The number of Orthodox Christian believers among American youth has a tendency to grow, especially with those who have Russian roots, according to Archbishop Justinian, Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA. Sacramento is a clear example of the Orthodox revival among first- and second-generation immigrants. For many years the capital of California had several Orthodox churches and parochial schools, as well as a Cossack Cadet school, the first in the US.
The 2nd annual Russian Festival, organized by the congregation of the Holy Ascension Church, was held recently in Sacramento. It was attended by hundreds of local residents. English-speaking young people also showed certain interest in the event.
Those are just some of the signs of Orthodox Christianity spreading in the region.
Several times a year a group of Orthodox activists organizes boot camps for children where kids have fun, learn about the Orthodox Church and play sports.
Orthodox boot camp in Marysville
This godforsaken rancho near Marysville, California belongs to Bethany Slavic Missionary Church. Bethany is a Pentecostal church and arguably the largest Russian religious organization outside the Russian Commonwealth. The parish administration let the Cossack Cadet school from Sacramento use their recreation center for the children’s boot camp.
A few dozen of the Holy Ascension Church parishioners gathered here today to introduce their children to Orthodox Christianity and the history of Russia in an informal environment.
The children are having fun on a homemade zip line, running, doing exercises on pull-up bars, playing football and basketball, paddle on kayaks, draw, learning pyrography, watching historic movies, shooting longbows, crossbows and air rifles, learning to throw knives. The children in the camp are aged 6 to 13. Their parents left Russia for various reasons, but even thousands of kilometers away from their homeland they are not going to forget their cultural roots. Furthermore, they pass the best traditions to their children who grew up in the American society.
Events like this one are organized by ataman Stanislav Kholodkov, a representative of the Semirechye Cossack Host in the US, together with the congregation of the Holy Ascension Church, where the first Cossack school in the country opened two years ago.
The youngest children are drawing in a coloring book with pictures of Russian cathedrals.
After the physical activities the children gather in the dormitory building where ataman’s assistants introduce them to the military history and the equipment of the last century’s Russian Army. The school’s and camp’s spiritual mentor Pavel Volmenskiy, the Protopriest of the Elevation of the Holy Ascension Church, holds daily services for both the adults and the young cadets.
“Unfortunately, after the Russian Revolution the Cossac tradition was destroyed, so modern researchers are gathering the historic details bit by bit,” says ataman Kholodkov. “Today’s generation is not familiar with the history of Cossacs, the history of Russia”.
“That’s why the first priority of our Cadet school is the Orthodox spiritual education, the love for Russian language and literature, for the history and culture of USA and Russia, for the tradition of Cossacks; the respect for national cultures, the friendship of nations, the world peace, the Cossack valor.”
The mentors pay great attention to the development of healthy and safe life culture, to the spiritual health.
The inner world of the students, its beauty and harmony, are very important for the teachers.
“Any Cossack agrees with the ideas of brotherhood, bravery, mutual help and cooperation, no matter where he lives – in Russia, America, Australia, Argentina or any other country,” says the ataman about the goals of his mission in the US.
“We want to preserve our history, our culture, to pass this legacy to our children.”
According to the ataman, Cossack Cadet schools are “gradually developing good relations with Cadet Corps academies in Russia”.
Answering the question about the crazy idea of Saint Petersburg Cossacks who declared their intention to return Alaska and California to Russia, Kholodkov said with a smirk: “Do Cossacks have nothing better to do? Have we solved all our problems in the Cossack movement? The Cossacks should do their own jobs and the politicians should do theirs”.
Cossack Cadet school at a Sacramento cathedral
While the children played ball, I had a conversation with one of the students. I should note that all of them freely speak two languages, Russian and English, from early age.
The boy was born in Russia, and now he lives with his parents in the capital of California. Besides the Russian school he goes to an American public school. He sais he likes the Saturday school better.
Native-born Americans join Orthodox Christianity
Seraphim is a pure blood American, he was born in California, never been to Russia, lives in Sacramento with his family. Seraphim is his second name that was given him by Father Pavel, the head of the parish, at the baptizing. Every Saturday he brings his 12 year old daughter to the school to learn Russian.
After talking to the teenagers at the school yard I got an impression that their development level and personal qualities were much greater than those of their American fellows.
The Cossack Cadet school of the Don Mother of God was established several years ago with the blessing of Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America. In a short time it took its place in the Orthodox community of the city. During the few hours of school on Saturdays the children study the Bible, read stories from a book, learn Russian folk songs and church songs, and play soccer in the church yard. Some of the classes are held right in the cathedral.
“As you can see, we don’t have much space,” Protopriest Pavel Volmenskiy says with embarassment.
The Cossack school is growing
This unusual school is small indeed. The “classrooms” are organized in the church cafeteria building. During the classes the room is divided with portable panels, making some sort of cubicles where the children do their studies. Despite the lack of space, there is a lot of fun: in one part of the room the children are learning Russian grammar, in another they are reading Pushkin, and in the “red corner” they are studying the Bible under the portraits of Russian tsars and Patriarch Kirill.
The school day starts and ends with a service in the cathedral and a blessing of the priest.
The Holy Ascension with its congragation of 150 is a part of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which is in turn united with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. There are 27 parishes in California and 145 in the entire US. In 2007, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad joined the Moscow Patriarchate thanks to the joint effort of Russian administration. Thus ended a sad chapter of the schism that started with the Russian Revolution of 1917. One of the key instigators of this unification was President of Russia Vladimir Putin who worked for the KGB in the past.