St. Innocent of Irkutsk Orthodox Church is a small, English-speaking, multi-ethnic and multi-racial, new-calendar parish under the Patriarchate of Moscow, comprised of families (many with young children) and single people spanning four generations, plus a woman’s monastic community, dedicated to St. Innocent of Alaska, which was established in 2003. The parish was founded in 1967 in Redford Township, on the western edge of Detroit, adjacent to Dearborn and Livonia. The parishioners are of many different traditional ethnic Orthodox backgrounds, including Carpatho-Russian (Russyn), Russian, Ukrainian, Galician, Greek, Eretrian — and at times has also included people of Romanian, Arab, Chaldean, Serbian and Macedonian heritage— plus numerous converts of various Western European and African-American backgrounds.
Founded on 3 March 1967 by the Rev. Fr. Igor Burdikoff and a group of sixteen families, with the blessings and support of His Eminence, Metropolitan John (Wendland), St. Innocent of Irkutsk Church was established as the first all-English-speaking parish in the Metropolitan Detroit area. A church with an attached rectory building owned by a Baptist congregation was purchased, and transformed into an Orthodox Temple.
Five years after the founding of the parish, during the pastorate of Rev. Fr. Mark Odell, icons for the iconostasis were written by Mrs. Katherine Ulanowski, a member of the parish, which were blessed by His Excellency Bishop Makary on 5 February 1972. On 15 June 1974, when Rev. Fr. Vladimir Demschuk was Pastor, Bishop Makary blessed four additional icons by the same iconographer.
In 1980 fire destroyed the St. Thomas Albanian Orthodox Church and St. Innocent parish accepted them to worship together at St. Innocent. On 4 October 1981 an arson fire destroyed much of the St. Innocent Church. Under the leadership of the V. Rev. Archpriest Basil Karpelenia, the pastor at that time, and with characteristic determination and hard work by the dedicated parishioners, the church was rebuilt. A new iconostasis and altar table were installed, which were consecrated on 12 March 1983 by His Excellency Bishop Clement.
On 16-18 May, 1984, during the Fourth Patriarchal Parishes Convocation in Detroit, Michigan, His Eminence, Archbishop Platon of Sverdlovsk and Kurgan, presented to St. Innocent Church the four main icons on the iconostasis (Christ, the Theotokos, St. Innocent and St. Nicholas) as gifts from the Russian Orthodox Church, which were installed and blessed. Rev. Fr. Roman Star had just become the new Pastor a few weeks prior.
During these first sixteen years of St. Innocent’s life as a parish (1967 – 1983), six priests served as pastors, including: Rev. Fr. Igor Burdikoff, March 1967 – September 1969; Rev. Fr. Mark Odell, July 1970 – January 1974; Rev. Fr. Vladimir Demschuk, January 1974 – 1977; and V. Rev. Fr. Basil Karpelenia, 1977 – 1983, plus two others for very short periods.
In June 1984 a new and more stable chapter in the life of St. Innocent Parish began with the arrival of Rev. Fr. Roman Star and his family, who has served with self-sacrifice, dedication and love for God, His Holy Church, and his parishioners ever since. On August 29, 2004 the 20th anniversary of his Ordination and Pastor of St. Innocent was joyfully celebrated; in 2009 Fr. Roman's 25th anniversary was commemorated; and 2014 marked his 30th anniversary.
During the past 32 years, since his arrival in 1984, liturgical life has expanded; attendance at Divine Services increased; education for children and adults developed; two more Readers were tonsured; instruction for readers, converts and non-churched immigrants has been conducted; and many charitable works have been performed. On July 22, 2011, after having served as a deacon and protodeacon for 22 years, Deacon Daneil Shirak was ordained to the Priesthood, to serve as an assistant priest. And on November 12, 2016, Subdeacon Dr. Joshua Genig was ordained Deacon, to serve as deacon at all the Divine Services. St. Innocent has another deacon, Fr. Dn. Michael Comerford, who has been assigned to St. Innocent, under the obedience of Fr. Roman, since August 2012 but he lives in Columbus, Ohio, a 3½ to 4-hour drive away, and thus can come only about once a month.
The physical temple of the Lord and church property has been greatly beautified and improved during the past thirty-three years. A garage was built; the parking lot was paved (originally in 1991, and then re-paved in 2016), and a fence erected; beautiful landscaping has been added, and continues to be expanded each summer (click here to see photo-show of the gardens and property).
The interiors have seen remodeling in the kitchen, parish hall, priest’s house and office. In the temple, many things have been added, including: oriental rugs in the sanctuary and solea; cloth altar covers and altar-server’s robes in colors of the seasons; vigil-candle stands; oil candles in the sanctuary, solea and nave windows; and various new sacred vessels, to mention just a few additions. The latest significant improvement to the temple, just done in October 2016, was to remove the stained, worn and burned 34-year-old carpeting in the sanctuary (altar) and solea, and replace it with more durable and maintainable wood.
Most significant of all the physical improvements that Fr. Roman has made, and his most obvious visible legacy to the parish, has been the transformation of the temple interior with icons. Although the architectural plan of St. Innocent Church is simple, and although it is very plain on the outside, the interior is a magnificent small jewel, due to the life-size, full-length icons of primarily recently canonized/glorified saints that cover every wall, and contribute enormously to creating a very spiritual environment for prayer and worship. The magnificent series of icons of eighty-two saints (plus the Pantocrator and thirteen other icons) is entirely the project of Father Roman. After doing considerable research, he personally chose which saints would be portrayed on each wall. The iconographic program is unique: it includes all thirteen American saints, plus women and men saints of many different countries—reflecting the multi-ethnic character of the parish and of Orthodoxy in America. The iconographic work has been done in ten stages between 1991 and 2008, by Very Rev. Archpriest Theodore Jurewicz of Erie, Pennsylvania — a Master Iconographer in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia — with the latest icons added during 2007 and 2008, in commemoration of the parish’s 40th Anniversary celebration in November 2007. We also have 17 smaller panel icons painted by Fr. Theodore, most with the saints' relics in them, that are on the window ledges, easily accessible for veneration. (Click here to see Our Icons section, with photos of almost all our many magnificent icons.)
In addition to the magnificent icons that cover the walls and ceiling of the Temple, at first there were just six wooden panel icons that are specially venerated. Three of these icons were also written by Fr. Theodore Jurewicz, and have small reliquaries attached to them with tiny particles of the relics of the saint portrayed: St. Herman of Alaska (relics received in 1998) (above, left); St. Alexis Toth of Wilkes Barre (relics also received in 1998); and our patron saint, Hierarch St. Innocent of Irkutsk (relics given by Vladyka Vadim of Irkutsk on September 27, 1999) (above, center). The other three specially venerated icons are copies of Russian wonder-working icons of the Mother of God, written by Nun Olympia of the Dormition Women’s Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. They are the Mother of God: “Queen of All” (November 2003) (above, right); “Inexhaustible Cup” (March 2004); and “Joy of All Who Sorrow” (August 2005). In past years, every Friday evening an Akathist had been sung before one of these three healing, wonder-working icons. (See Our Icons for photos of all six of these panel icons and other details.)
In 2006 additional relics were given to the parish, and Fr. Theodore also painted icons of these saints in July 2006, into which the small reliquaries were placed. These additional icons and relics include: St. Innocent of Alaska, patron of the parish’s monastic community (above, left); Nestor the Chronicler and Gerontius the Canonarch of the Kiev Caves; and the three newly-canonized spiritual daughters of St. Seraphim of Sarov: Abbess Alexandra, Schemanun Martha and Nun Yelena of Diveyevo Monastery. In the Fall of 2006 St. Innocent Church was further blessed to receive more saints’ relics: Patriarch St. Tikhon, who served as Bishop of America; St. Raphael of Brooklyn; St. Seraphim of Sarov (above, center); New Martyr Elizabeth of Moscow; and the new-martyr Hilarion, Bishop of Verey. Icons of each of these saints were painted in the Spring of 2007, plus icons of two other ancient saints without relics: St. Panteleimon and St. Moses the Black (above, right).
Fr. Roman installed each of these hand-painted panel icons on the window ledges of the nave, and has hung lampadas above them, so that the relics and icons are readily accessible for veneration by the faithful. Having the relics and the saints’ icons with the hanging lamps in the windows of the nave further enriches the spiritual presence of St. Innocent Church, which one feels immediately upon entering. (click here to see photos of all our panel icons and all the icons on the walls.)
Today, after thirty-three years of pastoral guidance by Fr. Roman, (now elevated to the rank of Mitered Archpriest on Bright Saturday 2013), St. Innocent Church offers a fairly full liturgical life, following the Russian liturgical and musical tradition. All the Divine Services are in English, and are served in a simple, prayerful way in a spiritual atmosphere, enhanced by the presence of the 95 icons on the walls and ceililng, including 82 full-size icons of saints that cover every wall, plus the relics and panel icons and lampadas on the window ledges. Congregational participation is encouraged in the informal and intimate environment possible in a small parish. Regardless of racial or ethnic heritage, everyone is welcomed in the small, family-like environment.
Recent Orthodox immigrants, African-Americans and other converts are also discovering that St. Innocent Church makes them feel welcome and at home, and they appreciate the unpretentious and prayerful atmosphere of Divine Services, the fairly full liturgical life, the family atmosphere of the parish community, and the feeding of their social as well as spiritual needs.
Fulfilling another long-time goal of Archpriest Roman, and an important aspect of the history of St. Innocent Church, was the establishment on November 15th, 2003 of the St. Innocent of Alaska Monastic Community, and moving into the St. Xenia House (photo on left). Then on November 14th, 2008, in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the St. Innocent Monastic Community, a second house — dedicated to St. Seraphim of Sarov — was purchased (photo on right).
The Monastic Community was based at the St. Xenia House, located on Hazelton Street, ¾ of a long block from St. Innocent Church, from November 15, 2003 until December 23, 2012. Since Christmas 2012 until the present, the home of the St. Innocent Monastic Community was transferred down the street to the St. Seraphim House, located diagonally across the street from the church and rectory. The close proximity of the Community to St. Innocent Church facilitates its being able to assist more readily in various aspects of the parish ministry, including being able to offer more Divine Services, education, and hospitality. Since its founding, hospitality has frequently been offered to people, including to those who are alone for church feast days and civil holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Pascha, especially for single people, converts and immigrants, and in general, providing a spiritual family and "second home" for those who wish to take advantage of this hospitality. In addition to Americans, in the previous decade, recent Russian and Ukrainian (CIS) immigrants in particular had previously chosen to take advantage of the hospitality and fellowship at the St. Xenia House. The current even closer proximity to the church makes it even easier to hold classes or gatherings after services, and means that services never have to be cancelled due to the weather, as occurred for many other churches during the terrible winter of 2013-2014. See our separate Monastic Community tab for more information and to read the approximately 80 various articles, including 9 prayers, 19 saints' lives, 6 sacred places, 17 homilies (meditations) by Fr. Deacon Joshua Genig, and many other articles.