St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church

St. Michael the Archangel Russian Orthodox Church. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania

335 Fairmount Avenue

St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church was founded in 1909 by Russian, Galician, and Carpatho-Russian immigrants at a church at 6th and Spring Garden Streets. In late 1922, the City of Philadelphia forced St. Michael to sell its property to accommodate the widening of Spring Garden Street. The Salem German Reformed Church building at 4th and Fairmount, built 1873, was for sale and St. Michael purchased it in spring 1923. In the early 20th century, St. Michael provided valuable social services to Russian immigrants, helping new arrivals find employment and assisting them in communicating with relatives back home. The building to the right of the church was a social club for parishioners, and it now houses a Sunday school and the church archives and library.

This church is another example of adaptive reuse of religious space that reflects the Northern Liberties' changing populations. Like the nearby Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox, St. Michael does not resemble a typical Orthodox church. The building originally housed the predominantly German congregation of the Salem German Reformed Church. Through the mid-19th century, Germans were one of the largest immigrant groups in the Girard-Poplar neighborhood of Northern Liberties, rivaled only by the Irish. St. Michael is one of many buildings in the neighborhood that were once German churches, fraternal societies, or residences that were later adopted and adapted by Eastern European immigrants and African Americans. By 1923, many of Northern Liberties' Germans and German-Americans, including the parishioners of Salem Evangelical, were moving northward to other neighborhoods. Salem Evangelical put the church building up for sale and moved to a new structure in the Olney neighborhood, north of Northern Liberties.

According to Archpriest Fr. Vincent Saverino, the parishioners lost their church on Spring Garden around the time Russian Orthodox Catholics were being persecuted in and forced out of post-Bolshevik communist Russia. The loss of the church building reinforced the exile and persecution many Russian Orthodox worshippers felt at the hands of the Bolsheviks in Russia; the Philadelphia congregation of St. Michael was determined to keep its church in the neighborhood and not be pushed out again. When the congregation purchased the church on Fairmount Avenue, it undertook an extensive redesign of the church's interior in the tradition of Russian Orthodoxy. The building still retains an original stained glass window from the German Reformed congregation above the front door, but in the 1950s St. Michael replaced all of the other windows with orthodox-style stained glass windows, and other interior features were made over in the Orthodox style, including the iconostasis (altar) and the wall, both of which were crafted by parishioners.

As of 2007, St. Michael serves about 450 parishioners coming from a 40-mile radius; few still live within walking distance. The Sunday school serves about 40 children each week. Every October, St. Michael's hosts a weekend-long Russian festival, featuring Russian crafts, food, and dance. The church also boasts a permanent Russian Arts store in the ground floor church hall, which sells imported arts and crafts.

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