On Sunday August 17/30, 2015, His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill arrived for an archpastoral visit to Holy Ascension Church in Sacramento, California, with the purpose of consecrating the new bells received from the LITEX Foundry in Moscow Russia and the newly-constructed belfry erected by the parish for the purpose of housing them. This celebration was dedicated to the 1000th Anniversary of the Repose of Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Prince Vladimir the Enlightener of Russia (+1015), and became the culmination of a three-year project as the parishioners worked on design, fundraising and construction.
The project of erecting a modest belfry began in August of 2012 when Mr. James and Dr. Olena Perry donated the four small bells to our church and Nicholas Ageev built a portable stand for the bells for ringing and display. From then on the bells were kept indoors for security and rolled out into the yard to be rung during Divine Services. Now the three year project of building a belfry began, as the parish would strive to house a set of 8 bells ranging in size from 12 to 570 lbs.
The general planning of the design for the belfry consumed the first year. Several concerns were factored in, for example the tight footprint on the church’s small property upon which the belfry should stand, the need for the belfry’s appearance to agree and blend with the existing structures, and very importantly, that its design carefully and thoughtfully accommodate the set of bells so that they may be “configured” and played according to the refined art of Russian Orthodox traditional bell-ringing. Providentially, Holy Ascension Church has a member who is an architect by the name of Vladimir Chahovskoy, who took upon himself the commission to design our belfry according to the needs outlined above. His creative work exceeded all expectations, as he designed a little jewel to last for many generations.
As this first year passed, it became time to find a contractor who would construct the belfry. Here the project seemed to stall because as estimates came in, the cost to build our dream belfry was far beyond what we expected to pay. The parish wanted everything to be at only the highest standard possible, and this principle extended from design to construction. The contractor needed to come with as serious a reputation as the architect. Additionally, given the expense and permanence involved, the parishioners really had only one chance to get things right. All of the contractors that were invited to bid on the project came in way over budget. The first estimate came with a price that equaled the cost of the construction of our church in 1977. Since the square footage of the belfry would be only around 5% of the square footage of the church, paying an equal sum seemed a little too extravagant, despite the devaluation of the dollar over the decades. In this situation, the parish was not sure how to proceed.
Sometime in the second year a Russian contractor, Oleg Svanyuta, came by the parish hearing about our problems. He looked over the architectural drawings, and came to an immediate conclusion that if the material's list were to be changed, the price of construction would be markedly reduced. His proposal was to change the belfry’s construction from cinderblock to wood frame. By the time Mr. Svanyuta assumed the construction of the belfry, year two had passed.
Now, another year would go by as the contractor cycled through the various requirements and demands of the city planning and building departments, which included drawn-out negotiations and several required iterations of the technical drawings performed by the contractor’s engineer and securing the building permit.
In retrospect the delay had its advantages. There was sufficient time for parishioners to donate sums both large and small for the construction of the belfry and for the bells. And the parish organized two “Russian Festivals” over the three years dedicating the profits to the project. All of the parishioners gladly contributed and labored over these three years. During this time sufficient funds were collected to finance the belfry we have today. Because the parish moved as cautiously as it did, by the mercy of God, covering the cost of the project has been “painless.”
For several reasons, the parish is very happy that the belfry has been completed and consecrated at during this year. The four smaller bells have been rung liturgically for the past three years giving our parishioners and the neighbors of our community an opportunity get used to the peal of authentic church bells. Without the need to rush we were able to collect the funds needed for construction. Also, this year marks a jubilee for the Russian Orthodox Church as She celebrates the 1000th Anniversary of the repose of Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Prince Vladimir (+1015). Our parish dedicates the bells and belfry to his honour and holy memory. This project has become a part of his holy legacy.
We call our little building a “belfry,” and not a bell tower as it does not stand 3 stories tall; the belfry being the room in the bell tower that houses the bells. There is an advantage to this lower construction. Because the belfry is so close to the ground the bells themselves are accessible for viewing and we can enjoy the wonderful icons and text that have been forged upon them. For example, the bells have icons of the Holy Trinity, the “Kazan” Icon of the Mother of God, the Honorable Cross of the Lord, the Four Holy Evangelists, Saint Nicholas, Holy Great Martyr and Unmercenary Healer Panteliemon, Holy and Venerable Kyril and Maria (the parents of St. Sergius of Radanezh), and others. A custom icon of St. Luke the Physician of Simferapol was ordered especially for the bell weighing 300 lbs., which is displayed prominently in the belfry. The largest bell has a ring of text “Holy Ascension Russian Orthodox Church, Sacramento, California, 2012.” And the text of prayers can be found along the skirts of all the larger bells.
The bells were hung in the belfry and the belling-ringing “system” was configured by Constantine Stade of St. Louis, MO, who was invited especially for the purpose of consultation, installation and testing of peals. Several days were dedicated to this very important phase. Constantine is an expert bell ringer and the peals he played displayed the beautiful sound of our new bells.
The consecration of the four largest bells and the belfry took place after Divine Liturgy during the molebin and procession dedicated to Saint Vladimir. In the Gospel lesson appointed for St. Vladimir we heard: “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Mat. 13: 45-46). These sentiments were echoed by His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill at the end of the Liturgy when he conferred Benedictory Tributes upon the donors and benefactors of our new belfry and parish.