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St Sergius Synodal Church and High School

 

St Sergius church is situated on the ground floor of the Synod building. The services are conducted here every day – at 8 a.m. and at 5 p.m. On Sundays the Divine Liturgy – in English – begins at 8.30 a.m. Hieromonk Zosimas (Krampis) is the priest in charge of the English-speaking parishioners.

Among relics of St Sergius chapel are Holy doors from the old Synod building in 77th Street. Reliquary with the relics of saints was presented to the church by the monks from Mount Athos. The miraculous icon of Our Lady of All Who Sorrow was brought to the chapel from Kharbin by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) in 1964. The icon was almost all dark but got renewed and has worked many miracles.

Since it was consecrated in 1958, St Sergius chapel had been connected with St Sergius High School whose students were always present during the services.

St Sergius High School began as a modest weekly church school to inculcate the traditions and beliefs of Russian Orthodoxy in the children of parishioners. Russian parents of children growing up in America wanted to preserve their heritage as well as to help the children adjust to their adopted country. A weekly church school was founded in 1953 by Reverend Sergei Kargai in response to this need. It was grown to become the only Russian-American bilingual secondary school in the US and had students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Many people helped to make the school - from the Most Reverend Metropolitan Anastassy, under whose auspices the school was founded, and Dr Anthony Terino of the New York State Education Department, who assisted in obtaining the school’s charter, to devoted teachers and administrators and supportive parents – but it can safely be said that if it were not for Archimandrite Anthony (Grabbe), the school’s founder and principal, St Sergius would not exist.

Father Anthony’s unflagging energy to raise funds, garner support from the city and state and the Russian community, to attract students; his faith that the school could exist; and his unwillingness to take no for an answer created St Sergius, nurtured it, and kept it alive in its shaky years.

The church’s blessing and support continued under the very active concern of Metropolitan Philaret. A teacher when he was a young priest, His Eminence believed strongly in the importance of a good education with a solid moral and religious upbringing. He found scholarships for worthy students and is godfather of many émigrés from the Soviet Union who were baptized in New York.

The Belosselsky family supported school. Mrs Svetlana Belosselsky (nee Florence Crane) was an active as her Russian husband Prince Sergei Belosselsky in supporting Russian culture in America.

The substantial contributions of Prince and Princess Belosselsky kept the school going in its early years. The family’s generosity is commemorated in Belosselsky Hall at the school.

The first person to help establish St Sergius High School at the George F. Baker Mansion on Park Avenue was Mr Serge Semenenko. Through his generosity and contributions, the school was able to obtain the necessary basic equipment. Another early friend was Mrs G.F. Baker, the former owner of the mansion, who became an honorary member of the Board of Trustees and contributed financially to the school as well.

Two families contributed to St Sergius cause even before its official existence. Prince Sergei Sergeyevich Belosselsky and captain Boris Sergievsky gave very substantial help over the years and 2 scholarships for the most deserving students were given in their names every year.

The early years of the school were also supported by a benefactor – Alexander Vlasov – who chose to remain anonymous for many years. His son Boris continued in his father’s traditions and was one of the group of dedicated benefactors of the school, which includes the Obolensky family, Princess Diana Eristavi, Prince Alexei Droutzky, Princess Lucy Shirazee, Mr and Mrs DeWitt Wallace, Mstislav Rostropovich, Dimitri von Witte, Lyla Ting, Emily Salzberg, late Natalie Wood, Yul Brynner. Fund-raising benefits for the school with a Russian art motif were held at the Nakhamkin Gallery and at the Sotheby Parke-Bennet.

Fr Anthony supervised every step of the school’s formation. The Saturday Synod school moved to new quarters at Park Avenue and 93rd Street. The many rooms were used for classrooms, libraries, auditorium and lunchroom by 144 students and 23 faculty members.

The Synod School attracted an ever growing number of students. Its courses in the Russian language, history, geography, music, art and religion made some parents want to see them offered on a daily full-time basis.

Fr Anthony responded to the many requests for a secondary school and in 1958 St Sergius High School opened its doors. The number of students grew rapidly, but the quality of instruction remained high.

St Sergius’s college-bound graduates were bilingual. The curriculum prepared well-rounded students, versed in the liberal arts and the sciences. But the sacred aim of those who founded the school was to preserve and educate the future generation: to transmit to them the values of Russian culture, to form in their minds and hearts a true Russian Orthodox Christian understanding of the world.

Upon graduation, the St Sergius students attained a level of accomplishment in the Russian language and culture superior to that of the average student majoring in Russian.

Needless to say, such students are needed in America today, not only as teachers, but as Russian experts in business, industry and government.

A major factor in the life of St Sergius was the church. The school, despite the civil character, celebrated church holidays, and the students attended services either in the cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign, which adjoins the school building, or in the chapel named after St Sergius.

The school and the church together prepared traditional trapeze, or communal meal, to be consumed after the services on the feast of St Sergius.

St Sergius sponsored many booths selling Russian art, books and food at the Slavic Fairs. The proceeds went to the school’s scholarship fund.

One of the cultural events sponsored by St Sergius was an exhibition of paintings done by some of the most outstanding artists of the Russian-American community, including Aristow, Bobritzky, Bogolubov, Kolb-Zeletzky, Kranorow, Nikolenko, Nordman, Verboff, Woronyn and Zbanduto.

St Sergius students presented Russian plays to help actors and audiences learn the beauties of the language and to keep alive the classics of our heritage.

Despite the academic rigors of a bilingual curriculum, students at St Sergius enjoyed a wide variety of extracurricular activities. The school took advantage of its location in New York City, visiting museums, the theater and the United Nations.

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