Living Next To

I lived next to and worked for a church in NYC—it gave me the freedom to be myself

By Kelly Kreth  |
February 24, 2020 - 4:30PM

"I learned from living next to the church and near the park that New Yorkers are not rude. They are so friendly! Everyone I came across in the area was very passionate about helping me," says Vladyslav.

Chad Husby/Wikimedia Commons

When Vladyslav moved to New York City from Kiev for a job with the bishop of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, he had some concerns. He wasn’t sold on coming to the U.S.—he hadn’t even learned any English. But took a leap of faith, so to speak, not knowing that his move would begin the biggest love story of his life—with the U.S., NYC, and most of all, his husband. Here’s his story.

I was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine, and I moved to NYC in June 2014. I came for my job—I was an executive assistant to the John, Bishop of Naro-Fominsk of the Russian Orthodox Church in New York City. Initially, I didn’t really want to come to the U.S. but once here, I realized that I would have been an idiot if I had turned down this opportunity. Since then, NYC has become my home and I don’t want any other. The Cathedral and the area surrounding it was a huge part of that. 

One of the largest orthodox cathedrals in NYC, the cathedral  is on the Upper East Side—close to the 96th Street entrance of Central Park. As an assistant I didn’t really have distinct working hours and would often work extremely long hours so it was convenient to live where I worked. If I was traveling, I would come straight from the airport and my yellow cab would take me directly to the door of the cathedral. It became the center of my NYC existence—where I worked and lived for six months.

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Living Next to” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to have an iconic or unusual New York City neighbor. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]

Thankfully the cathedral is beautiful. It looks exactly like a traditional Russian church with golden crosses and huge windows. It was built with funding from the last Russian Tsar about 120 years ago and retains its historical appearance and traditional orthodox glory. 

On the left side of the church was the entrance to the official residence of the bishop, his office and apartments for clergy. The living area is a three-story townhouse adjacent to the church and built in the same time and same style—red and white bricks, lots of windows. Inside, everything is historical—wooden panels on the walls from the time church was built, heavy doors, and spacious rooms.    

Our apartments were on the second and third floors. The second floor housed the bishop’s suite, and third floor was composed of two one-bedroom apartments for clergy. I lived on the second floor in a spacious apartment with plenty of windows and high ceilings with Venetian plaster and gold details. While it was just was a single bedroom unit with a fireplace and plenty of closets, it could fit a king-sized bed. My living room had vintage furniture, including a massive table with golden details.

The location was also marvelous. It was just a few minutes from Central Park, a place I fell in love with very quickly. It was my place to recharge, plan for the future, and spend time with visitors and family. I felt I was living next to some wonderland, and it’s free! The area provided me with endless opportunities: sport, meditation, dating, picnics, reading, or just relaxing on the grass. And the wildlife! I love raccoons, and I’d usually meet one or two raccoons while walking in Central Park. I mean where else will you find a metropolis with wildlife at its very heart?

While it is wonderful to have so much nature so close by, there were drawbacks. There is almost no shopping nearby. I’d have to cross Central Park to go to the West Side to do all my grocery shopping. I used to go to Whole Foods, but it was a hike. It was convenient to have access to the crosstown bus. And five years ago, there was only one subway fairly close by.  

And even though I loved the distinct sound of church bells—I’m professionally trained to play bells—I know the loud pitch bothered some residents in the area. These are not small and soft jingles. It's a massively heavy instrument, and needless to say, it is very loud when played. We have our secrets on how to get the melody to go through the walls. 

Russian tradition requires some melody before and after every Sunday service. There are residential buildings surrounding the church, and not everyone appreciated loud bells playing early in the morning on Sunday. We had so many 311 complaints that we eventually had to go to every resident and ask for permission to play only at specific times. The majority of neighbors had no problem. Still, occasionally we’d have complaints, but I think most people just got used to it. Now bells are used less—only when it’s a big occasion and on special Sunday services. 

I came to the U.S. not knowing any English at all. In fact, the biggest argument I ever had with my mother was about this. I told her, “I don’t need to learn English. I never want to live in the U.S.” Ha! I guess that didn’t turn out how I thought it would! Apparently mothers do know best. 

Because I didn’t speak English when I first arrived, I needed someone to help show me the city and learn to navigate it. There weren’t many Russians around—except at the cathedral on Sundays—and I didn’t want to constantly travel to Brighton Beach. My boss, the bishop, asked someone he knew to help me go shopping and learn the lay of the land.

So that person picked me up, fed me, and showed the city, and I was grateful. He was fluent in English and he almost seemed like an alien to me. He forced me to go everywhere, ask questions, and meet people. I learned that New Yorkers are not rude. They are so friendly! Everyone I came across in the area was very passionate about helping me. 

The first places my now-spouse showed me were Columbus Circle and St. Patrick’s—I still love those places. And from that day we first met, we were always together. 

About six months after I arrived, I was told my job was done—my boss got another position and was needed back in Ukraine. I opted to stay in the U.S. I moved to Coney Island and set up a home with my spouse. 

Now, every summer it’s been our tradition to go to the lake right next to Bethesda Fountain and rent a boat for at least two hours and just enjoy each other’s company. We still return to the area by the cathedral, even at night, just to sit on our bench and talk. There’s something in the air next to the church that allows you to relax and be creative.

This year we will have been married for five years. Everything happened so naturally. New York, its equality and freedom allowed us to be together and enjoy our life. And to think: If it wasn’t for my job with the church, none of this would have ever happened. 



Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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