San Fernando Mission welcomes Russian bell replacement

Orthodox Archbishop Benjamin and Bishop Gerald Wilkerson flank (l-r) the Russian replacement bell given to the San Fernando Mission April 11. Also pictured are (far left) Father Alexei Smith and Orthodox Father Andrew Harrison (far right). — Credit: PAULA DOYLE

Schoolchildren on field trips and tourists visiting the San Fernando Mission will once again be able to ring a Russian bell on the mission portico, thanks to a donation by the Orthodox Church in America.

Archbishop Benjamin, the San Francisco-based head of the Orthodox Diocese of the West, and Father Andrew Harrison, rector of St. Luke Orthodox Church in Palos Hills, Ill., traveled to the San Fernando Mission April 11 to deliver a Russian-made replica of a bell cast in 1796 in Kodiak, Alaska, for use by Russian Orthodox missionaries.

Records show that, for a while in the early 1800s, the original 1796-dated Russian bell hung at the San Fernando Mission, before it eventually ended up in a private collection at Rancho Camulos in Piru.

Another bell — which Orthodox clergy believe was possibly part of a set of bells given by Russians at Fort Ross to the San Francisco de Solano Mission at its dedication — also mysteriously migrated to the San Fernando Mission. That mystery Russian bell hung for years at San Fernando Mission until Archbishop José Gomez agreed to a request by Orthodox officials to allow its repatriation back to the Native Orthodox of Alaska.

The bell now hangs in an outdoor bell garden at Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak, Alaska, where it was officially received last Oct. 19 by Archbishop Benjamin, Father Innocent Dresdow, the dean of the Cathedral, and numerous Native Alaska Orthodox clergy.

One of the theories as to how the Russian bells came to the San Fernando Mission is that the bells were among items of trade carried by the Grand Chamberlain to the Czar of Russia, Nicholas Rezanov, on his ship's journey from Sitka, Alaska, to San Francisco in 1806. A tradition is that Rezanov, who fell in love with the San Francisco Presidio commandant's daughter, Maria Concepción Arguello (Concha), gave the bells to her father, or to a local priest, both of whom were eventually transferred to Southern California.

Tragically, Rezanov, who was Orthodox, died on his two-year journey to the Russian Court to obtain permission from the czar and the pope to marry Concha, a Catholic. She learned of his death six years later, never married and at age 60, after years of good works helping the poor and the orphaned, joined the Dominican Sisters.

"There are some questions about the two bells — it's still a mystery. We don't know for sure how they really got here [to the San Fernando Mission]," said Father Harrison, who orchestrated the gift of the 14-inch-tall Russian church bronze replacement bell for the San Fernando Mission.

"We're grateful for the return of the historic bell now in Kodiak at the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, which is the oldest Orthodox parish in North America," noted Archbishop Benjamin. "As the Russians say, each bell has its own unique voice, and I hope that its voice will contribute to the beauty of your own liturgy here. And it's a wonderful sign of friendship between the native peoples of Alaska and the lower 48 states [states]."

"And," added Father Alexei Smith, archdiocesan director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs, "[a sign of friendship] of the Orthodox Church in America and the Roman Catholic Church."

According to Kevin Feeney, archdiocesan archivist at the San Fernando Mission, plans are to hang the replacement bell where its predecessor used to be so that fourth graders can ring it when they take tours for their mission project. "The tour guides would ring the bell and talk about the lost love [of Rezanov and Concha]. So we hope to hang it back in the same place and ring it" as before, said Feeney. 


Easter and beyond

Anne Hansen

We move quickly from our major religious holidays each year. It’s not intentional. Life hurries along and as soon as the sun sets on one holiday the next is being touted by merchants looking to sell us whatever the next big day brings. To remain in the spirit of the religious holiday — in this case Easter — takes deliberate intention.

Office for Vocation


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April 25, 2015

  • Saturday, April 25

    Super Groovy 5K Run/Walk, 8 a.m., Woodley Park, 6350 Woodley Ave, Van Nuys. Sponsored by St. Euphrasia School, this year’s “Super Groovy” theme celebrates the school’s 50th anniversary of its founding in 1964 and serves as a tribute to that nostalgic era of peace and love — the 60’s. At the finish line, all runners and walkers will be puffed with clouds of psychodelic color. Registration $25-$40. For more information, contact Susie Sempelsz, (818) 488-1598.

    5th Annual Car Show, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Junipero Serra High School, 14830 S Van Ness Ave., Gardena. Featuring classics, hot rods, and muscle cars as well as food, music, vendors and raffles. (310) 324-6675.

    Challenge Weekend for Men, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and April 26, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Povorello Retreat House, 1519 Woodworth St., San Fernando. Presented by St. John Eudes and Our Lady of Grace Men’s Fellowships. Men will not board overnight; lunch is provided both days. $90 or donation. Register at For more information, contact Fred Perez, (818) 749-5126.

    First Annual Sacred Heart High School Gala, 5 p.m., Los Angeles City College New Student Activities Center, 855 N Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. Proceeds from the event, themed “United to Empower,” will benefit the Comet Scholarship Fund.

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