to God by all diligent and peace-loving people. And to protect and strengthen the traditional brotherly relations and cooperation of the church in unifying religions in America, by using your common recognition of the morals of educated believers and the humanity of your country.

At St. Nicholas Cathedral of the Moscow Patriarchate, San Francisco (September 23)

Today we find ourselves in the church, sanctified in the honor of Saint and Wonderworker Nicholas, where there are special feelings of his benevolent presence, for all who come to him in faith and in prayer.

We believe that the prayers of our venerable saints, St. Herman of Alaska, St. Innokenti, Metropolitan of Moscow, and Patriarch Tikhon of all Russia, will accompany those who always protect the loyalty to the Moscow Patriarchate.

This Russian orthodox community in San Francisco has existed since 1932. With thanks I remember the founders of this church and those who prayed for them and saved them in difficult moments. Eternal memory to the deceased founders and members of this holy church.

I would like to express thanks to Bishop Pavel and Father Alexander, who have defended this parish and helped it develop. I also want to thank the Russian consulate general for their help during difficult moments during the life of this parish.

Often the life of man can be compared with the storm of the living sea. In the life of every man storms and troubles are present, as well in the life of the church parish. But we must remember the words of Christ, said to the father of the possessed young man: “Everything is possible to one who has faith”. (Mark 9:23) Today, the Russian orthodox parishes in America are growing. We will always be grateful for the bond we have with them and the Mother Church of Russia.

I would like to present to this parish the image of Our Lady of Kazan in memory of our meeting. This is the icon before which we always pray in Russia, and, in Moscow we hope to bless the church in her honor on the feast of the icon of Our Lady of Kazan - November 4. Two years ago, in Red Square, we laid the foundation for this church.

In difficult times during the history of Russia our ancestors always came running to Our Lady of Kazan to help the Christian people. We believe that the protection of the Mother of God resides with us, living here and protecting the faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate.

For me, this parish, like all the parishes of our church, near and far, close and at home, today have become twice as close because we have met and joined in prayer. I will remember those who have prayed with us, who in this parish community have found in themselves spiritual strength to carry their cross of life.

Archpriest Victor Tseshkovsky 1996-99 Archpriest Victor Tseshkovsky. During this time the church hall and entire heating system were remodeled.

Archpriest Nicholay Scherbakov 1999-04 Archpriest Nicholay Scherbakov. During this time 19 icons were painted for the inconostasis and church. The parishioners raised money for three candelabra, priest and deacon vestments and other church furnishings.

A special reliquary was made in which lie the relics of many saints (St. Apostle Andrei, St. Apostle Peter, St. Apostle Mathew, St. Apostle Luke, St. Apostle Paul, St. Apostle Simon, St. Teacher Ioann Damaskin, St. Martyr Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev, St. Teacher Antoniy the Great, St. Martyr Archdeacon Stephen, St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Russia, St. Martyr Barbara, Blessed Prince Alexander Nevski, Blessed Prince Daniel of Moscow, Equal to the Apostles Maria Magdalena, St. Fotia, Patriarch of Constantinople, St. Teacher Sava of Storosh, Martyr and Healer Panteleon, St. Vasilii the Great and St. Feodor of Suzdal).

The church furnishings and icons from Russia were all shipped free by the Russian airline Aeroflot.

Archimandrite Pavel In December 2003 Archimandrite Pavel, Igumen of the Holy Trinity Ipatievsky (Kostroma, Russia) monastery was appointed by the Patriarch and the Holy Synod as dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral.

Two novices from the monastery, Vitali Babushkin and Sergei Vinogradov accompanied Archimandrite Pavel to San Francisco.


2005 has been particularly significant for St. Nicholas Cathedral. First, the Cathedral community turns 70 years. In preparation for this anniversary the parishioners, under the direction of Archimandrite Pavel, undertook an extensive restoration project.

By Easter, the interior of the cathedral had an entirely different appearance.


The walls of the cathedral were painted with frescoes. All the walls and arches were covered with beautiful iconography done by two artists from Kostroma – Yuri Ivanovich Konishev and Alexander Alexandrovich Kargopoltsev.

Simultaneously, other restoration work took place.

By Easter, all the large icons had new frames. Parishioner Sergei Novichkov played a very active role in completion of these frames.

Another project was the laying of an entirely new floor with redwood paneling. To complete this project by Paskha many hours of labor were donated by parishioners Igor Viacheslavich Kurikov, Mikail Fedorovich Kravchenko, Igor Ilich Pavkin, Alexander Ilich Pavkin and Afanasy Panaetovich Dimitrov.

At the Cathedral’s parish feast, in recognition of their labor, these parishioners were presented with certificates of recognition, signed by Bishop Mercuri of Zaraisk, the Administrator of all Moscow Patriarchate parishes in America.


Many parishioners, guests and visitors from different cities (Sacramento, Palo Alto, Santa Rosa, San Diego) gathered to celebrate.

After the Liturgy, there was a procession, and a moleben was sung. Everyone gathered in the church hall for a festive meal. Archimandrite Pavel greeted everyone and expressed thanks to the community for their active participation in the life of the cathedral parish.

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