On November 6, 2007, St Nicholas Cathedral in Montreal celebrated the completion of the lower floor of the church building, which suffered greatly during a fire in 1988. The First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, graced this event with his presence, accompanied by Protodeacon Victor Lochmatov. Many could not hold back tears of joy when they learned that Vladyka Metropolitan was going to share in our celebration. Yet this is only one example of the attention our Primate shows Montreal, the cathedral city of the Eastern American Diocese. So now, despite his overwhelming schedule, His Eminence made the five-hour trip from Holy Trinity Monastery to Eastern Canada. And after a two-hour service at St Nicholas Cathedral, he made the return trip.
After a moleben before an icon of St Nicholas of Myra performed by the Cathedral clergymen, Deputy Rector Protopriest George Lagodich and Priest Michael Metni, everyone descended to the center of the celebration: the basement of the Cathedral. Here, where once lay burnt ruins supported by steel beams (until recently, this is what the basement looked like), the many visitors saw a beautifully-rebuilt hall, whitewashed premises for AS Pushkin Russian School and a state-of-the-art kitchen gleaming with Dutch glazed tiles. The Sisterhood of St Nicholas Cathedral is renowned throughout Canadian Russia for their culinary art, not least of which are their pirozhki . For many years after the fire, the sisters had to work in a small, humid room, but they did not cease working a single day. It was to a great degree thanks to their selfless efforts that the restoration of the church could continue. Indeed, the main portion of the great funds needed for the church, infused with prayer for so many years, to rise from the ashes was donated by the parishioners themselves.
The path of St Nicholas Cathedral, once one of the wealthiest and well-attended churches of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, was difficult. But now the number of parishioners has almost exceeded that of the "pre-fire" period.
"The fire did not only destroy the building housing our church. It divided our parish. Within its flames, the bonds which connected us weakened. To this day, we sense this division," said the Deputy Rector Fr George. "But gradually, with the constant assistance of God, through the prayers of St Nicholas, our situation began to improve. Things began to fall into place during the spring of 2002, when our First Hierarch, dear Vladyka Laurus, visited Montreal, headed a meeting of the new Diocesan Council, which was held within these walls, which still bore the markings of the fire, and blessed us to ignore the past and with renewed strength begin rebuilding St Nicholas Cathedral. Since that time we constantly feel the support of our bishops: His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and His Grace Bishop Gabriel. We remember the great help that the Synod of Bishops provided us in the form of critical loans at moments of crisis. And we know that it became possible only through the persistent support of Vladyka Laurus and Vladyka Gabriel."
There were many difficulties, but there is no bad without some good: God's strength is made perfect in weakness. For instance, many fundraising concerts of liturgical music the Montrealites organized which drew literally thousands, through the great efforts of Maria Anatolievna Ignatova-Bandruk, a Cathedral parishioner, which acquainted the people of Montreal with the treasure of Orthodoxy with its rich musical traditions, without which Russian Civilization is unthinkable. And this also reminded the parishioners themselves of what an invaluable gift the Almighty Lord granted us.
In expressing gratitude towards His Eminence and the parishioners, as well as the members of the Parish Council, Fr George noted the excellent work performed by the head of the Building Committee, Peter Pavlovich Paganuzzi, who literally gave all his time and his professional expertise in rebuilding the Cathedral. "We were given the opportunity to build only because Peter Pavlovich agreed to be the general contractor. I am certain that he had no idea what that entailed. But St Nicholas has led us forward in the face of all obstacles. We believe this will be the case going forward, too," concluded Fr George.
In a broad sermon, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus touched upon the spiritual aspects of what had transpired and what is still happening at St Nicholas Cathedral. "Upon you befell the fate of not only enduring troubles and difficulties, but what we can honestly call suffering," said the Primate. "Today you completed one phase of overcoming this. I wish to remind you that this year we celebrate the 1600 th anniversary of St John Chrysostom. As we know, the Lord allowed him to endure sorrows, need and persecution. He was removed from the Cathedra of Constantinople and exiled to the edge of the Byzantine Empire: now this area is within the boundaries of Armenia. On the way to exile, the saint met his righteous death. His final words were 'Glory to God for all things!' This is the great gift—to glorify the Lord for tribulations and sufferings—for which we shall pray our Heavenly Father." Vladyka emphasized that the Lord heard the prayers of the parishioners of St Nicholas Cathedral, because even in the darkest days they believed that the Lord would not abandon them, that one way or the other, their desire of seeing the church restored would be fulfilled. "The reconstruction of the Cathedral is far from complete. You must reestablish the altar, fresco the church walls. But as you continue your rebuilding, let us not forget the temple of our soul, for the soul of each Orthodox Christian is the temple of God. Constant vigilance over preserving the purity of this temple, which is not made by hands, wherein the Lord Himself wishes to abide, and constant participation in church and parish life is needed, for which through the mercies of God, you may now do."
The President of the Building Committee, Mr Paganuzzi, then spoke. His restrained emotions were apparent. Peter Pavlovich time and again thanked everyone who generously gave of themselves to rebuild this church, and would continue to do so.
Among the guests at the event were members of the Canadian press: CBC, CBC Radio Canada, Montreal's leading periodical, "The Gazette," and the leading cultural and religious television program, CTV, Debora Arbeck, well-known in the USA and Canada. When she was told about His Eminence's sermon, she decided to call her piece on the event "Glory to God For All Things: From Suffering to Celebration." It should be added that St Nicholas parish did not go unnoticed either by the media or by government officials. Deputy Leader Thomas Mulcaire offered congratulations, as did Elena Vsevolodovna Photopoulos, the Head of the Municipal Council of Mont-Royal (the historic center of Montreal), a long-time parishioner of St Nicholas Cathedral.
In conclusion, let us say once more: Glory to God for all things!