Holy Transfiguration of Christ Orthodox Cathedral has played an important role in the history of one of the largest ethnic neighborhoods in the state of Colorado, as well as having importance as a center of the Carpatho-Rusyn and Serbian ethnic immigrant communities, and as the earliest Orthodox Church in Colorado.
The church is located within the heart of Globeville, an old ethnic community in north Denver. Unlike other ethnic enclaves in the state, Globeville was unique in that it originated as an independent community in the late 1880s. The Globe Smelting & Refining Company was organized in 1889. The company purchased ranch land and platted a small town for its workers. The other nearby smelters and packing houses attracted more workers to the small town. Two years later, Globeville was incorporated with its own city hall, post office, hotel, several stores, and no less than 16 saloons.
The old town jail can still be seen incorporated into the structure of the PDM Steel Company on the Northwest corner of 48th Avenue and Washington St. By 1893, the population of Globeville was 2,550 and the figure grew to 4,000 by 1907. By 1910, much of the community had been annexed by Denver to the south. The various ethnic groups tended to stay together and settle in different areas of the town. For the Carpatho-Rusyn and Serbian immigrant communities, their ethnic neighborhood consisted of the area immediately surrounding Logan St and East 47th Avenue.
The smelter workers and other industrial workers who located in Globeville in the late 1880s and early 1900s included immigrants from almost every central and eastern European country. Among these were Slavic peoples from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, chiefly from the provinces of Galicia and Hungary, who were known as Carpatho-Rusyns. Although traditionally Eastern Orthodox, these peoples found themselves living under the rule of traditionally Roman Catholic Poland and Austria, and were considered by these governments to be second-class citizens. Many of these immigrants were subject to cultural and religious oppression. Under these circumstances, many found themselves subject to the Uniate or Greek Catholic Church: Eastern Rite Christians under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the late 19th Century, many Carpatho-Rusyns began leaving their native lands for America to be free of the economic, political and religious oppression and conscription into the armed forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some of these immigrants arrived in Denver, Colorado, and settled in Globeville. Many of these early settlers were single men without families or those who had left families behind while they searched for work and a good place to settle. When they had earned enough money, these men would bring their wives, children, and sometimes parents to this country or they sent enough money home for the families to make the trip alone.
In his article “Czechs and Slovaks in Colorado, 1860-1920,” Mr James Kedro says of immigrant settlements, “…the ethnic neighborhood was usually a haven where acclimation to a new environment might be achieved with less stress,” and “These communities, in conjunction with the church and fraternal benefit societies… did permit the local immigrant to cope with drastically new surroundings” (Colorado Magazine, Spring 1977). In the late 1890s, religious, educational and social institutions were being established to meet the needs of the new community and to help bridge the gap between the Old World cultures and the road to American citizenship. For the Carpatho-Rusyns and Serbs, the primary institution became Holy Transfiguration Church.
In 1898, a band of “Slavish” people began meeting for services in one of Globeville’s two German Reformed Churches. In September of 1898, the parish was incorporated as the “Greek Catholic Church, Transfiguration of Christ.” The founding members, each of whom contributed $50.00, were: George Pristash, Stephen Kulick, Panko Homyak, John Cintala, Sr, George Slovak, John Mindzak, Michael Kohut, Peter Kohut, John Wysowatcky, George Lesko, and Michael Dugan.
In that same year, six lots were purchased at the corner of Logan St and 47th Avenue, the present site of the Temple, for $350.00. Construction on the church began soon after, and the total cost of the land and construction amounted to $4,082.00.
The new parish sent for a priest, Fr Nicholas Seregely, from Austria-Hungary. Fr Nicholas had been ordained by the Uniates (Eastern Catholics in full communion with the Roman Pope) in Europe. The appearance of this new, Greek Catholic parish seemed to confuse the Denver press, who identified them as Croation Orthodox or as Maronite (Lebanese) Catholic. The local Roman Catholic bishop was apparently unfamiliar with the Uniate Rite and cut off Fr Nicholas’ income and sought to close the parish. Fr Nicholas apparently kept both the problems with the bishop and his own financial straights from the parish, and continued to serve the parish until his death, which was reported in the Denver Post to have been from starvation, in 1903.
With the unfortunate death of Fr Nicholas, the parish found itself confronted with both the loss of a pastor and with an attempt by the local Roman Catholic bishop to replace the Eastern rite Liturgy with the Latin Rite. Confronted with these challenges, in May of 1903 a special parish meeting was called and the faithful decided to petition Bishop Tikhon, Bishop of the Russian Orthodox American Mission, to receive the parish into the Russian Orthodox Church. On June 15, 1903, Bishop Tikhon granted the request and sent Fr John Nedzelnitsky from Pittsburg to receive the parish into Orthodoxy. Thus, Holy Transfiguration became the first Orthodox Church in Colorado.
According to the Russian Orthodox Almanac of 1905, there were at this time only about 30 Russian Orthodox Churches in the United States, not including Alaska and Canada. On September 27, 1903, Fr Vladimir Kolneff arrived to pastor the church. During 1903-1904, Fr Vladimir supervised the construction of the Iconostasis, and the building of the Russian School (on the site of the present Parish Hall), which in future decades became known as “The Old Saw Mill”, a Globeville landmark, popular neighborhood gathering place, and early social focus of the Slavic community.
Holy Transfiguration Cathedral is one of the few church structures existing in the United States that was consecrated by Bishop (now Saint) Tikhon, who was the Russian Orthodox Bishop of America from 1898-1907. It was St Tikhon who accepted Holy Transfiguration into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1903. In 1904, St Tikhon visited the parish, and ordered the parishioners to construct an iconostasis in order to conform to the church to Orthodox worship in preparation of the building’s consecration. Upon consecrating the church in 1905 (the same year he blessed the ground to build the first Orthodox monastery in North America, St Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, PA) St Tikhon personally constructed the original Altar table by hand and placed relics of his own patron saint, St Tikhon of Zadonsk, in the original Altar Table. The original Altar Table is contained within the present Altar Table, which was constructed around and above it in the early 1960s. St Tikhon also presented the parish with a diploma, called a “Gramota” in the Church, from the Holy Synod of Russia, the highest Ecclesiastical authority in the Russian Orthodox Church at the time.
In February of 1907, St Tikhon returned to Russia, where he ruled as Bishop of Yaroslavl until 1914, when he transferred to the Diocese of Vilnius in Lithuania. In 1917, St Tikhon was elected Metropolitan of Moscow, where in 19-17-1918 he presided over the All-Russia Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. This Sobor (Russian word for “Council”) decided to restore the Patriarchate, which had been suppressed by Tsar Peter the Great in 1700. On November 21, 1917, St Tikhon was elected by his fellow bishops to be the first Patriarch of Moscow in over 200 years. This historic event in the life of the Holy Church was amidst the chaos and destruction of the Bolshevik Revolution. Consequently, as Patriarch, St Tikhon endured the intense persecution of the Church by the Bolsheviks until his death on April 7, 1925.
Some 64 years later, in October of 1989, Bishop Tikhon was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, with the title “St Tikhon, Enlightener of North America and Confessor of Moscow”. Several icons, one of which holds a reliquary, of St Tikhon, adorns the Temple presently. In the narthex St Tikhon is depicted holding in his hands Holy Transfiguration Cathedral, and he is venerated by the faithful as also “Consecrator of this Holy Temple”.
Several benevolent societies were connected with the church. The oldest of them is the Russian Orthodox Society of the Transfiguration of Christ, which was connected to the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Society of Wilkes-Barre, PA. The next oldest is the Serbian Benevolent Society “Balkan” connected with the “Serbobran” Aid Society of Pittsburg, Pa, now the Serb National Federation.
Upon reception of the parish into the Russian Orthodox Church, Fr Gregory Shutak arrived in 1905 and remained until 1908. In his place came Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich who served until 1909. Fr Sebastian was an American born Serb educated in Russia, and served as one of Bishop Tikhon’s chaplains. He was canonized recently by the Serbian Orthodox Church on September 5, 2015. In 1909 Fr Dimitri Holovitsky arrived and served until 1913, replaced by Fr Elias Klopotovsky who served one year. Fr Iouniky Kraskoff was pastor from 1914-1916. In 1913, Mr Stephen Kulick, a prominent parishioner, undertook a pilgrimage throughout North America to raise funds for the construction of a rectory. This was accomplished in 1914, when the old rectory on the Southwest corner of 14th and Logan Streets was a sold, a large red brick “Denver Square” was built next to the Temple on the corner of 47th Ave and Clark Place for about $3,000.
After the departure of Fr Iouniky in 1916, as the world was in the throes of World War I, Holy Transfiguration endured a curious episode that illustrates both the difficulties of the early Orthodox Church in America and its relations with the Roman Catholic Church. A new priest, Fr Theo Kulchinzky, arrived at the Church doorstep claiming to be sent by “the Bishop”. He was welcomed, and served a year before the parish discovered that Fr Theo was surreptitiously commemorating the Roman Pope during the Divine Liturgy. Apparently, the new priest was in fact a Uniate sent by the Roman Catholic Diocese in an attempt to reclaim the parish! When confronted by the Parish Council, Fr Theo admitted his origins, and was told that, while the parishioners had no desire to return to Roman Catholicism, they liked him personally and would have no objections to him continuing to be rector so long as he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.
Fr Theo declined this offer, and Holy Transfiguration received a new priest, Fr Michael Kaymakan, who served from 1917 until 1922. During his tenure St Michael the Archangel Chapel was built in the Orthodox section of the historic Riverside Cemetery, Denver’s oldest cemetery. The chapel is dedicated to the memory of John Wysowatcky, a young parishioner who fell in combat during WWI.
The 1920s were a roaring time for the country and a time of troubles for Holy transfiguration, and the Orthodox Church in America in general. At the time, although Orthodoxy in America was united, the administration of the Church was highly reliant in missionary funds from Russia to pay the salaries of priests and all the administrative expenses of the Diocese. With the fall of Russia to the Bolsheviks in 1918, communications with Russia were cut off, as were the source of funds. To make matters worse, Bishop Evdokim, the ruling Hierarch in America, was trapped in Russia, leaving control of the North America Diocese to Bishop Alexander (Nemolovsky), who when faced with mounting debt began to mortgage parish properties held in the name of the Diocese. Sadly, Holy Transfiguration was one of these. Whatever the merits of Bishop Alexander’s actions, this act was interpreted by the parishioners as “the bishop sold our church”.
Adding to the confusion was the “Living Church” schism, named after the Soviet-controlled puppet church set up by the Soviet government in opposition to the canonical Russian Orthodox Church. The Soviet government sent “Bishop” John Kedrovsky, a Living Church Bishop, to America where he presented himself as the Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in America. Matters became so confused that at one point the parishioners of Holy Transfiguration filed a lawsuit naming every “Bishop and so-called Bishop” in America and asking the court to give the parish control of the Church property.
At this point, Fr Michael Kaymakan left the parish, and Fr Alex Boguslavsky arrived at the parish on assignment from the canonical Russian Orthodox Bishop. A few months later, Fr Josep Takach arrived on assignment from “Bishop” John Kedrovsky of the Living Church. The people seemed to feel sympathy for Fr Takach, who shared their Carpatho-Rusyn background and language.
A bitter split ensued in the Parish which was to endure for four years. Initially, the Fr Boguslavsky faction retained control of the Church, while the numerically larger Fr Takach contingent held services in the Grey’s Dry Good Store, formerly at 46th Avenue and Washington St (near the McDonald’s today) in Globeville. However, in the meantime the holder of the mortgage foreclosed on the Church, and the property was purchased at a Sheriff’s sale by Mr Lesko, a member of the Fr Takach faithful. Fr Boguslavsky then withdrew, and was succeeded by Fr Nicholas Kushevich, who retained control of the Rectory while the Fr Takach faction held control of the Temple. Finally, in 1926 Fr Kushevich was dislodged from the Rectory, leaving the entire church property in the hands of Fr Joseph Takach.
In the early 1920s, the original red brick of the Church was covered with a white, stucco veneer. Parish oral history related that this change was made because, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the parishioners considered it inappropriate to worship in a “Red” church. However, this may also have been done to retard damage to the brick exterior.
Despite his dubious origins, Fr Takach managed to unite the divergent elements of the parish. He ensured an equal place for the Serbian Orthodox community, and through his influence prominent parishioner Vaso Chucovich gave the Church $3500 (about $50,000 in 2015) to redeem the remaining mortgages on the Church property. Out of respect for this act, and “in order to promote better understanding with our Serbian Orthodox Brothers,” the Church was renamed the “Russian-Serbian Church, Transfiguration of Christ.”
The Stock Market Crash of October 1929 and subsequent Great Depression caused sever difficulties for the Holy Transfiguration community. In 1929, the parish listed 176 contributors and an annual income of $5,407.09; by 1933, the list of contributors had fallen to 58 and the annual income had declined by almost 70% to $1,724.45. During this time, the children of impoverished parishioners found themselves leaving school for low paying jobs in the slaughter houses and pulling sugar beets, and marriage plans were delayed for years because of obligations to younger siblings or aging parents.
In the midst of national economic devastation, tragedy struck home. While on a trip to serve house blessings in the rural Calhan area, Fr Joseph Takach died in an automobile accident. In the final analysis, Fr Takach managed to reunite a divided parish, eliminate the mortgage, and serve the needs of the scattered Orthodox Slavic communities throughout Colorado. Although associated with the Living Church, he never once attempted to impose any of the dubious and uncanonical reforms advocated by that group upon holy Transfiguration. His passing was sincerely mourned, and he was long remembered by the parishioners.
Fr Takach was followed by the mercurial Fr John Mahonchak, who served from 1931-1932. Fr John is chiefly remembered for stating “I don’t like the way this is going” and pulling a revolver on Starosta (head of the parish council) John Machuga during a rather contentious annual parish meeting. The minutes of January 31, 1932, reveal Fr John standing up at the end of a meeting and announcing his departure. He was succeeded by Fr Vladimir Richloff, who finally returned the parish to canonical regularity under the Metropolia, and who faithfully served as Rector until his death on February 21, 1936.
Upon the death of Fr Vladimir, the parish was once again in need of a pastor. According to the historical Minutes, they petitioned the Bishop for an English-speaking priest, “otherwise our children will not come to church”. The Bishop assigned Archimandrite Athanasy Markowich, who served 23 years as Rector of Holy Transfiguration. Many of our oldest parishioners were baptized by Fr Markowich, recalling him as a serious liturgist and “no-nonsense” in the Altar. One parishioner even remembers having to give a quarter for confession! During his tenure, many improvements were made to the Rectory and Temple. In 1938 a new autocoal stoker was installed, the Iconostasis was enameled and the Temple floor was painted. In the 1940s, a new bathtub was purchased for the house at a cost of $164.00, and “new lavatory system” was installed, and, thankfully, the parish voted to cease taking offerings during funerals. In 1950 the parish rectory received its first refrigerator and a new kitchen sink, while termites were discovered in the Temple. In 1956, the parish laid plans for a Sunday School, which has continued non-stop to this day.
Fr Athanasy shepherded the parish through World War II, during which one of the parish youth, Theodore Dorak, died in naval combat. He, too, is commemorated at St Michael the Archangel Chapel in Riverside Cemetery. Several parishioners fought in WWII, and an Honor Roll with their names is posted in the Parish Hall to this day.
The aftermath of WWII saw a second great wave of immigration to the Denver area, as large numbers of Orthodox refugees and immigrants from Europe made Holy Transfiguration their spiritual home. In 1946 Metropolitan Theophilus awarded the parish a Gromata for its efforts in refugee relief, as well as its contributions towards replacing the New York Cathedral, which had been lost during the Kedrovsky upheaval.
After years of service, Fr Athansay was deposed from the priesthood in 1959 after his arrest and prosecution for criminal offenses of a moral nature, an event causing great scandal for the Parish and community. He spent his remaining days in repentance at St Tikhon Monastery in South Canaan, PA, and was allowed an Orthodox burial as a lay monk. By this time, the parish found itself facing a challenge of a different sort; the building between 1948 and 1964 of two interstate highways (I-25 and I-70) through the heart of the Globeville neighborhood, with the loss of 31 homes and most neighborhood businesses, combined with the construction of the 232 unit Stapleton Housing Project on the northern edge of the community. These twin projects destabilized the old ethnic neighborhoods that had stood unchanged since the 1890’s, accelerated the flight of the second and third generation church members to the suburbs, and threatened Globeville with irreversible decline.
Fr Athanasy, the only priest many parishioners had ever known, was succeeded by Fr George Benigsen (1960-1964) and Fr Paul Ziatyk (1964-1971). During this time, the Parish experienced a burst of growth and prosperity. New icons were commissioned for the Temple. Recognizing the growing diversity of the parish, the name of the church was again renamed to “Holy Transfiguration of Christ Eastern Orthodox Church,” in 1960. Given the decline in the Russian-Serbian ethnic neighborhoods in Globeville, Fr George launched a successful building drive to provide funds for the future relocation of the church, and property was purchased in suburban West Denver. An architectural firm was hired to bud a model of the new Temple and fellowship hall. In 1965, the Globeville neighborhood experienced a serious and destructive flood when the South Platte river overflowed, causing extensive damage to both the rectory and the “Old Saw Mill,” or parish hall, and coming within an inch of flooding the Temple itself. Holy Transfiguration used its building fund to loan money to local parishioners finding themselves in severe financial straights as a result of the destruction, and every penny was eventually repaid. In 1968, Holy Transfiguration became one of the first parishes in America to adopt the “Revised Julian Calendar,” when the Parish voted by a margin of more than two to one to make the change.
By 1971, Holy Transfiguration was strong and healthy, and a move by the Parish to a new neighborhood seemed imminent. A fund had been collected and new land purchased, and the community was poised to relocate. Both Roman Catholic schools in Globeville had been closed, as had the Lutheran Church, and the Volga German Congregational Church had moved to the suburbs. Thus, when Fr Andrew Harrison arrived in Denver in 1971 as the new priest, he clearly understood his assignment as being the successful relocation of Holy Transfiguration to a “better” neighborhood. In 1971, a ballot was held, and a significant majority of the parish membership voted to sell the property and move the Church. One may ask, then, why this move was never accomplished. The answer appears to be inertia, combined with regret at abandoning four generations of history.
In 1972, a new church building had been located and a contract for purchase negotiated. However, at the last moment Starosta Nickolai Zeniuk refused to sign the documents for the real estate closing, since he did not want to be the one to abandon the old church. Surprisingly, the Parish Council did not press the matter, and the sale was cancelled. As a result, a group of parishioners who favored the move to the suburbs took matters into their own hands by forming a mission church under the patronage of the newly canonized St Herman of Alaska. Fr Harrison, who was attempting to serve both communities, was forced to make a choice, and in January of 1973 became pastor of St Herman’s, which had located itself in Littleton, CO.
Reduced in numbers and unsure of the parish’s future in Globeville, Holy Transfiguration entered a period of uncertainty in the mid-1970s which lasted a decade. No definitive decision had been made to leave Globeville, or to stay. During this time, the parish was served by Fr Dragan Filipovich (1973-1975) and then by Fr James Worth (1976-1984), the first native son of the parish to enter the priesthood. Uncertainty over Holy Transfiguration’s future was exacerbated by a 1975 proposed urban renewal plan by the City of Denver which recommended “depopulating” and “totally industrializing” the Globeville area. Consequently, no money had been spent of major restoration of the Church, hall or rectory. The end of this uncertainty coincided with the arrival of Holy Transfiguration’s next Rector in 1984, Fr Joseph Hirsch and his family, Matushka Paulette, Joe, David, and Ben.
The decision was made to definitely remain in Globevile, and in 1984 the rectory was completely remodeled and a new concrete sign was installed in front of the church. In the first months of 1985, an in-depth set of goals and objectives for the direction of Holy Transfiguration was undertaken resulting in a strategic plan. Under this plan, the Parish Council undertook plans to erect a new parish hall, repair and repaint the Temple, install a new gold leaf dome and build a covered patio onto the Rectory. All of these projects were completed by February of 1986, in time for the parish’s annual St Sava’s Day celebration.
Over the ensuing years, Holy Transfiguration underwent a renaissance in terms of membership. In 1984, the average age of the parishioners was 63 years; by 1996, the average age had dropped to 24 years, a tribute to the growth in membership and the numerous young families who found in Holy Transfiguration a spiritual home. In 1985, the Parish sponsored a Youth camp which continues to serve the Rocky Mountain Orthodox youth each summer. In 1988, Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco raised the church to the status of a Diocesan Cathedral, in recognition of its place as the “mother church” for the Orthodox faith in Colorado.
After the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1990-1991, the Church became the spiritual home for an influx of immigrants from the Orthodox lands of Eastern Europe, including Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Parish improvements continued with new, Byzantine-style icons commissioned from noted iconographer Fr Theodore Jurevich and his pupil, Gabriel Hayman. Large, medallion-style icons were installed in time for the parish’s centennial celebration.
In 1995, Holy Transfiguration was blessed with the ordination to the Holy Diaconate of Fr Averky Davis, who has served since that time as the Parish’s first permanently assigned Deacon. Fr Averky has since been elevated to Protodeacon, and Fr Antony Dyl has served as the Parish’s second permanent Deacon. David Hirsch, son of Fr Joseph and Matushka Paulette, was ordained to the Subdiaconate. In 2002, Alexander Vallens set off to attend St Tikhon’s Seminary in PA, and became the second native son to enter the Holy Diaconate in 2005 and the Holy Priesthood in 2011. Fr Alexander now serves the St Tikhon of Moscow Mission in Parker, CO.
In August 2009, the Parish was shocked with the unexpected death of Fr Joseph Hirsch. This was a heavy loss for the community, many of whom were baptized by Fr Joseph, and for dozens of Eastern European families who had found in him a spiritual father. A few moths later, Matushka Paulette reposed. The loss of this couple extended beyond the parish into the civic community. Fr Joe and Matushka Paulette not only served Holy Transfiguration for 25 years, but also were crucial to the City’s recognition of Globeville as a sustainable residential neighborhood. Through their efforts, the Globeville Neighborhood Association was established, vintage-style street lampposts were installed along Washington and 47th Avenue and road conditions improved. They spearheaded the placement of the McDonald’s at I-70 and Washington, and Fr Joseph flipped their first hamburger. Their labors are bearing fruit today, as property values in Globeville have increased, attracting young families. Fr Joe is still remembered throughout the Diocese for his unending knowledge of Church history and especially for his “fatherly” manner to scores of priests and countless faithful.
In 2009, Archbishop Benjamin assigned Fr David and Matushka Elaine Lowell to Holy Transfiguration, primarily to assist the community in mourning and healing following the loss of their beloved pastor of 25 years, a labor through which they flourished. During this time, the rectory received a cosmetic overhaul as the walls were textured and repainted, the carpet was removed, revealing the beautiful hardwood floors installed back in the 1920s, and updated electrical service. The Lowell’s tenure was originally meant to last one to two years, but this extended into four. In September of 2013, Fr Kyrill moved to Denver as the new Rector with his family, Matushka Tamra, and daughters Mylee and Alice.
Today, in the 118th year of Holy Transfiguration’s service to the Denver Metro area, God continues to bless this community. The average age of parishioners has maintained the levels of the 1990s, summer and winter camps continue to thrive, and a generation of toddlers are being raised to become the next caretakers of the Mile-high Cathedral. The annual summer Parish Picnic has developed into the Orthodox Food Festival, which has steadily grown over 12 years as an event ensconced in the summer life of Denver. Several neighborhood, city, and non-profit groups utilize the parish’s location for meetings and classes, keeping the parish a beacon of civility in Globeville. Upgrades to the Temple continue as well. In August of 2015, new round tables were donated for the Fellowship Hall (now known as Hirsch Hall), facilitating greater mobility and closer fellowship. In October, new carpet was installed in the Temple.
As of February, 2016, the parish history continues to be written…