Synod Cathedral rented out; why Bp Jerome is moving to New Jersey

( EACH Sunday, worshipers fill the sprawling, red-carpeted cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church on East 93rd Street and Park Avenue for services. Sunlight touches the white walls and the opulent golden details behind the altar.

The services are held in what was once the grand ballroom wing of an elegant, Federal-style building known as the George F. Baker House. In 1958, the red-brick building was acquired by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

The structure was built in 1917 by Delano & Aldrich, architects of the Knickerbocker Club, among other grand New York places. A decade later, the firm built an additional wing for the mansion, and today, the complex comprises two wings surrounding a U-shaped courtyard.

But plans to alter the building have infuriated many people, including neighbors, preservationists and parishioners. Synod officials say that they are short on cash and grappling to keep up with administrative costs.

In 2007, to increase revenue, they proposed renting out part of the original building, which is a designated landmark, and moving the bishops’ quarters to a planned two-story addition above the ballroom wing. The officials also sought to build a one-story addition to the original house.

But most opponents say the proposed alterations will compromise the building’s sublime architecture. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to review the synod’s plans as early as this month. “Everybody who goes to church there is opposed to this,” said Helen Schatiloff, a real estate agent and violinist, who is one of about 200 active parishioners. Last spring, Ms. Schatiloff helped organized a fund-raiser to show that such measures were not needed.

“In a couple of weeks,” she said, “we got four million dollars’ worth of pledges.”

In response, Nicholas Ohotin, the synod’s legal counsel, said the issue was not one for the worshipers or the bishops to decide.

The synod needs “several hundred thousand dollars a year,” Mr. Ohotin said, to meet the demands of a church expansion that began in 2007, when the Moscow Patriarchate reunited with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

“This means significant administrative costs,” he said. “We have important delegates coming to visit us, and bishops fly all over the world to meet with other religious figures, often to Russia.”

Yet even some of the church’s bearded, black-robed bishops are dubious about the proposed alterations.

“It wouldn’t bring in all that much revenue,” Bishop Jerome said the other day from his graceful, wood-paneled office inside the building. “It would just wreck the place and upset the parishioners.”
Hat tip to A.A.