[Narrator 1:] One of the most unusual landmarks in southeastern Oklahoma today is an old, beautifully preserved,
Russian Orthodox church with its distinctive onion shaped domes, it stands as a reminder of a rich, Byzantine
past, a past that a small group of Russians kept alive in their newly adopted home, Oklahoma. How did these
Russians get here and why did they come? Their story is part of the Okahoma image.
[Narrator 2:]They came to Oklahoma from many nations. Newcomers to a new land, looking for better opportunities,
a chance to begin again and what remains is their heritage. A rich heritage, that has become the Oklahoma image.
[Narrator 1:] In the last decades of the 1800s, a number of Russians from the Carpathian Mountain area of
southwest Russia came to America and settled in a coal mining community in Pennsylvania. All of the men found
jobs in the coal fields but working conditions under which they and their families lived were brutal and they
often wondered how long they could survive. There was never enough money for rent and food. It is not surprising
that when word reached them about a new coal mining area in Indian Territory, where wages and working conditions
were better, many started making plans to leave Pennsylvania.
[Narrator 1:] One of those miners was John Onesky. In 1896, John came to Hartshorne in Indian Territory. When
he saw for himself that life was better, he wrote to relatives and friends urging them to come also. So about 100
Russians came to Hartshorne and settled in an area of town that, through the years, would become known as Russian
[Narrator 1:] The unifying element in their lives had always been religion. In 1896, shortly after a few families
had arrived, John Onesky held the first Russian Orthodox church services in a room in his house. Shortly after,
plans were made to build a permanent church. In 1897, a long wooden structure was completed where regular services
were held. [a choir sings] The sacred pageantry and eleborate services of a mother church in Russia were
duplicated remarkably well. The church was the place for week long marriage ceramonies and numerous holy day
[Narrator 1:] In 1916, the congregation built another, more elaborate church. This structure of solid red brick
was topped with three, onion-shaped domes. On the top of each dome was an Orthodox cross, a vertical bar crossed
by three horizontal bars to represent the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. In one of the domes was a large bell
which rang loudly to announce services. No musical instruments were permitted in the church so a choir sang
without accompaniment. The congregation stood throughout the sevices, men on one side and women on the other. The
services, then as today, were conducted in Church Slavonic, the official liturgical language since the ninth
[Narrator 1:] The depression in 1929 forced the closing of the mines. Some of the residents stayed in the
community but most left, hoping to find work elsewhere. Today only a few of the children of the first Russian
coalminers still live in Hartshorne. One of these is John Onesky's son who bears the same name as his father.
John the son worked in the coal mines for 35 years. He recalls, "Everyday I went down into the mines, I would
always look at the sun and wonder if I would ever see it again. I'm lucky, I guess. I have scars all over but I'm
alive." Another resident is William Zozula who's Austrian father joined the Russian community in 1905. William
left when the mines closed but returned 40 years later. Today he is one of few remaining members of the Orthodox
church. Still another resident is Andrew Karilco, the present caretaker of the church. When Andrew was only one
year old, his father was killed in a coal mining accident. Andrew, as soon as he was old enough, began to work in
the mines and continued until the mines closed. Today, he carefully tends the church and its grounds. He's
particularly proud to help preserve the resplendid past of a truly spiritual people.
[Narrator 2:] This program was produced by the Oklahoma Image Project, funded by the National Endowment for the
Humanities and brought to you as a public service by this station. Oklahoma Image is sponsored by the Oklahoma
Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association.
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Part of the Oklahoma Image Statewide Humanities Project, promoting Newcomers to a New Land book series and the Oklahoma Image Project.
Copyright of this digital resource, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 2008. For further information regarding use please consult the Rights and Permissions page, http://www.crossroads.odl.state.ok.us/shell/rights.php or contact the holding institution of the digital resource.
Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 200 N.E. 18th, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105