Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, Russian Orthodox Church

History of Church Building

History of the Building of the new church, ‘Protection of the Mother of God’, by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia Harrison Street, Brunswick, Victoria, Australia.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s clergy and parishioners of the Protection of the Mother of God Cathedral in Collingwood began seeking a new church site. The move was necessary as the site in Collingwood was not large enough to expand (the land owned is entirely taken up by the present bluestone church building and the adjacent church hall) and restrictions on parking were inconvenient, especially during weekdays. Ideally, the parish preferred to build a new church but its existing resources, it was thought, did not permit this. Purchasing an existing building was thought to be faster, simpler and less expensive.

Under Fr. Wally Evsukoff the Holy Protection parish became vibrant. A few church buildings had been investigated as possibilities for a new Russian Orthodox Church until in 1983, the church council sought to buy a building in Camberwell from the Uniting Church. Upon approval at a General Meeting, the transaction progressed to the signing of a contract, however, a change of agenda by both parties saw the Uniting Church use a technicality to withdraw their property from sale. Around about this time, the parishioners and council changed to a firm resolution to purchase land and construct a new Cathedral.

Prominent amongst these people were Alex Alexander (Alexander Sergeevich Alexandrov) and Fr. Nicholas Karipoff (now rector of the Holy Protection Cathedral upon the passing of Fr. Wally Evsukoff). The decision to build rather than buy was made on the rationale that a church in Russian style is more aesthetically pleasing to those who will worship in it than a renovated church in the style of a western denomination.

The parish in Melbourne had no urgency to move from Collingwood and did not wish to act hastily, preferring to investigate further the option of constructing its own church. Many blocks of land were investigated but had drawbacks due to either position or existing parking facilities. A demographic study was undertaken by the building committee, which concluded that Collingwood was well located and that the new church should be within approximately five kilometers of the existing church. Finding a block of land large enough in the inner city area, however, would be difficult to do.

Mr. Alex Alexander found the site in Harrison Street, Brunswick. This decision showed foresight because at that time this property was not very attractive, being located directly opposite a former tip. An uproar arose within the local Russian Orthodox community but the church council anticipated a park being built in place of the closed tip (there was initial planning by the council to build a park and in mid-1980s the site was marked as Jones park in the Melway street directory). It was thought that not only the site but also the surrounding area in East Brunswick was so bad that it could only get better. Nowadays, of course, we know these decision-makers to be vindicated because the area has been cleaned up; Merri Creek has been developed, the tip site has now begun stage two of its development into a park (paths, trees, ornamental lake, landscaping)

The contract was signed for the purchase of the land on the 6th of February 1984, this timing was encouraging as this was the feast day of Blessed Xenia. The parish paid $82,250 for one and one-third acres which is now (1999) valued at about $600,000. We had purchased the property in the midst of a downturn in the economy from a gentleman whom himself paid over $100,000 for the land two years earlier, planning to erect flats for sale or similar investment. It was anticipated that there would be a lot of opposition to the aesthetics of the site, but in 1984 the parish was interested in investments and allowed the purchase of the land in Harrison street on recognition of its potential to yield a profit.

An extra-ordinary meeting of the Parish was held to in December 1985 to present a proposal to begin planning to build a new church on the Brunswick site. Present at the meeting was the Late Archbishop Paul. The discussion was heated and emotional such that Vladika politely requested not to be invited to any further meetings. The motion was defeated seventy to fifty-five. The following year the motion was passed at the Annual General Meeting.

A Design and Construction firm in Dandenong, DDM (Paul Savenkoff & Alex Tzeberg), was asked by the Parish Council and the Building Committee to create a preliminary design for the site. A brief was drawn up with the aid of Nick Chlebnikowski, a former architect. The brief contained the parameters in terms of size and function of what the committee thought we needed in a new church and community hall.

Fr. Dimitri Alexandrov (now Vladika Daniel of Eirie, Pennsylvania) was living in Sydney at this time and discovered from a colleague iconographer that a new church was in planning in Melbourne. Excited by this Fr. Dimitri asked if he could view the drawings. Having a genuine interest and substantial knowledge in a number of creative disciplines including experience in design of churches Fr. Dimitri was a valuable consultant. Unfortunately he was transferred back to the United States, where correspondence (pre facsimile-ubiquity) was prohibitively difficult. What Fr. Dimitri did leave behind was the philosophical viewpoint that modern church architecture should begin from where Russian architecture peaked. He conveyed to Fr. Nicholas and iconographer Antonina Ganin that from the eleventh until the seventeenth century church architecture in Russia evolved until renaissance influences from Europe detracted from the distinctly Russian styles. Vlad Lugovoi later suggested that the Yaroslavl style of architecture featured colours in keeping with heritage Victorian schemes and was therefore well suited to the city of Melbourne. Vlad also fine-tuned the church design a little more.

The Building Committee felt that it was very important to have a model of the proposed building to be displayed as soon as possible to generate interest among parishioners. As we had no finalized artistic design drawings available, Fr. Nicholas Karipoff invited his sister and iconographer, Antonina, from Sydney to produce a plan and four elevations for a model. The artistic design of the church was largely developed in 1985. The church of St. John Chrysostom, upstream from Yaroslavl along the Volga River was chosen as a guide. Antonina’s talents in artistic design contributed much over many long days to the final proportions of the new Cathedral. A model was then commissioned from Herman Witte and his associates.

Three architects were invited to submit proposals for the plans for the new church (Vlad Chernov, Alex Kamenev and John Petrakis). John Petrakis secured the contract with a competitive estimate. He had a working relationship with Brunswick Municipal Council – which was another advantage. John, who was later to become an honourary Russian dubbed Ivan Petrov, developed the design further and approached the Brunswick city council about a Planning Permit for a Church and a Community Centre. His diplomacy in dealing with the City Council, managing to appease them whilst not compromising design is a credit to him.

18th August 1987, on the eve of Transfiguration. JP as well as members of the building committee, Damian ‘Sandy’ Ford and Nick Chlednikowski had Damian put in much time voluntarily in a project managerial role, until being employed by the committee full time (he still worked much overtime). Planning Permit was granted on 19th December 1988 (St Nicholas’ feast) after much diplomacy on the part of JP

The foundation laying ceremony took place on the 5th November 1989. Within the stone some relics of Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth were placed with parchment within a sealed copper/brass cylinder. This is based on the ancient Christian practice of building churches above the graves of holy martyrs.