St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America
Burton, MI
Parish History

Parish History

Slavic and Romanian immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the expanded Russian Empire including peoples from modern day Russia, Ukraine, Bukovina, Belarus, Carpatho-Ukraine, Slovakia, Lithuania and Poland were drawn to the Flint area in the early 1900s because of work available in the factories. The Slav-Rus community settled predominantly in the north end of Flint clustered around St John Street. Most of the new immigrants came from agricultural backgrounds in the old country and frequently knew dire poverty. They now experienced the pluralistic freedom of America. The need for a place of worship where their spiritual needs might be fulfilled in the Orthodox faith of their ancestors was soon felt.

A meeting was held in 1916 with the purpose of founding an Orthodox parish. Fr Isidore Salko from Detroit was called to help establish the new parish with a collection of $25 gathered to act as seed money for the new foundation. There is no record as to why St Nicholas of Myra was chosen as the parish's patron saint.

In 1916 Flint was rapidly growing and work was plentiful. At that time the Windiate-Pierce-Davison Company was one of several land developers buying up the farms and subdividing the land. The "Ruski" people ("Ruski" being a generic term describing the Russians, Ukrainians, Belarus, Eastern Galicians, Carpatho-Rusyns, Bukovinians, and others) went to the company and asked for land to build an Orthodox Church. The company responded with a donation of six lots on the north side of Vermont Ave (1327 to 1329 Vermont Ave) for the purpose of building a church and rectory. At that time lots were selling for $250.

Archbishop Evdokim, head of the Orthodox Diocese of North America and the Aleutian Islands (now the Orthodox Church in America) appointed the first priest-in-charge of St Nicholas, the Priest-monk Fr Nikolaj Nikolenko, who remained in Flint from November 1916-June 1917. Priest-monk Fr Peter Solovey who served from March-June 1917, continud the difficult work of establishing a parish.

On April 16, 1918, $585.40 was collected and three acres of land were purchased for an Orthodox cemetery (known in the published obituaries as the "Russian Cemetery") on Groveland Ave.

A number of priests served St Nicholas between the years 1917-1944, when in that year Metropolitan Theophilus of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America, the "Metropolia," (now the OCA) appointed Fr Alexander Znamensky as pastor on August 1st, 1844.

In 1949, the people of St Nicholas Orthodox Church purchased an old residence (which had been a Jewish synagogue) at 521 Liberty St as the parish facility. The next 20 years in this new building were years of tremendous growth for the parish. In 1963 the church purchased the fraternity chapter house next door and classrooms for the church school program were set up on its first floor.

With the finalizing of the route for the new expressway, which would run through the city of Flint, St Nicholas parish again found itself preparing to relocate. In April of 1966, 10 acres of land were purchased on Center Rd in Burton, MI, and His Grace, Bishop Kyrill of the Bulgarian Diocese dedicated a new church seating 275, with offices, a five-classroom church school wing, and a hall seating 180.

Due to illness, the now Mitred Protopresbyter Alexander Znamensky ended his service to St Nicholas Orthodox Church in 1973, and he fell asleep in the Lord on August 2, 1974. Fr Boris Kizenko, a native of Kiev, Ukraine, served the parish from 1973-November 1975. During his tenure there were 56 baptisms, 17 marriages and 32 deaths.

In December 1975, Fr Raphael Biernacki was appointed Rector of the parish. For the next 20 years Fr Raphael guided St Nicholas through continued growth and material improvements of its temple (a new iconostas), a new bell tower, and church campus; the building of a shrine chapel and outdoor pavilion. Fr Raphael's term as Rector of St Nicholas parish ended in 1995.

From 1996 untuil June 2002, St Nicholas Orthodox Church was under the leadership of Fr Paul Jannakos as its Rector. On October 1, 2002, Fr David A Lis began his service to St Nicholas as its new Rector, and the parish began a new chapter in its dynamic history.

In 2004 Archpriest Raphael Biernacki reassumed the pastorate at Saint Nicholas. He fell asleep in the Lord on 23 August 2006. During this time he initiated the project to install hand-crafted stained glass windows in the church and secured all of the donors for the project. In February 2007 the ornate windows were installed in the church further beautifying the interior of the temple. In January 2007 Father Matthew-Peter Butrie was appointed pastor of Saint Nicholas.  The parish has added a playground for the children and remodeled the facilities to allow easy access to the church and hall.  Plans are in the works for the parish to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016.