Anatole and Katherine Portnoff

From Canadian Orthodox History Project
Jump to: navigation, search


Anatole Portnoff (1907-2002)


Katherine Portnoff (born John) (1907-2004)

— edited from articles by Anatole Yefimovich Portnoff, Archpriest Andrey Somow and others

Anatole may be spelt Anatoly, Anatoliy.

Yefimovich may be spelt Ephimovich, Ephimovitch, Yefimovitch.

Portnoff may be spelt Portnov.

Anatole Yefimovich Portnoff was born on 15/28 November, 1907 (on 28, according to the new calendar) in the City of Cheliabinsk, in the County of Cheliabinsk and the Governorate of Orenburg in the Siberian part of the Russian Empire. His parents – Ephim Triphonovich and Ephrosenia Gavrilovna and their-respective families – had resided in Cheliabinsk for many generations. They observed the traditional Russian customs of that era, and they lived the comfortable, privileged life of the well-to-do. Their home in Cheliabinsk was on a small self-contained estate, and they had a second smaller home in Ekaterinburg. This second home would eventually play a very significant role in the life of young Anatole.

The senior Portnoffs were a religious and faithful couple. They raised their large family in a loving spirit so that they would have love for God, for their homeland, and for their fellow man. The family consisted of 9 children : 3 of them did not survive their childhood, and the 2 youngest daughters were born later, outside of Russia. However, 4 of them (Alexandra, Valentina, Anna and Anatole) were brought up together, and raised together within the family. Anatole’s father’s occupation was mining – searching for minerals and coal, and developing newly-discovered coal deposits.

War ; revolution

At the start of World War I, Anatole was only 7 years old, and he was 10 at the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution. Because of the subsequent revolutionary developments, the Portnoff family had to abandon their beloved home in Cheliabinsk and move to Ekaterinburg. It is here that a very significant event took place, which left a life-long impression on young Anatole.

In the early spring of 1917, the Royal Family was brought to Ekaterinburg – Emperor Nikolai Alexandrovich ; Empress Alexandra Feodorovna ; Royal Princesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia ; and Tsarevich Alexei. They were placed under house arrest in the home of Engineer Ipatieff – Ipatieff Manor, – which was near the cathedral that was attended by the Portnoff family. The Ipatieff Manor was fortified, surrounded by a high wooden paling, erected to keep the Royal Family incommunicado from the outside world. The perimeter of this palisade was patrolled by Bolshevik sentries, and the only persons allowed to enter the manor were the priest and deacon from the cathedral. The Archpriest John Storozhev was the one who regularly celebrated the Divine Services in the Ipatieff Manor and conducted the Sacraments of Confession and gave Holy Communion to the members of the Royal Family until the last days of their lives.

Anatole also knew Father John, since he, too, participated in the holy rites of Confession and Communion with him at the cathedral. Once, on a warm and sunny June day as the young 9-year-old Anatole was leaving church after services, he saw the high wooden fence surrounding the large home ; and, with childhood curiosity, he ran over to it. Having found a split between the planks, he proceeded to peek through ; and lo and behold, standing directly in front of him, he saw Tsar Nikolai and his son Alexei taking a walk about the grounds. At this point, a sentry approached Anatole and unceremoniously grabbed him by his coat and told him to be on his way, thus ending the wonderful scene. The image of the Tsar and his heir vanished but it left an everlasting impression in the memory of Anatole, which lasted to this own last day. Anatole Ephimovich is one of those rare few persons who had seen the Tsar and the Tsarevich in person. Shortly thereafter, the Royal Family was brutally killed by the Bolsheviks.

Exile ; further exile

In 1919, the Portnoff family had to flee Ekaterinburg for Omsk, and they abandoned all their property. They were able to salvage only that which could fit into a few suitcases and baskets. They travelled by train, which was constantly stopping (it would be either out of water for steam, or out of wood for fuel – coal was completely unobtainable at that time). The passengers were constantly being hounded and checked upon, and made to disembark to help load wood onto the locomotive. A journey, which normally would take a few days, took 2 months. Upon arriving in Omsk, they could not find any accommodation, and the Red occupation was all-pervasive ; so, the Portnoff family carried on by rail to Harbin.

Harbin, Manchuria

During those early years of the 20th century, Harbin was a very Russian city — populated by a majority of Russians, the native Chinese being in the minority. There were many Orthodox Temples, and the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas the Wonder-worker was presided over by Metropolitan Methodius (Gerasimov), the former Archbishop of Orenburg and Cheliabinsk. There were many Russian schools, businesses, stores and factories, and the streets resounded in the Russian language. This was how Harbin existed in those foregone years. Anatole’s father obtained a position as a bookkeeper. His mother was the homemaker, looking after her growing family, which had another addition – a daughter Agnes. (The youngest daughter, Helen, was born in Vancouver.) The older children attended school, and Anatole graduated from a commercial college.

It was in Harbin that Anatole met for the second time Father John Storozhev, who was now the rector of the Temple of Saint Alexis. It was in his church that Anatole started serving in the Altar, became a reader, and sang in the church choir. However, this did not last for very long.

Move to exile in Canada

In May of 1925, the Portnoff family once again lifted up its anchor and set sail across the Pacific Ocean for the distant shores of Canada. Prior to sailing, Anatole asked for Father John’s blessing, and he received the rites of Confession and Communion from him. As Father John blessed Anatole on his long journey, he said : “Anatole, you are going to a foreign land – do not forget our Orthodox Faith, always pray to God and remember Russia !” This counsel from his spiritual father (who had also been the confessor of the Royal Family), Anatole Yefimovich remembered for the rest of his life. The photograph of the Archpriest John, which Anatole always kept on his desk, served as a constant reminder of these parting words.

The Russian exiles, cast by the tidal wave of the revolution out of their motherland, onto the shores of different foreign countries, have brought with them one single treasure – the Orthodox Faith that was their guiding light in the hard times of their emigrant lives and helped them overcome all hardships and adversities.


In late July, 1926, the majestic (by the standards of the time) steamship “Empress of Canada” completed the 10-day transpacific voyage from Yokohama and moored quietly at the port of the fair city of Vancouver, British Columbia. Upon seeing the harbour, all the Russian émigré passengers (who numbered 40 in total : several families and several singles and the Portnoffs) were very elated and happy. Unfortunately, an unexpected set of trials was to beset them all.

 We all prepared to disembark and enter the new Promised Land, but when the Canadian officials 
 checked our passports, it turned out that the passports issued to us by the British Consulate 
 in Harbin had no value in the eyes of the Canadian government, so we were to return to Harbin.  
 The situation was tragic.  At that time, there were no human rights organisations or immigrant 
 services societies to serve penniless immigrants, Russians in particular.  Of the whole group, 
 only one happy family (consisting of the charming Mrs. Kovtunovich, her married daughter and 
 granddaughter) could disembark, because their papers were in order and they were met by her son 
 Ivan Fyodorovich Kovtunovich who lived in Seattle.  The rest had to stay aboard and wait for 
 the return trip.  The ship was to stay in port for about two weeks, as usual.  

The émigrés did not know what to do. However, as Providence would have it, a brief story of their plight appeared in the local newspaper. The Russian colony in Vancouver, being apprised of their problem, immediately started to look for a solution to the plight of their fellow countrymen.

About what then happened, Anatole Yefimovich wrote :

 I will never forget the moment.  On a particularly fine day, the passengers were standing on the 
 upper deck, admiring the beautiful morning and enjoying the view of the city we were not destined 
 to live in, when we spotted a majestic figure – a grey-haired elder, a Russian monk, advancing 
 towards the ship along the pier.  We could not believe our eyes that in this faraway country, 
 thousands of miles from our native land, we were actually seeing a Russian 'Batyushka', with a big 
 Cross on his chest, and wearing a kamilavka.  He walked straight to us, and we all rushed to him to 
 get his blessing.  We quickly produced a table, covered it with a tablecloth, and we preceded to 
 celebrate a Moleben of Thanksgiving at the makeshift altar.   Father Antonin laid a Cross 
 and a Gospel on it, donned his vestment, blessed us and started the prayer service.  The warm 
 August sun was bright in the blue sky, and we Russian exiles forgot our misfortunes when the 
 Russian apostle’s voice chanted resonantly : ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and the Son, 
 and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages’.  We then all sang in unison : 
 ‘Amen’.  We then sang : ‘O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth...’, and we sang the 
 complete service as if we were a proper church choir.  Our prayers flew with great faith and heart 
 to the Throne of the Almighty Creator, with hope for His mercy and help.  I cannot say exactly how 
 was it that Father Antonin learned of our stay aboard the ship, but the Lord speaks in strange 
 ways.  For us it was a miracle.  
 After the Moleben, Father Antonin learned our names, asked us about our situation, and he said he 
 that he would try to help us.  There was one influential man in his small parish – Misak 
 Yeremeyevich Aivazov, owner of a big factory and an emigrant from Russia.  Father Antonin explained 
 our situation to him and asked him to help the Russians.  Misak Yeremeyevich was kind and helpful.  
 He spoke with the immigration authorities ; he sent many telegrams to Ottawa ; and three days 
 before the scheduled departure of the ship, we Russians were suddenly told to pack, since in the 
 morning we were to be moved to the Immigration House to await there the Government’s decision.  Our 
 spirits rose.  The next day, we were moved to the Immigration House located not far from the pier.  
 The house was clean, roomy and well lighted, with a fine view of the sea and the mountains, but the 
 windows had bars in them.  We were given three meals daily. The weather was fine. We spent five 
 days in that ‘hotel’.  Next came the miracle – we were allowed to stay in blessed Canada.  Some of 
 us stayed in Vancouver, others moved to Alberta.  

It was this priest — Archimandrite Antonin (Pokrovsky) — who established the first Orthodox Church in Vancouver, Holy Resurrection Church. It was this very Temple of the Holy Resurrection which played an integral part in the life of Anatole Yefimovich Portnoff for the rest of his life. It may be said that the history of this Temple is also the life story of Anatole Portnoff, since they are so closely intertwined as to be indivisible.

Russian Orthodox Temple of the Holy Resurrection

The first services were held in a “home church”, where Anatole Yefimovich sang in the church choir. This choir consisted of 3 members at the beginning. Holy Resurrection Church at that time was located on 7th Avenue, one block west of Granville Street, in an old house. In the dining room was installed the Altar and the iconostas, and the churchgoers stood in the living room. A tiny windowless room beside the dining room (perhaps a butler’s pantry ?) now was the choir’s place, with room for 6 people standing. Father Antonin lived upstairs – there were 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and also a big room, which served as the kitchen, dining room and living room. The furnishing consisted of one big table and several kitchen chairs. There was no heating (save the kitchen stove with 3 gas burners), and Father Antonin was often cold in that spacious house. Besides this, this septuagenarian Elder priest-monk actually had no means of existence, and he rarely had enough to eat. Anatole Yefimovich said that he could not forget one occasion when he was asked about Father Antonin’s nourishment, and he replied with a faint smile : “these here dried crusts”. Father Antonin never complained, and he greeted everyone. He was truly a kind and helpful shepherd. He endured the harsh conditions of emigrant life with Christian humility. Local Canadians treated him with much respect, and in the city streets he was often approached by total strangers who said : “Hello, Father”, and shook his hand politely. He would bless them, and they would go away contented. There were hardly any bearded people in the city at that time, so he stood out with his big grey beard ; and in his monastic attire, with a big Cross on his chest, he had the appearance of an apostle. He had the work and responsibility of an apostle.

Anatole Yefimovich reported that the Russian colony (if we may use that expression) included some 25 families that had arrived over the years from Harbin. There were, of course, other Russians in Vancouver – those who had arrived before the Great War ; they had completely assimilated already, and they had no interest in the Church. It was only later that we found out about those Russians’ existence. Attendance in the Church was low, since 4 or 5 of the families lived on Lulu Island, and the trip from there was no less than 3 hours. Several families made their homes in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, in the Fraser Valley. Only some 10 families lived in the vicinity of the Temple. The services took place on Saturdays and Sundays. The choir had 5 singers, led by Sergei Mikhailovich Loshchinsky, a charming man who never before had been a choir leader, but who tackled the task with vigour. He used to say proudly that we all sang in the 8th tone, and I can add that the singing was harmonic and prayerful. None of the singers had sung in church previously, but they all knew Slavonic. They all had been church-goers since childhood, so they remembered the sacred chants.

The first Temple ; poverty ; the Russian Orthodox Society

The construction of the first Temple on 7th Avenue had met with many financial difficulties with creditors. The “Hungry Thirties” did not have any payment plans, and therefore if one could not pay for services in full, creditors would foreclose on one’s property. This became the great danger for Holy Resurrection Church at that time. It was through the effort of Basil Vasilevich Mironoff in 1935 that the newly-formed Russian Orthodox Society was able to buy out the Temple. All of these events and the subsequent construction of the present Temple on 43rd Avenue had been actively participated in by Anatole E Portnoff. He had a vivid and total recollection of all the priests who served this Temple, and he thoroughly enjoyed recounting stories of all-important events that took place in the annals of the parish. He knew all the parishioners who had passed through the door of the Temple. It was he who would greet and warmly welcome a young visiting theological student one day in the late 1960s, who would later become the bishop of the diocese. That warm welcome was memorable to him.

Anatole Yefimovich continued his reflection on the history of the parish with a further reflection on the earliest days, and on the significant personalities amongst the parishioners.

Second Temple

In 1954, when the old church building (at 1570 West 7th Avenue) was demolished by the City of Vancouver to make way for the Granville Street Bridge, half-decayed sheets were found under the cornerstone, on which was typed the history of the founding of the Holy Resurrection Church. Here is the text :

 Russian Orthodox Christian worship in Vancouver began with the arrival of Father Archimandrite 
 Antonin (Pokrovsky) on 14 September, 1924.  The very first service was held at the YMCA.  After 
 the service, a meeting of Russian Orthodox people took place that decided to establish an Orthodox 
 parish in Vancouver, and to rent a house for a temporary Temple and priest’s residence.  An 
 organising committee was elected : Nikolai Romar Romanian), Alexander Shipunov and Vladimir 
 Pitalyov, with two alternates : Vladimir Kazansky and Frank Styler.  A couple of days later, Father 
 Antonin was introduced to M I Aivazov and asked him to help the Russian community, which was very 
 small and poor and could not afford by itself to decorate the Temple and maintain the priest.  
 Mr. Aivazov, a former citizen of Russia, agreed willingly to help his compatriots ; and together 
 with Father Antonin, they started the search for the right house.  
 After viewing many houses, they chose one with a big enough plot.  A mortgage was taken out for 
 $2,500.  The Russian community could not afford the down payment of $200, and Mr. Aivazov donated 
 the sum.  Further funds were needed for repairs and decorations.  Mr. Aivazov and Father Antonin 
 asked the Mayor for permission to conduct a one-day collection in the streets of Vancouver ; and 
 after much red tape, permission was granted.  Mrs. Aivazov undertook to organise the collection, 
 and under her energetic direction, $468 was collected.  This sum sufficed to refurbish the house 
 and keep the Temple going for a year.  In 1925, Mrs. Aivazov staged a concert at the Hotel Vancouver, 
 starring the Russian Choir and the choreographer B G Novikov.  The concert was a great success, 
 artistically and financially ; it brought the Church $571.  The Greek community welcomed our 
 undertaking.  Mr. Bancroft managed to dispose the Greeks in our favour, and they paid Father 
 Antonin to perform sacraments for them, providing him with some means of existence.  Mrs. A Todos, 
 the sister of Mr. Bancroft, organized a bazaar that brought the church $425.  With these funds, we 
 entered the second year of our Church’s life.  
 On 15 November, 1925, the Greco-Russian Orthodox Brotherhood was established in association with 
 the Church.  The selection of the Brotherhood Council was unfortunate, and a trial.  The growth of 
 church life ceased, there were strife and altercations.  Eventually, a new Council was elected, and 
 several dissatisfied families left the church.  The year 1926 was one of hard work for the council 
 and executive.  By the end of the year, the financial situation of the parish was rectified, by 
 1928 the mortgage was nearly paid off, and the decision was made to build a new Temple.  On 25 
 November, 1928 a prayer service was held on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of the 
 new Temple dedicated to the memory of the Restoration of the Holy Resurrection Temple in Jerusalem.  
 At the time the building was completed, the parish had grown to some 80 families.  The most 
 outstanding donors were : 
 Mr. and Mrs. Aivazov, Mr. Bancroft and Mrs. Todos.  
 The organisers of the worship were : 
 Mrs. Dakserhof ; Mr. Hondurov ; Mr. and Mrs. Nedzvetsky ; Mr. and Mrs. Pytalov ; Mr. Babok ; 
 Mr. and Mrs. Grigoriev ; Mr. Ivanitsky ; Mrs. Pashkovsky ; and, in particular, Mr. S M Loshchinsky, who, 
 over 1926-1928 missed 3-4 services at most, and who served for free as singer and church warden.  
 The Temple was maintained mostly with funds donated by Mr. Aivazov and other local benefactors, as well as 
 the parishioners.  
 In a four-year period, the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was served several times by  Bishop Theophil 
 of Chicago and  Bishop Arseny of Winnipeg.  The Temple itself was 
 founded with the blessing of His Eminence  Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) of All America and Canada.  
 The blueprint for the new church was approved by the Metropolitan with this written comment : 
 20 June, 1928.  Should, with God’s help, the Holy Resurrection Church be erected in Vancouver 
 following this plan I have  scrutinised, it will be a great joy not just for Vancouver, but for the 
 entire Russian Church in America and Canada.  
 In the article that appeared in 'The Vancouver Sun' on 24 November, 1928, the members of the Building 
 Committee are listed as : 
 M I Aivazov – Chairman, Archimandrite Antonin Pokrovsky – Vice Chairman, S M Loshchinsky – Secretary ; 
 N P Abramov ; A A Alikhan ; M P Bancroft ; Y I Fetisov ; S Ryumkin ; M K Vodotyko ; N I Zotov.  

This certificate/testimony was interred yet again under the stone to the left of the main entrance to the present-day Holy Resurrection Church at 75 East 43rd Avenue, testified by Archpriest Peter Kurzemnek (rector), M S Sergeyev (Chairman of the Russian Orthodox Society (ROS)), E P Rozvalyayev (Warden), L A Krivtsov (ROS Secretary), A Y Adamovich (ROS Treasurer).

In 1929, the old house was moved to the back of the plot, and the new Temple was built on the street-corner. Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky), the Metropolitan of All America and Canada, took part in the Service of Laying the Cornerstone. A solemn service was conducted with a great flock of worshippers. The construction proceeded at a fast pace, and it was finished by the end of 1929. The interior of the Temple was the same as seen now at the modern building on 43rd Avenue. In the old house, the ground floor was transformed into a show hall with a stage, where many concerts and shows were afterwards staged. The entire clear income of the box office was used to pay off the debt, naturally. The new building cost $5,000, a colossal sum at that time, considering that sawmill workers, for instance, were paid 40¢ per hour, for a weekly wage of $17.60 for 44 hours of work. Most Russians worked at sawmills at that time, and they considered themselves fortunate, as the Great Depression struck.

The Archpriest Grigory Prozorov was appointed in 1930. He served for one year and then he left for the USA. Finally, the Metropolitan’s office appointed a priest from Edmonton, the Archpriest Alexander Kizyun. He remained as the rector of the Holy Resurrection Church for several years. He was a good shepherd, energetic, kind and helpful. Sometimes, people who needed to go to a hospital or to the SNDL – a trip of 25 miles – would call him at 7 p.m. or even 3 a.m., and he would always be prepared to drive them anywhere in his old Ford. He always refused compensation. Many Russians in that hard time of joblessness, with no work and no place to go to spend some quality time, would come to Father Alexander to share their thoughts and to find some spiritual support, and he would always receive them heartily. He always had a bowl of borshch stewing over a burner, and he treated uninvited guests with joy.

Father Alexander’s labours were not only spiritual, but also physical : in the reconstruction of the Church House basement, he served as carpenter, painter and plumber. The basement was transformed into a big dining room, where hard-working ladies of the parish treated the audience after the shows. The gifted artist Camilla Albertovna Horvath, wife of the famous General D L Khorvat, Chief Manager of the Chinese Eastern Railway, painted Russian birch trees on all the walls, so that the diners got the impression of sitting in a birch grove in Russia. The other basement room contained the library, created by Konstantin Nikolayevich Mamontov, who started with one shelf of books, and from that he managed to put together a big collection with a fine selection. Russian people spent many fine evenings there, getting together and sharing their thoughts on current affairs.

In 1935, the world-renowned Don Cossack Choir of Sergei Aleksandrovitch Zharov visited Vancouver for the first time. It was a great event for the “Russian colony”. The Russian people went to all three concerts of the choir, and then Sergei A Zharov and the choir honoured our Temple and Hall with their visit. In the course of the dinner, the choir performed many secular and spiritual songs, and there were many solo numbers by its famous singers. The great festivity continued until long after midnight. Words cannot describe the deep spiritual satisfaction the people felt as they went home afterwards.

It is necessary to single out the great labours of Valentin Yakovlevich Podlegayev, the Warden of Holy Resurrection Church for many years, and formerly the Railway Station Chief in Harbin. He had arrived with his family in 1924, and he was fortunate enough to find employment with a sawmill, where he worked until his death. In all the years of his wardenship, he never once missed a church service, despite his hard physical labour all week long. Often, after the services on Saturday, there were shows at the Church Hall and entertainment until long after midnight. Valentin Yakovlevich would check that everything is in order, and he would always be the last to go home. The next day, on Sunday, he would be at church at 9 a.m., and greeting the parishioners.

During the late 20s and the 30s, up until World War II, many concerts and shows were staged not only at the Church Hall, but also at Hotel Vancouver and the luxurious (at that time) Commodore Cabaret (owned at that time by Greeks), and at the Peter Pan Hall. All these events were artistically and financially very successful. Our Russian women had hard lives. Most of them had to support their families by working in factories, laundries and hotels ; but despite all that, they always found time to make costumes for the shows. They showed particular skill in the making of boyar costumes, of which no less than 50 were made.

S M Loshchinsky, the original choir leader of the Holy Resurrection Choir, moved to New York, and for a while S N Pashkovskaya, a very musical lady with a fine soprano voice, managed the choir. By “a stroke of good fortune”, G A Maltsev arrived soon. He was a choir leader who was famous all over the Far East, and under his gifted direction a proper church choir came into being. For many years, this choir created a prayerful atmosphere in the Temple, and it also performed spiritual and secular songs on the radio and in Canadian churches. The mixed Holy Resurrection Choir had about 30 singers. Valentin S Kukuruza, an 18-year-old from Harbin, stood out with his strong, beautiful tenor voice. G A Maltsev paid special attention to him and let him direct the choir occasionally. Anatole remembered the first time that Georgy Aleksandrovich handed the baton to Kukuruza and had him take his place ; we could not believe that a man so young could direct a big choir, but Kukuruza set the tone correctly (albeit with trepidation), and the service was sung flawlessly. Georgy Aleksandrovich was glad that his pupil proved worthy of his trust. After a few years G A Maltsev moved to Los Angeles with his family. V S Kukuruza took his place, and for many years the choristers sang under his direction in the Temple, in concert, and on radio.

Anatole Yefimovich named the following talented Russian singers who laboured much for the church, and also to the glory of Russian culture. Lidia Antonovna Panovskaya (born Kritova), a truly charming soprano, was the gem of our choir, and her performances in concert were hugely popular not just with Russians, but with Canadians as well. Elizaveta Aleksandrovna Kozina, a beautiful contralto, created many musical shows. Seraphima Nikolayaevna Pashkovskaya, a fine pianist and remarkable soprano, also staged many musical shows. Pyotr Dmitriyevich Patsali was an opera singer with a velvety baritone. Gerhard Augustovich Olle, a wonderful lyrical tenor, always performed in the concerts, and he sometimes created “the Gypsy band”. Alexander Sergeyevich Znamensky, an opera baritone, participated in many concerts, and he sang on radio. Lyubov Andreyevna Rossova (born Palevskaya), an excellent ballerina, created many ballet shows. Nikolai Ivanovich Innokov, an actor and a very gifted director, directed many plays. The most memorable ones are “Mazepa”, “Natalka Poltavka” and “Groza”. The brothers Boris and Ivan Novikov, choreographers known throughout the Far East, sometimes came from Seattle to help their compatriots ; so did the fine opera singer A I Malsky.

Anatole Yefimovich added also into the history of Holy Resurrection Church the names of Russian Orthodox people who laboured long to establish, maintain and enrich the Church. First, there is Archimandrite Antonin (Pokrovsky), who subsequently became the Bishop of San Francisco, the founding priest. Besides, there were :

 The Abramov family ; the Adamovich family ; Mr. Alikhan ; Misak Yeremeyevich Aivazov ; the Andreyev family ;
 Mr. Atamanenko ; the Balakshin family ; Mr. Bancroft ; the Blagovsky family ; Mr. Bobak ; Mr. Borisov ; 
 Mr. Burdukov ;  the Chaikovsky family ; Mr. Dalserhof ; the Dementsev family ; the Durov family ; 
 the Dyakonov family ; Mr. Eismont ; the Ewachniuk families ; the Fetisov family ; the Gladyshevs family ; 
 Mr. and Mrs. Grigoriev ; the Gutenko family ; Mr. Hager ; the Innokov family ; the Ivanitsky family ; 
 the Ivanov family ; the Ivashchenko family ; Vladimir Kazansky ; the Kholodilin family ; the Kholodilov family ; 
 Mr. Kirsta ; the Kovalyov family ; the Kozin family ; L A Kritova ; the Krivtsov family ; the Kukhar family ; 
 Mr. Kukuruza ; the Kuritsin family ; Mr. Kushnir ; Mr. Lenchenko ; the Levitsky family ; S M Loshchinsky ; 
 the Makovkin family ; the Maltsev family ; K N Mamontov ;  Mr. Mazanov  ; the Medvedev family ; 
 the Merkulov family ; the Mitrofanov family ; the Mylnikov family ; the Nedzvedsky family ; 
 the Nekrasov family ; Mr. Norton ; Mrs. Palevskaya ; the Pashkovsky family ; the Patsalis family ; 
 the Pichugin family ; Mrs. Pilipchuk ; Vladimir Pitalyov ; Mr. and Mrs. Podlegayev ; Mr. Polishchuk ; 
 the Portnov family ; Mr. Potapenko ; the Prokudin family ; Nikolai Romar (Rumanian) ; the Rozvalyaev family ; 
 the Rudkiewich family ; the Ryumkin family ; the Sergeyev family ; Mr. Aleksandr Shchipunov ; 
 the Shilovsky family ; Mr. Shlegel ; Mr. Shmidt ; Mr. Shtin ; the Sokolov family ; the Stanzhalsky family ; 
 Frank Stiler (Canadian)  ; the Sukhov family ; Mr. Syssoloff  ; Mrs. Todos (Greek) ; the Tyurin family ; 
 the Vershinin family ; the Vodotyko family ; the Znamensky family ; the Zotov family.

As can be seen from his written historical recollections, Anatole Yefimovich Portnoff was a living testament of the history of the Holy Resurrection in Vancouver. For 65 years, he was a member of the church choir and his velvet bass voice embellished the choir. He also was an excellent church reader and for many years he would read the Old Testament readings of Vespers (when they were prescribed), the Six Psalms of Matins, and the Epistle (Apostol) of the Divine Liturgy. He was always willing to contribute from his strength, experience and knowledge towards the prosperity and growth of the church. He was a member of the Church Council for many years, and at one or another time he held every single position – from a member at large to president, property manager, secretary, vice-president, etc. There is not one duty that Anatole Yefimovich did not perform. It is not surprising in the context of such a life that Anatole Yefimovich was very often asked whether he would become a priest. Protesting his unworthiness, he always demurred.

Anatole Yefimovich Portnoff served as President of the Russian Orthodox Society (which was, in fact, the parish council) in Vancouver in 1961-1963, 1967-1969, 1986.

Portnoff 2002-01-09.jpg

In the course of his writing, apart from the comments about his early life and emigration to Canada, Anatole Yefimovich does not write about himself, his working-life, his marriage with Kathryn John, nor any other personal details. It is obvious from his writing that because of his love for Christ and the Church, he was genuinely concerned about others. A touching and significant event took place in 2001 at Holy Resurrection Sobor. In an article about the centennial birthday celebration of Tatiana Mihailovna Somov, it is written :

 On departing from this occasion, she and Anatole E Portnoff (a parishioner with a similar history), 
 exchanged greetings in Russian, and, in parting, touchingly kissed each other’s hands.  

The kissing of each other’s hands is an expression of respect, a custom in Orthodox cultures that was very deeply-rooted until its almost complete loss in the recent westernisation of mentality amongst Orthodox Christians.


On 13 April, 2002, Anatole Yefimovich Portnoff reposed in Christ in the nursing-home to which he and his wife had moved, in Burnaby, BC. There, he had tenderly cared for his wife through several life-threatening illnesses. Nevertheless, his wife, Kathryn remained behind until she joined him in her own repose. Anatole Yefimovich left behind his daughter from a previous marriage (to Beryl), Madeleine and her husband Raymond, and their daughters Christine and Kathy and her husband Jeff, and their son John. Also left behind were his 4 sisters Anita and her husband Peter, Valentina, Sherri Rose, and Elena and her husband Joseph (the name-differences reflect the difference between civil and church usage).

A Panikhida was served on Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, at 7:00 p.m. in Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Sobor, and then the Memorial Divine Liturgy and Funeral Service were served there Wednesday, 17 April, 2002 at 11:00 a.m. The Archpriests Michael Fourik and Andrey Somow served. The interment of his body followed at the Mountain View Cemetery.

When Katherine reposed in Vancouver on 5 May, 2004, she was prayed for in a similar manner, and her body was likewise interred at the Mountain View Cemetery.

Memory Eternal to Anatole Yefimovich Portnoff and to Katherine John Portnoff.

Reference :

Parish web-site article

Additional information :

Vancouver history

Article about Harbin