Diocese: Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania
Deanery: Southwest Deanery
309 S Washington St
Masontown, Pennsylvania 15461
217 Plainview Ave
Belle Vernon, PA 15012
Masontown is situated in the Laurel Highlands of SW Pennsylvania approximately one hour south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 23 miles NE of Morgantown, W.Va., 18 miles E of Waynesburg, PA and 12 miles SW of Uniontown, PA.
From the north and west
Come on Route 40 into Uniontown and get onto Route 21/166 South for approximately 12 miles. Rte 21 and 166 diverge, follow 166 which goes under an overpass. Rte. 166 is now N. Main Street. Proceed straight to light in center of town (bank on right). Turn right onto Church Street and go 2 blocks. The Presbyterian Church is on your right, All SaintsÃ¢ÂÂ Roman on your left. Turn to your left at the Roman Church onto Washington Street. Follow Washington Street to the top of the hill, our parish is on your left.
From the west
Proceed on Rt. 21 over the Masontown Bridge that spans the Monongahela River from Greene County to Fayette County (at the Hatfield Ferry Power Plant). Proceed straight from the Fayette County end of the bridge for slightly more than 2/10 of a mile and turn right onto River Avenue (CarmineÃ¢ÂÂs Appliance Store should be on your right). Go straight past the public cemetery and the Brethren Church on the left. At next intersection the Presbyterian Church is on your left and All Saints Roman on your right, immediately past All Saints turn right onto South Washington Street and follow it to the top of the hill. Our parish is on the left.
Schedule of Services
10:00 AM Divine Liturgy (9:30 AM from Memorial Day through Labor Day).
(Adapted by George Gapen from the parish’s 75th anniversary booklet, 1914-1989)
“O come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker! For He is our God and we are the people of His Pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” —Psalm 95
As early as 1909, a group from the Masontown / Ronco area began to assemble for prayers, celebrations and observances in accordance with their Orthodox faith. At that time the community was served periodically by Father Andrew Solianka who held services on the second floor of the local post office building, then located on North Main Street. Fr. AndrewÃ¢ÂÂs wish to establish a parish took fire in the hearts of nine organizers: Frank (Fyodor) Bercha, George Vargo, John Glagola, Charles Toth, Michael Dufinich, Elia Kundrick, Michael Huzinich and George Huzinich.
Word that the Orthodox Church might find a permanent home in Masontown was enthusiastically received by the Carpatho-Russians of West Masontown, Ronco, Penn Pit, Bobtown, and Bessemer; the Orthodox Serbs in Crucible, Serbiantown and Rice’s Landing; and the Orthodox Syro-Arabs who were settling in Masontown and Republic. In anticipation and support, more and more of the faithful converged on Masontown. Growth was dramatic. Divine Services were moved to a home on South Water Street and then to a building on West Church Street.
In 1911 the membership of the community was significant enough to petition the Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Ecclesiastical Mission in New York for parish status and to gain the blessing to complete the construction of a Temple. Such a blessing was received from Archbishop Platon and the parish was incorporated and named in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God. In the meantime, the parishioners continued to gather, still without a permanently assigned priest, in the West Church Street location.
Dreams of a parish and a true home became reality when ground was broken for a new Church in 1914. The cornerstone was laid on July 12, 1914 with the inscription, “Russian Eastern Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God, Masontown, Pa”. Architecturally, the newly constructed Church echoed owed much to the Carpatho-Russian Churches found in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. The designer and contractor for the temple was Mr. Louis Drnjevic, who would also build the Greek Catholic Church in Perryopolis and the Orthodox Church in West Brownsville. The new Church was adorned with three beautiful bells, each bearing an inscription in Russian for the Holy Prophets for whom the bells are named - Jeremiah, Isaiah and John the Forerunner.
Upon completion of the temple a permanent rector, the Rev. Fr. Theodosius Kulchitsky, was assigned. During this time the large and spacious cemetery property was acquired as a gift from the Masontown land-grant company, part of the property incorporating the old Slovak Cemetery.
The joys of worshipping in the newly complete Temple were short lived. The terrible influenza epidemic was simply the beginning of hardships and temptations for the people of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Work stoppages and coal strikes added to already difficult times. Many parishioners were involved in the struggle for fair wages, safer work places, and just treatment on the job, only to be rewarded by coming home from the mines and ovens to find their wives, children and belongings on the street. Living in tents, many parishioners managed to find peace and solace where they had always taken refuge - the Church. The hardest blow was the Great Depression.
The young Church, mortgaged as it was, seemed to be in danger. Many parishioners left the area never to return, most who stayed behind were unemployed and our youth sought jobs in larger cities. Russia was torn by revolution and was forced to eliminate all financial assistance. The parishes in the North American Ecclesiastical Diocese had to fend for themselves. The lack of financial support for the Central Administration of the Diocese together with the loss of educated and well-trained clergy from the Mother Church had terrible results. Imposters and poorly educated priests began to appear in the parishes. The bitterness and numerous problems they caused resulted in an anticlericalism which took years to heal. Priests and curators found it necessary to go from house to house, patch to patch, to collect funds. Local businesses, coal companies and other influential people were asked to help the parishes and, thankfully, many did.
Surviving the depression, the parish witnessed the liquidation of its mortgage in 1941. With the guidance of Father Nikifor Kobzareff, sufficient funds were raised to free the parish from responsibility to outside creditors. With the help of the Russian American Brotherhood, which had been established in the parish in May of 1921, several individuals played an active role in leading the parish to a sense of greater security. Among them were John Cheypesh, Andrei Volos, Vasili Muha, Andrei Strizak, George Fetko, Vasili Bilak, George Mikita, and Nikolai Kobzareff. At this point attention was turned to the interior of the temple. Murals and icons were appointed for the ceiling and walls of the church interior.
Then came World War II. With the onset of this war many of the young men of the parish were called to duty with over 50 serving in various branches of the armed services. Five of these men were killed in the line of duty: Peter Chuberko, Erving Dobish, John Kukalo, Alexander Krawetz and Joseph Levino. A small shrine commemorates their memory today.
The years following the war were the “boom years” of the parish. The young men returned home, married, found good jobs and several started businesses. Parish membership was at an all-time high. For major Feast Days the church was filled to overflowing. Often a rented sound system was used to benefit those gathered on the Church grounds. Two services were held on Sundays - Liturgy in the morning and Vespers in the afternoon to accommodate the number of worshippers.
These days were not without strife however. The various jurisdictional divisions which were affecting some of the local parishes also influenced the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A new Orthodox movement against the Uniates, this time led by Bishop Orestes Chornock, was the center of a great deal of attention. As early as 1958 still more Greek Catholic parishes were leaving the Unia over the issues of the Papacy, imposed celibacy for the clergy and Latinization of liturgical practice. Bishop Orestos had formed a Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese centered in Johnstown and established by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This diocese sought to embrace more ex-Uniate parishes of Carpathio-Russian background. Several parishes of the Russian Orthodox diocese also joined the “Johnstown Diocese”, finding there a refuge from the “Russification” of the Liturgical practice and confessions.
Added to these events were the activities of the Moscow Patriarchate, that sought to gain parishes in the United States while riding out the feeling of goodwill which came with the end of the war. Many thought, since the Moscow Patriarchate was indeed the Mother Church of our parishes, it would be proper to return to her jurisdiction. The American Church was existing in a state of autonomy following the Russian Revolution maintaining only spiritual ties with the Russian Church. During these years the American Church freely elected Her own Bishops, called Her own Sobors and basically governed Herself without outside influence. Loyalties and hopes were being weighed. Discussions and arguments were commonplace and these had an adverse effect on the life of the Church not only in Masontown but throughout Western Pennsylvania. The arrival of father John Gaydos in 1949 could only be termed providential. His peaceful manner and gentle ways coupled with his knowledge of all of the various factors brought peace to the troubled parish. His humility served as an example to all and, as a result, he enjoyed the longest tenure of any priest to serve the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish.
Throughout the years a strong parish life has been established at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our parish is a community founded upon prayer and revolving around the great cycle of life as established by ChristÃ¢ÂÂs Holy Church. The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary bears witness to the truth of Orthodoxy and stands as a testimony to faith and trust in the mercy and goodness of Almighty God. With the same devotion of our forefathers, we look forward eagerly to the future.