Historic Orthodox Church gets fresh look

Sunlight shines on the back of the Sts. Cryil and Methodius Orthodox Church in Hartshorne, where three formerly silver domes on the roof have been painted white to add a layer of protection to the historic church that has served parishioners for more than a century.

The three-domed church has stood for more than a century at the top of what is informally known as Russian Hill in Hartshorne.

Throughout that time, the three silver onion-shaped domes atop the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Church have withstood the elements, ranging from blazing hot summers to ice and snow in winter and driving rains in the spiring.

With some of the domes showing signs of weathering and the roof springing leaks, parishioners at the church took action to make sure the church endures into the 21st century.

The biggest change is that the three silver-colored domes have now been painted white.

"The domes were always silver," said Hartshorne resident Jim Kurilko, a church parishioner who has longtime memories of the church. "This is the only paint we could get" that would provide the needed protective coating, he said. 

Work has also been done on the roof, which had been leaking.

"There's a new roof now," Kurilko said.

Monica Brown, who is the church secretary, said she worked with the church treasurer, Tessia Zuzula, and other friends and family of church members to get the needed work done.

Brown said church members raised the money themselves and were helped by Hartshorne-area residents who frequented their fundraising drives.

"We did a lot of cabbage roll sales and bake sales," she said. It wasn't unusual for those participating to throw in donations above the purchase price.

"We'd get extra donations through the generosity of the community," she said.

Brown and others believe getting the domes refurbished and the new roof in place was worth the effort.

"It left us with no money saved," Brown said. "Is it better to have money in your bank account or a roof that doesn't leak?"

She said the white paint used on the domes was the most acceptable of the colors available.

"White is for purity and sanctity, so it worked well," she said.

While the domes have been painted and a new roof put in place on the  outside, inside the church not much has changed over the past 103 years. Stained glass windows are still in place, which are, of course, visible from the outside as well.

"In the first part of the church, everything is original to 1917," Kurilko said. He remembers his father filling him on the church's history when he was a boy.

The church is  listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Saints Cyril Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church. It's now called the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Christian Church by parishioners.

When construction of the church was completed in 1917, it was built for parishioners descended largely from Slavic and Eastern European backgrounds, including the Lemko people, who moved to Hartshorne to work at coal mines in the area as far back as the late 1800s. 

Theyfirst built a wooden church at the site in 1897, when Hartshorne was still part of Indian Territory. Construction of the domed, brick church at the corner of Third Street and Modoc Avenue followed 20 years later. At its peak, 75 families were served by the church on the hill.

Although the church has not always had an active priest during the past 100 years, it's currently being revitalized. Once a month a visiting priest, Father John Anderson, travels to Hartshorne from Dallas to conduct services.

Reader services are held on the other Sundays, where a member of the parish reads from the scriptures.

Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society told the News-Capital in 2017 that he's long been interested in the church and he even led a delegation to Hartshorne in the 1980s to see it.

"To me, it's a symbol of the diversity in Oklahoma," Blackburn said.

It's one thing to give a lecture on the state's diversity, he said. It's another thing to see it.

"That one church can be a symbol of the diversity," said Blackburn. "It's there in brick and mortar."

Now that work has been done on the outside, hopes are to add some paint and other needed work on the inside.

Brown said the hope is to revitalize the church.

"Everybody that's a member, our family was a founding member," said Brown, a member of the Skimbo family on her mother's side. "We went to keep the church alive out of respect for our ancestors."

"Ideally, we would like new members to join us," she said. 

"We want to keep the history and culture alive."

 Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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