Our Parish History
History of Saint John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church – Rahway NJ
Saint John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church was founded in 1915 by a diverse group of Slavic Orthodox Christians. Many of the families coming from regions under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in present day Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland and Belarus. Regardless of the village they called home, each of these families shared a common heritage and Tradition - they understood themselves to be Orthodox Christians. In 1915, the community purchased the Old Lutheran Church on West Grand Avenue in Rahway, and would use the building for the next 55 years. The first Liturgy was served on February 12, 1916 by Reverend Stephen Sipaida of blessed memory. Over the years the community grew, families who had been traveling south to Perth Amboy every Sunday joined Saint John’s as it was closer to their homes. In addition, the manufacturing centered around Rahway attracted many families, some relocating from the coal towns of Pennsylvania.
During the years in the “Old Church“, many traditional elements were added to the congregational style building. In 1918 a cupola was added to the church and three bronze bells of a high quality were purchased and hung in the tower. By 1931, a two tier Iconostasis had been completed and a carved canopy stood over the Prestol. In 1916 land for a cemetery was purchased and by 1920 a Rectory had been constructed on land adjacent to the Church.
The women of the Parish organized an Altar Guild in 1928, to aid the Priest and Church Board with the physical upkeep of the Temple. By the 1940’s, a Sunday School Program was established with programs offered for both children and Adults. At the same time, English was introduced in the services for the benefit of the children and for those who were approaching the faith from the local community. Currently, services are celebrated primarily in English, with some prayers and hymns in Church Slavonic. By the 1950’s, the “Old Church” began to show its age, structural failures; furthermore, it’s insufficient size for the growing parish prompted the establishment of a building committee in 1961. St. John's Russian Orthodox Church today.
The resulting work of the committee is the present contemporary styled Temple which was completed in 1972. Traditional elements were maintained in the design of the building such as the three onion-shaped cupolas which adorn the roof and the Temple’s interior arrangement which is well proportioned, affording a traditionally shaped Narthex, Nave and Altar with superb acoustics.
In 1985, the Rectory was sold to a local resident and was moved across the street to make room for a modern Rectory. In the 1990’s a program was begun to replace the original Iconostasis with one designed and scaled for the larger Temple constructed in the 1970’s. Through generous donations and fund raising efforts, a new three tier Iconostasis was purchased complete with Byzantine styled Iconography. A project to illumine the walls began in 2001. The once white walls and ceiling have now become the background for numerous Icons and Byzantine styled decorative elements.
The parish maintains a Theological and cultural Library. Through a generous gift, the project began with over one hundred texts, in English and Russian, on the Orthodox Faith, Traditions, and Customs as well as the Artistic and Literary accomplishments of the Slavic people. Currently the Library is open after the Divine Services and by appointment. It offers a contemplative and quiet environment to read and study the works of our people and the Christian Faith.
During the Spring of 2003, a little over four acres of urban land adjacent to the Church property, was restored by Union County as a natural wetland and wildlife observation area. The area is now a part of the Union County Parks System and has been named in memory of parishioner Michael Bezega of blessed repose . Michael answered the call to serve our country during the Vietnam War and on June 22, 1970 he gave his life in the service of our country. In recognition of this sacrifice, the park was named in his honor. In 2019 property adjacent to the Temple was purchased for future expansion of the facility. An addition to the Church structure would include handicapped accessibility to the Church, Church Hall, restrooms and kitchen. The additional space would also enable proper classrooms to be constructed in the existing Church Hall. Together, the Church, the well tended grounds and the Parkland, are a witness of the presence of a vibrant Orthodox Christian Community in Rahway.
Today, people from many different backgrounds call Saint John’s home. We all come together with a single purpose, to glorify God in the ancient and true worship of the Holy Orthodox Church.