Russian Orthodoxy made its way into the United States through Alaska in the 19th century, moving into San Francisco and over to New York City by 1905. The Russian Revolution left the Church with no leadership from 1917-1923, leading other nationalities to create their own churches instead of identifying as Russian. This was one of the defining influences on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which can trace its history back to 988 AD when Greek Orthodoxy was brought into Ukraine.
Ukrainian Orthodoxy came to Butler, PA through immigrants from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. The Standard Steel Car company (later Pullman-Standard) and related industries attracted families from the Carpathian Mountains and western Galicia to the community of Lyndora. With no church of their own, these Ukrainian immigrants attended St. Michael’s Byzantine Catholic Church. In 1920, a small group left the Catholic Church to start what would later become the Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Working with limited funds, the men and the women of the congregation donated their time, money, and physical labor to help erect a building for church services. The new church building was finished in 1922, a year after the start of the project. The following year, the belfry and 3 bells were added, along with a parish rectory.
Less than a decade later, the Great Depression left many residents of Lyndora without jobs, and the church was repossessed when the congregation could not keep up with the mortgage payments. The congregation once again demonstrated their dedication to the church when they raised the funds to repurchase their church by 1940.
The post-World War II decades were a time of stablility and pride for the church parish. A new rectory was added in 1955, and a major renovation project finished in 1970 resulted in the current building’s 17th-century Ukrainian baroque style, and the addition of new iconastas. The most recent additions to the church are the two new parking lots added in 2000.
Today the church seeks to preserve and celebrate Ukrainian culture by hosting various community programs and continuing to practice some of the traditions of their ancestors. A cultural heritage center in the basement of the church displays handmade items, sometimes made by a member of the congregation, for visitors to gain an understanding of Ukrainian art. The art of creating pysanka, highly decorated Easter eggs, has survived in the church to the 21st century. Classes on how to paint the eggs are taught at the church each March. Ukrainian songs and dances are standard features of celebrations and dedications at Sts. Peter and Paul.
Reverend Timothy Tomson wrote in 1994 that “sacred tradition means that we have a living connection with the entire past experience of the 19 centuries of church history…” reinforcing the notion that tradition is of the utmost importance to Orthodox Christians. Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church today strives to practice its historic faith and keep traditions of Ukrainian-Americans alive well into the future.