Greek Orthodox Church

The history of the Parish of St-John the Baptist Russian Greek Orthodox Church of Chipman, Alberta is a living memorial to the faith and dedication of its original founders and their descendants.

In the years 1895-1905, ten pioneer families, in the vicinity of present day Chipman, joined together and resolved to establish an Orthodox Parish of the Russian Greek Orthodox Church in America. They bought 10 acres of land, located east across the road from the present church site, from the government for $10.00 an acre. Even though they owned the land, their resources were insufficient to construct a church, so for their religious satisfaction, they travelled 12 miles north to the Holy Trinity Russo Greek Orthodox Church which was established at Wostok, Alberta in 1897. A church and minister's residence were built there in 1900.

In 1900, the first parish of the present church was founded, with a small 109 church being built on the homestead of Peter Stefura, approximately three miles east of Chipman. This first parish was a Greek Catholic Uniate Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary In about 1919, this Uniate parish was divided into two groups of dissenters. One professing Catholicism and the other one professing Orthodoxy. The group desiring to return to the Orthodox faith was larger and a union with the ten Orthodox families from Chipman materialized. As churches were common property, the ten families were obliged to pay $1,5O0.00 to the departing Uniates. At this time, an agreement was made that even if only one original member from the Chipman group remained, the church would remain their property. This church association lasted for about a year, but due to some renewed religion differences, the Uniates left the church in the possession of the Chipman group. Bishop Alexander recommended at this time that the Chipman group resell their share to the Uniates, but they refused and persisted in their efforts to keep the church going. The Parish continued until February 23,1923 when the church burned at 4:00 a.m. of unknown causes. (This original church site is still identifiable by the presence of approximately 50 graves, the names of which appear below). Many of these deaths were due to the influenza epidemic of 1919-1920. This cemetery was used until 1924, and it holds the graves of the following:

Wasyl Ulan, Billy Ulan, child; Fedko Pewarchuk; Harry Holowaychuk; John Achtemychuk; Helen Achtemychuk; Paraska Romaniuk, baby; Peter Sharun, 8 years; Nastasia Sharun, 2 years; Olga Hlushko, 18 mos.; Nancy Hlushko, 3 weeks; Tehenia Swischuk; Yacko Swischuk; Maria Ewasiuk; Dmytri Kaletchuk; Billy Melnyk, baby; Mary Antoniuk, baby: Peter Stefura; Euphia Kudryk; Baby Kudryk; Nancy Kudryk, 8 years; Harry Shulba, 2 years; John Hrynyk; Baby Hrynyk; Mattew Senyk; Matrona Proskurniak; Wm. Proskurniak; Baby Proskurniak: Barbara Kefluik; Mike Sawchuk; Harry Sawchuk; Theodor Sawchuk; Wasyl Fedora; John Fedora; Anna Wiznowich; Palahia Nykilchuk; Maria Achtemychuk; Steve Pitch; Bill Osinchuk: Alexandra Osinchuk; Dolniski; Teretiuk.

When the church was destroyed by fire, it was decided to construct a new one on the ten acres of land that this parish owned in Chipman. At this time, the C.N.R. was willing to sell a ten-acre parcel where the church now stands. Because Mr. Magzag owned the remaining section of land of which the parish owned ten acres, a deal was made, with Mr. Magzag buying the ten acres from the C.N.R. and trading them to the parish.

The members then gathered and taxed themselves according to their own abilities to raise money for a new church. The largest donation was $250.00 and the sums continued in various amounts. With the $1,800.00 insurance collected and with a very active building committee consisting of John Winnick, John Kudryk John Ewasiuk, (Three Johns) William Magzag, Fred Antoniuk, William Melnyk and Stefan Holowaychuk, sufficient funds were obtained and a contract was signed with J. J. Janishowsky as head carpenter. The new church, which cost $5,000.00, was designed by Rev. Andrew Kokolsky and had the very distinctive features of a large central dome and a high bell tower over the west entrance of the church. The parishioners were so pleased with its appearance that they wanted to show their appreciation to the three members of the building committee whose first names were "John" that the church was dedicated to "St. John The Baptist Russian Greek Orthodox Church of Chipman, Alberta." On July 7,1925, the Patronal Feast Day of St. John, the church was consecrated by His Grace Bishop Adam.

The interior of the church was a masterpiece of design and beauty. Upon entering the church one was immediately attracted by the beautiful iconostasis, the partition with its designated icons which forms the partition between the sanctuary and the central area of the church. The iconostasis was built and carved of wood materials by Mr. Harry Holowaychuk, a master wood carver from the old country Mrs. Helen Achtemychuk donated this beautiful iconostasis. The intricate and artistic wood carving was admired and loved by all who came to pray The John Winnick family donated a beautiful-sounding bell for the bell tower which rang out its traditional call to worship that was heard for miles around. In 1934, the parishioners organized a large choir trained by the precentor, Mr. Laudubetz. An active parish life enriched the spiritual and social life of its members; but not for long.

On the night of September 27,1963, a fire of undetermined origin completely burned the church and all its rich and historic contents. It was a heartbreaking sight as one approached the spot where the church had stood and served its parishioners for 38 years (1925-1963). The shock was overwhelming, but gradually the call to rebuild gained momentum. A building committee was organized. In 1964, Mr. Nick Stroich, an architect from Edmonton, developed a design for a new church. William Melnyk, a senior elder, 82 years of age, recommended that a head carpenter (Sam Widynowski) be hired.

Construction began in the spring of 1965 with volunteer labour by the members. The cornerstone was dedicated by His Grace Archbishop Panteleimon. Progress was extraordinary; with some sub-contracting, the building was closed in and the first service was conducted by Fr. Eugene Bartchewsky in the fall of 1965. Finishing of the interior and auditorium continued as funds became available through the very generous donations of the parishioners. The church is rectangular in design, of concrete blocks on the outside, with a large central aluminium covered dome in the interior, and four smaller closed domes at the four outside corners. A new, wood carved iconostasis, imported from Greece, was installed in 1976.

Once again, the parishioners celebrated the completion of a new church with great spiritual joy. On Sunday, July 4,1976, the present day church of St. John The Baptist was consecrated by His Grace Bishop Job of Zaraisk, assisted by the clergy of the Patriarchal Orthodox Parishes in Canada. In 1980, donations were received and a beautiful 264 lamp chandelier was imported from Greece and installed from the top of the dome. Since 1925, the parish was served by the following clergy:

Reverend Fathers

John Chrustawka Andrew Kokolsky
Thadeus Ewachniuk Vdovichenko
John Lucyshyn Anton Radchuk
John Wasyl John Kowalchuk
Osadchuk Theodore Varchol
George Marinetz J, Denesiuk
Wasily Hochachka Archbishop Panteleimon
Dimitri Schur Germogen Cherkasin
John Margitich Eugene Bartchewsky
Victor Petluchenko Boris Grigory
vlas Vitenko Anthony Chilkowich
Nikanor Shimko Stefan Abramochuk

Since September, 1986, Rev. John Voronko. Of these clergy, Reverends Ewachniuk and Varchol are interred in the Chipman Cemetery deceased 1937 and 1951 respectively)

Today, the parish membership of 40 families is somewhat small due to the decease of the early pioneers, and a large exodus of the young descendants in 1950-70 to the large cities to new professions and jobs. However, the annual Patronal Feast Day of the Nativity of St. John The Baptist, celebrated in Chipman church on July 7, brings back many worshippers and former residents for the joyful spiritual celebration. In 1976, the parish hosted the 79th annual commemoration of Orthodoxy in Canada (1897-1976).

Dan Lopushinsky from Skaro, serves as pre-cantor and director of congressional singing. Anna Pewarchuk is President and Polly Pewarchuk is Secretary-Treasurer of a very dedicated sisterhood that caters for social functions associated with the church services. Once again, by the Grace of God, the parishioners have a church to serve their spiritual and social needs. The living descendants of the pioneers, founders and builders of St. John's Parish join in prayers of Thanksgiving to the Heavenly Father for His mercies and blessings to all mankind.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018