The Ascension of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church was founded in 1907 in the bustling new industrial town of Clairton by Ruthenian immigrants from the Carpathian Mountains of the AustroHungarian Dual Monarchy, specifically, from the Kingdoms of Hungary and Galicia. These Ruthenians, also called CarpathoRussians, spoke mostly East Slavic dialects and were Greek Catholics: They worshiped according to the Greek or Byzantine rite, followed the Julian Calendar and used the Cyrillic alphabet, but they were under the Pope of Rome. As their language of liturgy and scripture, they used Church Slavonic. For literary purposes they employed a Ruthenian recension of literary Russian. The Ruthenians are noted for a large repertoire of semifolkloric religious hymns. Often set to hauntingly beautiful melodies, these are still sung before or after Divine Liturgy or during the communion of the faithful.
The original church was dedicated by Bishop Soter Ortynsky on October 6, 1907. The first pastor was Rev. Cornelius Laurisin. Under Rev. Irenaeus Matyaczko (1908-1922) a rectory was built and property for a cemetery was purchased. The church was appointed according to the canonical norms of the Byzantine rite. The impressive five-tier iconostasis was blessed by Bishop Ortynsky in 1909. From 1925-1931 the church was closed.
The parish was restored under Rev. Michael Rapach (1931-1950). Faithful parishioners cooperated in eliminating parish debts. A house was bought as a convent for the Sisters of St. Basil the Great, who taught religion to the children. Parish organizations were revitalized or founded anew. These included a Holy Name Society, Rosary Society, Altar Society, Sodality and Choir. Under Rev. Andrew Dzmura (1950-1959) the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine of religious education teachers was formed, and many men of the parish joined the Knights of Columbus. A marble altar and tabernacle -- gifts of the Altar and Holy Name Societies -- were installed.
Msgr. Michael Hrebin (1959-1995) launched a vast building project. In 1964 an elegant banquet hall was erected on the corner of Park Avenue and Third Street. The superior catering of parish volunteers made possible the construction of an impressive new church on the site of the 1907 church. The church and a modern rectory -- connected to the church by a covered walkway and cloistered courtyard -- were dedicated in 1981 and 1983 respectively. An enormous marble baldachin and two mosaic shrines arrived from Italy in 1985. In 1989 the parish celebrated the burning of the mortgage. In 1998, the year after the arrival of Rev. Ivan Mina, Ph.D., a marble iconostasis was purchased from Italy, and the church was adorned with extensive iconography, arranged according to Byzantine canons. These icons were written by noted San Diego iconographer Mila Mina. In 2007 the church celebrated its centenary Today, the parish boasts an active Holy Name Society, Ladies Guild and GCU Lodge, which together coordinate the annual parish picnic. The religious education teachers organize an annual parish field trip.
Byzantine iconography sees the church as a microcosm of heaven and earth, united through the divine economy of salvation. At the highest point of the dome-like ceiling there is the monumental icon of Christ - Pantocrator (upholder of all creation). He is the apocalyptic Alpha and Omega. Also, high above the place where the faithful receive communion hangs the icon of the Rublev Old Testament Trinity, representing the moment when the Holy Trinity decided through the incarnation of the Second Person to begin the salvation of the human race. In the curved part of the apse is depicted the Blessed Mother of the Sign with arms outstretched in prayer for all her children. At the back of the sanctuary is the mystical communion of the apostles: Christ nourishing his Church with his eucharistic body and blood. This scene is filled out on either side by the great fathers of the Church. High on the side walls in two rows are the major feasts of the Church, while lower down are the great women saints - left side, and the great men saints -- right side. (In Byzantine churches in Europe and the Middle East, women and girls traditionally stand on the left and men and boys on the right.) The back wall is dedicated to the final things: the dread judgment and heaven and hell. The whole ensemble is united by skirting, representing the wedding feast of the Lamb and his Church, of which Byzantine worship is a foretaste. The iconostasis that separates the altar area from the nave of the church has four great icons: These are read from left to right: St. John the Baptist, who points to the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child, Christ the Teacher, and the patronal icon of the church, namely, the icon of the Ascension. The royal doors of the iconostasis show the scene of the Annunciation with the archangel Gabriel announcing to the Blessed Virgin that she will become the mother of the Savior. The two deacons' doors depict the holy archangels Michael and Raphael, representing, respectively, victory over evil and divine healing.