The History of St. Nicholas Church, Portland
In 1890, near what is now the corner of S.E. 20th and Belmont, the building of a small Orthodox chapel was begun by Lavrenti Chernov Stevens — A Russian / Aleut who had recently moved to Portland. On February 25th, 1895, San Francisco-based missionary priest Fr. Sebastian Dabovich celebrated the first Orthodox divine services in the chapel. It was at this time that the chapel was dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. The congregation of about 12 faithful consisted of Aleut Creoles, Serbs, Arabs and Russians. From this very modest beginning, ten Orthodox parishes in the Metropolitan area have been established to date.
Sometime about the turn of the century, St. TIKHON made a hierarchical visit to Portland and served in the chapel. No permanent priest was assigned to Portland, however. Pastoral visitations were made from Seattle (Fr. Michael Andreades) or San Francisco (Fr. Sebastian Dabovich) for a number of years. Eventually, however, the original chapel fell into disrepair and the Orthodox community began to fragment. In 1927 the Orthodox faithful renewed their efforts as a community, meeting in a house-church in North Portland. The pastor at the time was Fr. Constantine Lebedev. Within two years a church building on Northeast Mallory Avenue was purchased from the German Brethren congregation. This was accomplished during the pastorate of Fr. John Zlobin. The parish became incorporated and was then placed under the heavenly patronage of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. Construction of a Holy Table and the consecration of that building took place on June 10, 1928. With the blessing of Metropolitan PLATON (Rozhdestvensky), Bishop ALEXEI (Panteleev) presided at the services, joined by Orthodox and clergy and faithful from Portland, Seattle and San Francisco.
The parish community remained at the Mallory Avenue location for the next fifty years, and saw no less than 16 pastors come and go during this time. This period witnessed a number of factors: the russification of the community, the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, the transition to the New Calendar, and the gradual re-introduction of English as the primary liturgical language. All of these elements took their toll on the congregation. The Greeks had formed their own community, retaining the name of the original chapel: Holy Trinity. The Arabs followed suit, naming their congregation St. George Orthodox Church. In 1978, under the pastorate of Fr. Seraphim Gisetti, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church moved to the southwest part of Portland and held services at the parish hall of the St. Clare Roman Catholic Church. This was near property which had been purchased for a new St. Nicholas Church building. On December 10, 1978 Bishop (now Archbishop) DMITRI (Royster) broke ground on the Dolph Court property. The parish hall was built in 1981 and services were held in that building for the next 15 years.
As the centennial of the first Divine Liturgy in the city neared, preparations were made to build a new temple, adjacent to the parish hall. Under the pastorate of Fr. George Gray, the parish requested Fr. Alex Vinogradov of Wappingers Falls, New York to design the building. Fr. Alex enlisted a local architectural firm to oversee the project. A general contractor was hired and excavation and construction began during Holy Week of 1995. Heather MacKean moved to Portland at that time to take up the position of resident iconographer (and has remained to complete the iconographic scheme of the building). The first Divine Liturgy in the new church was celebrated on Palm Sunday, 1996. Metropolitan Archbishop THEODOSIUS (Lazor) presided at the consecration of the new church building on June 12 & 13, 1998. He was joined by 16 priests, 4 deacons, and about 300 faithful.
Since that time, the congregation has grown steadily in many ways. Since its tentative beginnings in the tiny chapel, St. Nicholas Church has been under the care of 24 pastors (two of whom were eventually consecrated to the episcopacy); has been housed in 5 buildings; has been the home parish of at least 8 seminarians; has been the mother church for 10 Orthodox congregations in the Portland area; has been the outreach center for three mission projects (in Ashland, Salem, and the Chemawa Indian School); and the spiritual home of hundreds and hundreds of faithful who live or have lived in the Portland area.