Ss. Cyril and Methodius Church (Hartshorne, Oklahoma)

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Ss. Cyril and Methodius Church in Hartshorne, Oklahoma is a historic church under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of the South. It was the first Orthodox Church in the state of Oklahoma and remains one of the state's most iconic churches of any denomination. Ss. Cyril and Methodius Church was founded by immigrants who were originally from what is now southeastern Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Voyvadinian area of Yugoslavia. Most had been recruited from Pennsylvania to work in the mines in Indian Territory (as Oklahoma was known before statehood) once the land was available to white settlers (1889). After much of the population of the area dwindled, the church was officially closed from 1934-1978. Since that time, the church has been served, for the most part, on a less than weekly basis.


Once Indian Territory was opened to white settlers on April 22, 1889, many people rushed in to claim land and to make their fortunes. Not all settlers came in for farming and ranching, and mining was among the methods for economic development in many areas. The Rock Island Coal Company set up shop near Hartshorne and recruited workers mainly among Slavic immigrants who had settled in New York and eastern Pennsylvania. (Some of their development may have come as early as 1880.) As the Slavic population to the area increased, so did the need for a church to pastor to the community's spiritual needs. The community was made up of both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic people, and priests from both traditions visited Hartshorne. By 1896, Orthodox services were being conducted in the homes of Orthodox faithful. In 1897, a white frame church was built in Hartshorne on the hill at Third and Modoc streets. It is difficult to ascertain if the church was originally founded as Orthodox or Eastern Rite Catholic. The area came to be known as "Russian Hill" because of the Slavic immigrants living nearby. It was during this time that Fr. John Kochuroff (now St. John of Chicago and Tsarskoye Selo) started visiting Hartshorne from Chicago - sometimes as often as twice a month. It was during this time that the church became decidely Orthodox, Fr. John being an Orthodox priest who worked hard to bring Eastern Rite Catholics to Orthodoxy, even learning Slovak to do so. (Furthermore, Eastern Rite Catholics were dominated in the United States by their Roman Rite brethren, who at times were even hostile to Eastern Rite Catholics wanting to continue in their ways in the New World.)

This small church building was only used for about 20 years. At its peak, some 500 people came to worship there, hence the need to build a bigger church. In 1917, the present Ss. Cyril and Methodius Church was built. The building - larger than the first church - is made of red brick, and its roof is adorned with three silver onion domes. Ss. Cyril and Methodius may have been the last Orthodox Church to receive the blessing of Tsar Nicholas II, as well as funds from the Tsar for its construction. A cemetery was planned next to the church, however, after only three or four burials there, all subsequent burials were made in nearby Elmwood Cemetery. The iconography of Ss. Cyril and Methodius was done by a young man from Hartshorne by the name of Michael Kupetz, who had returned to Eastern Europe to enter a monastery, and while there studied iconography.

Starting in 1926, many in the community started moving away for better living conditions and opportunities. The onset of the Great Depression only spurred this on, and the switch from coal to diesel to power trains made for a smaller demand for coal, closing many mines. As a result, the population of the area plummeted, as did the membership of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. The church was officially closed in 1934, and remained so until 1978. Sometime around 1965, one attempt was made to place a priest here, but he was recalled after a year, since his placement there did not seem to be a good fit. For the bulk of the time the parish was closed, many priests serving various other cities would come either officially or unofficially to preside at funerals, marriages, baptisms, and Pascha services. One priest in particular, Fr. Alexis Revera, (who served at Ss. Constantine and Helen Church in Galveston), made these visits to Hartshorne for over 30 years.

In 1978, Ss. Cyril and Methodius was received into the OCA's Diocese of the South from the Diocese of Chicago (the Midwest), and from that time on, services have taken place here on varying schedules, ranging from once a month to every week. Although at times there has been some rebound in membership, even after reopening, Sunday attendance sometimes averaged as low as seven. Since 2009, the church has been served twice monthly by the priest of Holy Apostles Church in Bixby, Oklahoma, a parish founded in 2004, and the second-closest Orthodox Church to Ss. Cyril and Methodius, although the travelling distance between the two is nearly one hundred miles.

Dispute Over Ownership (2016)

Once Ss. Cyril and Methodius was disbanded as a parish, the church went into the hands of local parishioners ("successor trustees"), who did their best to keep up with the upkeep and maintenance of the building throughout the years.[1] Even after the parish was revived, the property still remained in their hands. Among these trustees were lifelong church members Bill O'Nesky, his wife Tanya O'Nesky, and Foy Ledbetter.[2] In late March, 2016, some parishioners noticed that people they did not recognize were in the church and then noticed that these people had changed the locks. [2] A man by the name of Gregory Melancon claimed that Bill O'Nesky signed over to him the title of the property in March 2016 via a quitclaim deed.[2] However, the parishioners of the church claim that this deed is invalid, since in 2010, the property was transferred to a corporation made up of parishioners via warranty deed.[2] Further complicating matters is that Mr. O'Nesky died in early April 2016, as this matter was being brought to court, just days before his 90th birthday. [3] In court, the parishioners won an injunction and restraining order against Melancon, which forbids him to come within 100 yards of the church, enter the church, or remove any church items from the property. This injunction is set to last until June 2016, at which time the matter may return to court if the issue of ownership has not been resolved by then.[4]

In May, 2016 Tulsa attorney Adrienne Cash, who represented the parishioners in the dispute, confirmed to news outlets that the matter had been settled and that an agreement had been reached where Melancon signed the deed back over to the church, and the court action against him would be dropped. [5]

List of Priests

(list may not be complete)

(church closed)

(church reopened)


  1. Hartshorne Church Decorates Community For 100 Years Day, Craig March 7, 2012 News on 6
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Dispute Over Historic Church Heads to Court Beaty, James McAlester News-Capital April 13, 2016
  3. Bill O'Nesky Obituary 14 April 2016
  4. Judge Keeps Injunction in Place Beaty, James McAlester News-Capital April 14, 2016
  5. Starting the Second 100 years: Hartshorne Church Dispute Settled Beaty, James; McAlester News-Capital; May 8, 2016


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