On Saturday, October 14, 2017, Protection of the Holy Virgin Church in Cabramatta (Sydney, Australia) celebrated its feast day. On the eve we spoke with the Rector, Protopriest Boris Ignatievsky, about the long-term cooperation between the Russian Relief Association and his neighboring parish.
In 1945, a small group of people organized the Committee of Aid to Russians from Europe and Asia. A “package committee” gathered monetary donations, clothing and personal items and sent them to camps in Europe and Asia. With the help of clergymen, they supported seniors, the sick and children: they collection donations and mailed aid packages. Over the course of 5 years, the Committee sent over 2,000 parcels abroad. The members of the Committee helped Russian refugees leave Communist China and the Soviet Union and resettle in Australia. Among them were a number of lonely seniors. The matter of how to care for them in their old age was a critical challenge. The Australian government gave the diocese the right to act on their behalf before the Refugee Commission on the condition that the Russian activists would assume responsibility for them and a lifetime guarantee of support.
That is how the idea of an old-age home originated. A lot of money was needed for this, and this was a problem, because Russian emigres in Australia were having a hard enough time to survive as it was. The members of the committee, headed at the time by Agapia Bezhalova, went door to door, asking for donations, making fundraising appeals, and bit by bit collected a good deal of money. Protopriest Rostislav Gan worked closely with Bezhalova in this effort. The committee managed to raise enough money for a large parcel of land with a house right next to Protection Church in Cabramatta. This became the old-age home. The committee then designated St Sergius of Radonezh as its heavenly patron, and in 1957, the decided to rename it the Russian Relief Association. The organization had the patronage of Archbishop Savva of Australia of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
The Russian Relief Association always enjoyed the support of good, responsive people. In 1957, Elena Chuprova, the secretary of the Director of the Australian branch of the World Council of Churches, procured serious financial support for the RRA. On the basis of this funding, the RRA committed to building a house for 20 seniors and provide for their living needs.
In 1958, Vladyka Savva consecrated the site where the foundation was established. Vladyka Savva expressed the notion that this was a truly historic event, which our descendants will remember in the future, and thanked everyone who took part in the founding of the home.
The original fiber-board house on the Cabramatta plot served as a temporary rectory for the parish priest, and then, after the arrival in Sydney of a few nuns from Harbin, China, it was turned into a temporary convent, which also welcomed older single women.
The first house for 20 seniors was opened on March 9, 1959, and since then not a year has gone by without renovations or new construction. Today there are 1168 residence in what is called “Sergiev Posad” [the name of the town in Russia where Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra is located—transl.]. Many residential windows look out onto a view of Protection Church, which has a symbiotic relationship with the RRA.
“From the very first day of the establishment of the old-age home, priests would visit on a daily basis. This is a good, ancient tradition,” said Fr Boris. “I only saw Fr Rostislav Gan twice in my life, but I know a great deal about him thanks to the recollections of others, and I understand what great things he accomplished. I simply wish to continue the good work that he began.
“I value highly the Russian Relief Association. These are our neighbors, our good neighbors, many of whom I know personally. Very often the residents of Sergiev Posad become parishioners of our church. I have great esteem for these people and I wish to help the seniors embark on the final leg of their life journey in peace. The residents of the independent rooms of the RRA regularly attend our services. We have a friendly relationship with them. Once a month I hold services in the home: a moleben, akathist or a canon to the Mother of God. Several times a year I administer the Holy Gifts to each resident. Our choir also visits during big church holidays.
“We’ve always had these bonds, for many years. I feel that it is my duty to be there, near these ailing people. They are in great need of communication with a priest. I was lucky, of course, that I don’t ever need to go far—I can always come by after church services to Commune the sick or dying.
“When the Russian Relief Association acquired a new icon of St Sergius, I asked whether we could bring it into our church on his feast day. It is a copy of an ancient icon. The RRA agreed. Now we established a tradition whereby we take it on a procession of the cross to the home after Liturgy and perform a moleben there, praying for the spiritual strength and health of the residents.
“I feel that it is a personal obligation before God. It is no accident that both the parish and the Relief Association were founded concurrently. This unites us all. What people need most is help from Above. People come here in the most difficult times of their life.”