While the title “Diocese of the West” has been in use only since the 1970s, the ecclesiastical entity is associated with its see city, San Francisco, residence of the ruling bishops of the North American mission/diocese from the time of Bishop John (Mitropolsky ), 1872, until Bishop (later Saint) Tikhon moved the American cathedra to New York, 1905. San Francisco, as the seat of one completely unified canonical administration, can be called the Mother Church of all the American parishes erected and received into the Orthodox Church (save new Alaskan parishes) during that entire period, 1872-1905, after which no one city could claim the title. With the removal of the American cathedra to New York, church administration in the United States was divided into three geographical areas, or “rural deaneries,” and it is one of these three, the Deanery of Western States which became the embryo of what has come to be called “Diocese of the West.” The first hierarch to reside in that deanery and to hold at the same time the local title, Bishop of San Francisco, was Bishop Apollinary (1926-7), auxiliary to Metropolitan Platon. Those holding the title after Bishop Apollinary (and as auxiliary bishops to Metropolitan Platon) were Bishops Alexei and Theophilus. The latter became Archbishop of San Francisco and Metropolitan of All America and Canada in 1934. Ruling diocesan bishops as such begin with Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) of San Francisco and Western US (1950-72 and 1975-79), and include Metropolitan Vladimir, Archbishop of Berkeley and the Western United States (1972-5), Bishop Basil of San Francisco and the Diocese of the West (1980-83), Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco and the West, 1987-2007, and Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West, 2007-present.
It was in 1957 that the first diocesan assembly was held, Archbishop John presiding. Until the term of Metropolitan Vladimir the character of the diocese was that of parishes formed in a somewhat ad hoc manner through the settlement of Orthodox faithful in a given area, where they would form a community to which the bishop would appoint a priest. Under Metropolitan Vladimir’s rule, the diocese developed a highly structured missionary effort. At the same time, diocesan administration in general was “fleshed out” and was made vigorously collective in nature. The diocese began to elect effective diocesan councils and those appointed chancellors from this general period until now have played a major, positive role in the strong missionary character of today’s diocese: These are the names of those chancellors: Frs. George Benigsen, Sergei Glagolev, Thaddeus Wojcik, Boris Geeza, Stephen Fitzgerald, Basil Rhodes, Vadim Pogrebniak Archimandrite Nicholas, Fr Ian MacKinnon, and the present, Bishop Daniel of Santa Rosa. While the diocese has a more definite Great Russian character in the make-up of its parishes than any other diocese of the OCA, this is by no means the only important ethnic element in the diocese–on the contrary, the parishes of the flourishing and venerable Rocky Mountain Deanery reflect very clearly the ethnic mixture which typified the old Missionary Diocese before the tragic breakup into jurisdictions after the Bolshevik Revolution, since only the Greek Orthodox seceded to form their own parishes in that area. One can look around while attending services in Colorado and see the same vigorous mixture which obtained in the original San Francisco community. Serbian, Slovak, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Russian, Galician, Ukrainian, Romanian influences and people are everywhere present. (Of late, some ethnic elements have begun missions apart from the established, harmonious “melting pot”: Romanian and Arabic) The growth of missions has led to the influx of many persons and families from ethnic groupings not formerly associated with our Church, and therefore we are beginning to reflect a make-up more typical of American religious communities in general.
After the San Francisco cathedral community, and during the term of Bishop Nikolai, the Seattle and Wilkenson, Washington parishes were established, services were held regularly in Portland, Oregon, and the first Serbian communities (now part of the Serbian Patriarchate) were formed, due to the vigorous missionary labors of Father Sebastian Dabovich, the first person born in America to be ordained an Orthodox Priest (in San Francisco, by Bishop Nikolai, on the same day that Saint Alexis of Minneapolis and his community were officially united (actually reunited) to the Orthodox Church). In Colorado, St. Michael of Pueblo, Dormition of Holy Virgin Mary in Calhan, and Transfiguration of Denver were formed and accepted into the American diocese and the Western States Deanery in the first decade of the last century, by Bishop (now Saint) Tikhon. During Metropolitan Platon’s administration the Los Angeles Holy Virgin Mary Rescuer of the Perishing parish was formed, likewise that of the Protection Church of the Home of Mercy in San Francisco, and the Holy Myrrhbearers’ Church in Bryte. In Metropolitan Theophilus’ time, St. John the Baptist of Berkeley, the Protection Church of Santa Rosa, the Dormition Convent in Calistoga, and the St. Vladimir Church of Santa Barbara, all in California, all came into existence. During Archbishop John’s administration, the following were added to the diocese: Nativity of the Virgin, Menlo Park; St. Nicholas, Saratoga; Christ the Savior, San Francisco; St. Innocent, Tarzana, St. Nicholas, San Anselmo; all in California, and SS. Peter and Paul in Phoenix, Arizona. During Metropolitan Vladimir’s tenure, St. Herman of Littleton, and SS. Constantine and Helen of Colorado Springs, Colorado; St. Michael of Walnut Creek (later Danville/Concord) and St. Herman of Oxnard, California, were formed. During the second tenure of Archbishop John, St. John of Damascus, Poway, and Elevation of the Cross, Sacramento, California, were formed. The Annunciation in Santa Maria and Transfiguration in La Habra, California, the St. Andrew of Delta, Colorado, and the St. Peter the Aleut of Lake Havasu, Arizona, missions were formed under the omophorion of Bishop Basil. During the administration of Bishop Boris, St. George, Hesperia, and St. Mary Magdalene, Merced, California, missions were organized. Under Bishop Tikhon, the St. Innocent Mission, Fremont, California; St. Nicholas of South Canaan, Billings, Montana; St. Paul, Las Vegas, Nevada, and the St. Anne Mission, Albany, Oregon were formed. Missionary services are also regularly held in Salt Lake City, Utah; and Ashland, Oregon. The diocesan council’s Missions Board is devcloping and implementing further plans.
Monasticism has been and remains an important element in diocesan life. The work of the late, ever-memorable Father Dimitry (Egorov) of, first, St. Eugene’s Hermitage, Point Reyes Station (now Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, Manton), and later of the women’s Skete of Our Lady of Kazan, Santa Rosa, continues to witness to a quiet, most unpretentious and prayerful monasticism, the fruits of which will be plain to all at the Last Day. A women’s monastery, that of the Holy Assumption, was founded in Metropolitan Theophilus’ time in Calistoga, on the territory of, but not, it was learned in Bishop Basil’s day, in the canonical boundaries of the diocese. The then chancellor of the diocese retired there however, and became its caretaker. Its remaining monastics were removed to the S1. Eugene’s Hermitage and Retreat Center, forming the Holy Cross Community. They worship at the St. Sergius of Radonezh Chapel on the premises, erected and consecrated in the present bishop’s tenure. The founding of two women’s monasteries followed one upon the other also, in this period: St. Barbara’s of Santa Barbara, California, and Holy Protection, of Calhan, Colorado. Deanery, Archpriest Ian MacKinnon, Dean. In 2009, the newly remodeled Holy Dormition Monastery in Calistoga was placed under Bishop Benjamin’s omophorion and 10 sisters from the burgeoning community at St. Barbara’s reestablished the monastic life there.
In 1995, two new temples were consecrated: St. John of Damascus, Poway, California, and St. Paul of Las Vegas, Nevada. Building programs are in progress at Elevation of the Cross Church, Sacramento, California; St. Innocent, Fremont, California; St. Anne, Albany, Oregon; St. Nicholas, Portland, Oregon, and Holy Trinity/Resurrection, Wilkeson, Washington.
The strong missionary emphasis begun in the era of Metropolitan Vladimir has continued without letup in the intervening years until now. In 1994 a new consolidation of missionary vision and effort was realized in the formation of the prototypical Las Vegas/Missionary Deanery, Archpriest Ian MacKinnon, Dean. This effort, even though seemingly contra-indicated by the spread-out, far-flung character of the Diocese, is proving worthwhile and productive so far. It may prove to be the most “historic” event in this short diocesan history. Optimism and growth mark the present stage of diocesan history.