The idea of establishing an Orthodox Church in the Santa Rosa area began to take shape in the early 1930's as increasing numbers of Russians were moving north from San Francisco into the small town and rural life of Sonoma County, establishing themselves in places like Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Sebastopol. There were also Orthodox of other nationalities, notably Greeks and Serbs who were part of this movement. These Russians, who came to make up the bulk of the parish, were mostly persons displaced by the Communist Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent turmoil of Russian life and who had fled eastward through Siberia to Manchuria and China before coming to America. Many of these refugees had made their home in the city of Harbin before moving on, and it is in this Russian enclave in Northern China that many of the marriages and friendships of the founders and builders of this parish were formed.
Russians living at a distance from San Francisco maintained their attachment to the San Francisco Cathedral and colony, even while at the same time they sought to establish satellite churches and social groups. Thus in the 1930's churches were established in Berkeley, Santa Rosa and Bryte.
The movement to build a church was fueled by a group of about twenty families, including the family of Mrs. Julia Rayburn (Reabinin), who was to fall asleep in the Lord at the age of 80 as Mother Elena at the Dormition Convent in nearby Calistoga. Under the leadership of Fr. Michael Pelzig, who arrived in Santa Rosa from Santa Barbara in time for Pascha in 1936, the movement to get parish life underway gained momentum. Monies had been collected for the purpose of building a church as early as October 1934. Groundbreaking 1936 Several fund-raising concerts were held in the local Episcopalian Church hall in 1935. But it was in February 1936, on land donated for the purpose by Mrs. Rayburn in memory of her two sons tragically killed in 1932 and 1935, that building began. The temple was rough finished by April 1936.
Father Michael built the Holy Table with his own hands, as well at the two smaller tables. Mr. Pritoola build the analoi, various smaller tables, outside benches, choir stands and so on. The carpentry was a co-operative effort; in the midst of hard times a local lumber company had extended a discount and excellent terms of credit. The Original Church Building An ad hoc sisterhood provided the means for constructing the ceiling, entry-way, paint and shellac. The liturgical items, Holy Gospel, vestments and different coloured hangings were donated by the faithful. And so, as an early report on the progress in building thankfully states it, 'with the help of God we established the temple'.
Parish reports from the 1940's and 50's express the desire to develop the grounds, establish a well, build a cupola and a belltower, build a road through the property and construct washrooms. To meet the challenge of generating the funds whereby these projects could be undertaken a sisterhood was organized and given the task of finding a "profitable means of raising money." This was the beginning of the now famous Sunday luncheons and other social activities sponsored by the parish Sisterhood. The Sisterhood, circa mid 1950's To the parcels of land donated in 1936, three parcels behind the first were added over the years and a fourth was left to the parish in 1985 in the will of Matushka Elena Szerocki. The first church hall (now the church school and choir director's apartment) was built in 1950. The Rectory was built in 1954. The "new" church hall was built in 1968.Foundation and flooring of the church hall.
Over the years, the following priests have been assigned to the Protection of the Holy Virgin Church: Father Michael Pelzig; Father Michael Erochine; Archimandrite Varnava (Karataev); Archimandrite Andronok; Archimandrite Dimitry Egoroff; Father John Frolov; Father Alexander Kosygin; Father Nicholas Szerocki; Father Constantine Popov; Father Constantine Zatoplaev; Father Prokopy Povarnitsky (Powers); Hiermonk Benedict (de Socio); Father Nicholas Sanin; Father Alexander Linsenko; Father Andre Levshin; Father Alexandru Moissy; Father Andrew Morbey; Father Michael J. Oleska, Father Michael Margitich and Father Lawrence Margitich.
By the early 1990's the parish had grown enough to necessitate the building of a new church to accommodate the larger congregation. By God's will, and through the unifying leadership and pastoral love of Father Michael Margitich (appointed Rector in 1990), the construction of the new church of St. Seraphim of Sarov was completed in 1996. The magnificent new temple is already adorned with numerous icons and fresco paintings. The long-term goal is to fresco all the wall surfaces and the dome of the church.
The parish today is a microcosm of Orthodoxy in America, with her members coming from many different ethnic traditions: Greek, Arabic, Romanian, Serbian, Macedonian, Eritrean, and American from all walks of life. By the mercy of God, the Parish of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Mary/St. Seraphim of Sarov, continues not just to minister unto her own people, but to evangelize and receive converts to the Holy Faith. With Santa Rosa being the fast-growing city that it is, there is no lack of inquirers, visitors and guests at each and every service. For the last 25 years, the parish has been blessed with many American converts, who find in the one Holy Apostolic Church of fullness and purity of the Christian faith.
Currently, the parish staff consists of: Archpriest Lawrence Margitich, Rector; his father Archpriest Michael Margitich, Pastor Emeritus; Archpriest John Schettig, assigned; Archpriest John Ramos, attached; Deacon Jeremiah Crawford, Deacon Nicholas Carr, and Reader and Choir Master, Nicolas Craig Custer.
The parish has two churches: the new St Seraphim of Sarov church, and the original Protection of the Virgin, after which the parish itself is stilled called and dedicated. There is an interesting story regarding how the parish camed to be dedicated to the Feast of the Protection. At one time in the life of Julia Rayburn (who was mentioned above), a part of the family was fleeing the advancing army of the Bolsheviks, during the war between the "White" and "Red" Russians.
After weeks of standing in lines for a needed visa to England, where some of the children were attending school, Julia had almost given up hope that her prayers would be answered. As if hearing her thoughts, a little old woman, who was standing directly behind her, tapped her on the shoulder and said "Put yourself in the hands of the Holy Virgin and She will protect you." Julia felt as she were no longer alone, a helpless petitioner for help.
During the rest of her life, the little old woman's words became her guide. She shared her faith with others and they too were strengthened.