A Brief History of Holy Trinity Cathedral

A Brief History of Holy Trinity Cathedral

Holy Trinity Cathedral Parish traces its history to December 2, 1857, when the first Orthodox Society was founded in San Francisco. Ten years later, on September 2, 1867, it was incorporated as the Greek Russian Slavonian Orthodox Eastern Church and Benevolent Society. During these years, the Orthodox population of the Bay Area was spiritually and sacramentally served by chaplains from Russian Navy ships that frequented San Francisco Bay.

During the Holy Week of 1868, an Orthodox Priest was sent to the City from Alaska to conduct the Paschal services here. That priest, Father Nicholas Kovrigin, became the first permanent Orthodox minister in San Francisco (until his return to Russia in 1879). Another Alaskan missionary, Archpriest Paul Kedrolivansky, became the first Rector of the San Francisco parish (+1878).

In 1872, the Right Reverend Bishop John (Mitropolsky; returned to Russia in 1876) transferred the headquarters of the ruling hierarch of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska to San Francisco. Since then, it has been a cathedral church, consecrated at different times in the name of St. Alexander Nevsky, St. Nicholas, St. Basil the Great, and finally, after the Most Holy and Life-giving Trinity. This episcopal cathedra was occupied by many hierarchs, some among whom were outstanding archpastors and missionaries: Bishop Nestor (Zass; 1879-82), Archbishop Vladimir (Sokolovsky-Avtonomov; 1887-91), Archbishop Nicholas (Ziorov; 1891-98), Holy Patriarch Tikhon (Bellavin; in San Francisco, 1898-1905), Archbishop Apollinary (Koshevoy, 1926-27), Archbishop Alexis (Panteleev; 1927-31); Metropolitan Theophilus (Pashkovsky; 1931-50), Archbishop John (Shakhovskoy; 1950-79), Bishop Basil (Rodzianko; 1982-84), Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald; 1987-2006). Since 2007, Holy Trinity has been the cathedral church of the Most Reverend Benjamin, Archbishop San Francisco and the West.

In the history of the Cathedral, there were many outstanding pastors who, with great zeal and much sacrifice, served the community. While it would be too long to list all of the clergymen who served this Cathedral, some names must be prayerfully remembered: the venerable Alaskan missionary, Archpriest Vladimir Vechtomov (1878-88); the future Metropolitan and builder of the present Cathedral temple, Archpriest Theodore Pashkovsky (1897-1912); the “Guardian Angel” of refugees from the Russian Revolution and the firm defender of the Cathedral from the assaults of the Renovationists, Archpriest Vladimir Sakovich (1917-31); Archpriest Alexander Vyacheslavov-Mattison (1931-38); Protopresbyter Gregory Shutak (1938-48); Mitred Archpriest George Benigsen (1951-60; 1980-81); and Archpriest Roman Sturmer (1961-75). The Holy Archimandrite Sebastian (Dabovich) was a native son of the Cathedral and was often assigned to serve here as a kind of headquarters for his missionary efforts. The New-Hieromartyr Alexander (Hotovitsky) was ordained at the San Francisco Cathedral, and many outstanding priests and bishops of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in America began their sacred ministry at this little church with an outsize history.

The bell tower of the Cathedral is adorned with a set of five wonderful bells donated by Emperor Alexander III in 1888. Two other bells were locally recast from older bells that melted during one of several fires that seriously damaged the temple in the course of the years. A new trio of bells was commissioned in honor of the community’s 150th anniversary in 2018.

The temple itself is illumined by a grand chandelier donated by the last tsar of Russia, the holy passion-bearer Nicholas II. According to tradition, the Emperor also donated a richly decorated icon of his patron saint, Nicholas of Myra and Lycia, to the Cathedral.

Holy Trinity Cathedral is the keeper of the episcopal vestments of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and Confessor. The Saint’s Prayer Book, Commemoration booklet, Hierarchical Liturgikon, and monastic belt (embroidered with Californian Golden Poppies and presented to the beloved hierarch by the Sisterhood when he was leaving San Francisco in 1905) are carefully preserved in the Cathedral safe.

There are many treasured ancient icons on the Cathedral’s walls. Beginning in 1993, Iconographer Dmitry Shkolnik has been adorning the ikonostasis, ceilings, and walls in the traditional Orthodox style.

Today, as at the beginning of its history, Holy Trinity Cathedral is a multiethnic — or, one might say, a local or American Orthodox community — the only Orthodox parish in San Francisco, California, where the services are conducted in English. Our warm community is open to all Orthodox Christians and anyone interested in deepening his or her faith in Jesus Christ. Many of our parishioners today are “converts” — women and men who have been consciously searching for the true faith and have found it in the ancient, apostolic, and faithful Holy Orthodox Church.

This article was written by Archpriest Victor Sokolov, who served as Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral from 1991-2006 when he fell asleep in the Lord. It has been revised from time to time.