The Russian Community and The Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY
Miss Alexandra Tolstoy (youngest daughter of the author Leo Tolstoy) and Mrs. Tatiana Schaufuss, her friend of many years, organized the New York-based Tolstoy Foundation. The mission of the foundation was to help the many emigrants of Russian descent entering the United States. The foundation drew together many prominent Russian people such as Serge Rachmaninoff, Igor Sikorsky, Boris Sergievsky and many others. Their work expanded, and in 1941, a generous donor made it possible for the Foundation to acquire a 70-acre farm (Reed Farm) in Valley Cottage, New York for the sum of $1.00. With this purchase, the history of the Russian Community in Rockland County began.
Tolstoy Foundation Center, or Tolstoy Farm, provided a center where the Russian refugees stayed for varying lengths of time until they were able to permanently resettle in American communities. It provided a home for orphaned children and for children of parents who had to leave them while being established. There was a large operating farm, which provided both food and temporary labor for newly arriving emigrants. The Farm also provided a summer camp for disadvantaged children until 1968. In 1968, a new Nursing Home facility was built on the site of the camp. Senior citizens of Russian background were also able to live in Adult facilities. The Nursing Home still operates today. Although a chapel was established from the first day of the Center, it was not until 1957 that a permanent gold-domed church, in typical Russian style was built.
Shortly after the establishment of the Center, World War II dispersed many Russian people in refugee camps all over Europe. More than 6,000 of these refugees have passed through Tolstoy Farm. Many of them, tired from their unsettled life and the hardships of war were eager to settle down.
Nyack, New York with its beautiful river front location, plentiful jobs at local factories and close proximity to Tolstoy Farm, was an attractive choice. In 1949-1950 the first few Russian families purchased homes in Nyack and settled down. Other families soon followed, renting apartments all over the village. Many found housing in the old "Elephant House" of the Clarkstown Country Club, which today is the location of Nyack Junior High School and Nyack College. This was the site of the first Russian Orthodox chapel in Nyack. For in their wanderings, Russian refugees established emotional roots by immediately setting up chapels, which formed the heart of their communities.
As the Russian community in Nyack grew, it was decided the small chapel at the "Elephant House" had become too small and a large house on Midland Avenue (present site of the Nyack Field Club) was rented. However, by 1951, Father Adrian Rimarenko, then priest of the Russian community in Nyack, had already decided to purchase a catholic convent on Smith Roadin Spring Valley, New York and to establish a Russian convent there. Today, it is also the site of one of the largest Russian cemeteries in the United States. In the meantime, the Nyack Russian parish went through a series of rented locations. One location was a garage on Depew Avenue, (just behind the Wright Brothers building on South Broadway). In 1953, Father Seraphim Slobodskoy and his family arrived from Germany to take up energetic leadership of the parish. Plans began to build a permanent church. Another temporary location for the parish was the hall of the Reformed Church on Broadway. Then the parish rented a third floor location in a Broadway building (current location of the New Age Center). Finally, in early 1954, the parish purchased the property on the corner of Cedar Hill and Prospect Avenues. Fund-raising concerts (entry price was $1), lotteries, brick purchases for 50 cents, and more were held to raise money. Slowly money was collected. In the meantime, children, parents and grandparents worked: digging, building, carving, and painting. At last in 1957, the parish moved into the new Holy Virgin Protection Church, built entirely by parishioners.
Since that day, the parish has continued to grow, to flourish and to settle Rockland County. The Tappan Zee Bridge brought many changes to Rockland and the Rockland Russian communities. The farm at Tolstoy Center has gone the way of many farms in Rockland and fewer refugees arrive now for resettlement. Many of the early leaders of the Russian communities now rest at the Novo Diveevo Cemetery in Spring Valley. Father Seraphim died on November 5, 1971 and was succeeded by Father George Larin, the current rector of the parish.
The Nyack parish had organized a Saturday morning school from the very beginning of its existence to teach its children religion, The Russian language, history, geography, literature and culture. Over the years as many as 125 and as few as 10 children have passed thought the school each year. Some of the graduates, who can receive Regents credit, have made brilliant careers in the State Department, international banks and abroad. One graduate can be seen on television interpreting for Presidents, Secretaries of State and other dignitaries. Many graduates return to teach at the school and send their children and grandchildren here. Over the years, the school convened in a variety of rented locales: St. Paul's Lutheran Church (current home of the Elmwood Playhouse), the hall at the Reformed Church, the school at St. Ann's Catholic Church, and at the Veteran's building near Memorial Park. By the late 1960's, it became apparent that the parish needed a school building and hall of its own. In February 1970, our very first Blini Festival was held at the West Nyack Fire Station to raise funds for a new school building and hall.
Many years and fundraisers later, with the help of private donations, the work of hundreds of dedicated people, and under the leadership of our own Father George Larin, the new school building and hall was dedicated in the memory of Father Seraphim Slobodskoy. The ceremony took place on the Holy Virgin Protection Church's feast day, October 14, 1980. This also coincided with the 25th anniversary of the consecration of the Church building in 1955. In 2002, the parish celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Russian school and honored Matushka Elena Slobodskoy, widow of Father Seraphim, for her 50 years of service to the school and the parish. Sadly, Matushka Elena passed away October 1, 2003.