The history of the Church of Our Lady of Kazan is closely bound to the history and development of the Russian community in Sea Cliff and the surrounding area. In the 1920s this community numbered only two or three families; by the 1960s it had grown to about two hundred families and was served by the Church of Our Lady of Kazan and two other Russian Orthodox Churches. For the Church of Our Lady of Kazan this growth was reflected in the church building itself, which began as a simple chapel in a small garage and has been transformed into a structure with dignified lines and stately appearance.
In the 1930s Sea Cliff was a popular place to spend the summers. Among the vacationers there were Russian families to be found. Some of them came to love the village. Since houses were relatively inexpensive then, the first Russian families made the decision to settle in Sea Cliff. Prior to World War II, however, there were very few. The real growth of the community began in the 1940s, especially after the World War.
The first Russian families who settled in Sea Cliff attended services in the nearest Orthodox churches (Whitestone and East Meadow). Since these churches were more than ten miles from Sea Cliff, the local Orthodox residents decided it would be best to establish their own parish, especially since war-time gas rationing made automobile travel more difficult. A petition was addressed to Metropolitan Theophilus, the head of the Metropolia (Russian Orthodox Church of North America). The Metropolitan proposed that interested persons hold an organizational meeting. In January 1942 such a meeting was held under the chairmanship of Fr. Alexander Tzuglevich, a priest of the Holy Protection Cathedral in New York City, who represented Metropolitan Theophilus. The meeting, which took place in the house of Ivan L. Pouschine, was attended by all the Orthodox residents of Sea Cliff, Glen Cove, Locust Valley, Great Neck, and Little Neck. In April 1942 permission was granted to open a chapel, which was to be temporarily serviced by clergy from the New York City Cathedral. Boris I. Riaboff made available a garage for the chapel and agreed to sell a portion of his estate to the church community.
While the garage was being transformed into a chapel, the choir started to organize and ladies of the community also began diligent work to sew vestments and to acquire the necessary church vessels and furnishings. Icons were painted, banners were embroidered, the holy plashchanitsa (image of Christ in the tomb) was made. On Saturday, August 8, 1942, at 6 p.m. the little church was dedicated. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Fr. Basil Moussin-Pushkin on the following day.
The parish was incorporated on November 30, 1942. Listed in the charter as the first trustees were Fr. Basil Moussin-Pushkin as Rector, and Theodore Lodijensky, George Guilsher, Boris Riaboff, Ivan L. Pouschine, Basil Wadkovsky, and Peter Fekula. These persons may justly be considered the founders of the parish in Sea Cliff.
Gradually, the number of parishioners grew and the church became noticeably crowded at Sunday services. The first expansion of the building was undertaken in 1945. This project was made possible through the efforts of the Rotast family and the generous donations of the parishioners. Through the years the church underwent additional development: the sanctuary (altar) was moved with expansion of the building to the east. In 1969 the last extension to the east was completed and the carved gate with icons of Christ and the Theotokos was erected at the entrance to the church property.
From 1948 to 1974 the beloved priest of the parish was Fr. Alexis Yonov, who came to the US with his family as a refugee from war-torn Europe. Fr. Alexis served also as Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Metropolia of North America. It was during his years as the parish priest that the last expansion of the church building took place and the rectory was built.
On August 9, 1977, exactly thirty-five years after the celebration of the first Divine Liturgy in the newly-consecrated church, Bishop Theodosius (Lazor) brought as a gift to the Church of Our Lady of Kazan a relic of St. Herman of Alaska, the first Orthodox saint to live, die, and achieve canonization in America. August 9th is also remembered as the day of the canonization of St. Herman in 1970. This “coincidence” of dates has special significance because it reminds us that the history of our parish should not be seen in isolation, but in the context of the history of the Orthodox Church in America. This history began in 1794, when a group of Russian priests and monks arrived on Kodiak Island, Alaska, to be missionaries, preaching the Gospel of Christ and baptizing as missionaries have always done. The humblest and most inconsequential of missionaries in this group was Herman, the future wonder-worker and saint of Alaska and all America.
It is appropriate to close this historical sketch with some words about the church itself. The original chapel, situated in a small garage, was a modest building. The icon screen was made out of tree branches. The church which grew out of these humble beginnings is constructed in the style typical of a sixteenth century skete (small monastery) in northern Russia. The church’s icons are painted in the Byzantine style. The immense achievement of Boris Riaboff, its builder and architect, was his persistent preservation of that style both in external, structural terms, and in terms of the church’s icons, appointments, and furnishings. Through his interpretation of Russian rural ecclesiastical style, Mr. Riaboff was able to transform a garage into a unique, harmonious, and authentically Russian church.