History of the construction of the church
The first natives of Russia appeared in South Africa back in the 18th century, but they were very few. They were loners who came here by chance, so there was no stable Russian-speaking diaspora at that time. Waves of emigration of the XX century reached the south of the African continent, but of course not to the same extent as in Europe or America. Nevertheless, in the early 50's in Johannesburg was organised the first Russian Orthodox parish in the name of St. Prince Vladimir of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The rector was Archpriest Simeon Starikov, who was succeeded a few years later by Archimandrite Alexis (Chernai). The total number of parishioners at that time was about 240 people. Among them were mostly Russians and Serbs. The congregation rented an Anglican cathedral in the centre of Johannesburg for services, and later a residential house, where a house church was arranged. After the parish was closed in the mid-60s, the spiritual and cultural life of the Russian-speaking community moved to the Russian House, where a chapel in the name of St Nicholas was built. There was no permanent priest there and services were occasionally conducted by Greek or Serbian clergy.
In the second half of the 20th century, a fairly large Russian-speaking community began to emerge in South Africa. People began to find each other, gather on holidays, and socialise as families. But on the whole, they were still fragmented, dealing with their own problems, trying to adapt to local life. And it was then that many of them realised how much they lacked a temple here, and acutely realised the vital need for a living spiritual connection with their homeland. Many of them were sincere believers, striving to preserve the faith of their fathers, while others were just looking for a way to God.
In December 1997, a petition was sent to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia on behalf of the most active members of the fledgling community and with the support of Ambassador V. B. Lukov of the Russian Federation. B. Lukov, a petition was sent to open a parish and send a priest for pastoral care. "Here, far away from our beloved homeland, we feel especially keenly the need for spiritual communion with our Fatherland, with our mother, the Russian Orthodox Church," the petition said.
On 24 November 1998, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia received South African Vice-President Thabo Mbeki, who was in Moscow on an official visit, and discussed with him the possibility of opening a Russian Orthodox parish in South Africa. Thabo Mbeki confirmed that the South African authorities not only do not object to the organisation of such a parish, but will in every way possible contribute to the creation of a spiritual centre for people from Russia.
On 29 December 1998, a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, so important in the future church life of the Orthodox of South Africa, took place, at which it was decided to establish a parish of St. Sergius of Radonezh in South Africa and to appoint Archpriest Sergius Rasskazovsky as the rector of the parish.
It is noteworthy that one of the museums in Pretoria holds an icon of St Sergius, which was sent from Russia at the end of the 19th century as a sign of support for the Boers in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). When the name of the parish was determined, this fact was not yet widely known. So 100 years before the opening of the parish in the name of St. Sergius of Radonezh, South Africa was under the gracious cover of the hegumen of the Russian land.
In 1999, Father Sergius arrived in Johannesburg. The first meetings, services in the house church, conversations about the future of the parish and the possible construction of a temple began. People believers and non-believers, doubters and just curious, began to come from different places, and for everyone Father Sergius had time to listen, explain, help and find a kind word of comfort and love. After the service everyone sat down for a cup of tea, got acquainted and socialised. This was a very important stage in the formation of the parish. A plot of land was purchased for the construction of the church, located in the middle between the two largest cities of the country - Johannesburg and Pretoria. To purchase the land, the church community took out a loan and divided it among all the parishioners. Yuri Kirs, an architect from St Petersburg, was commissioned to design the church. With the support of the Russian Embassy in South Africa, a sponsor was actively sought to start construction work. There was still a long and difficult road ahead, requiring serious efforts of all Orthodox who cared about the fate of the Russian temple in southern Africa.
In July 2000, Hieromonk (now Archimandrite) Filaret (Bulekov) was appointed rector of the church. The first construction works began. The official laying of the first stone took place on 15 December 2001 in the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation I.S. Ivanov. The main works on the construction of the church complex, including the church, parish centre and priest's house, were completed by March 2003. This could not have happened without the sponsorship of the Russian company "Stroytransgaz", the support of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in South Africa, the personal participation of Russian Ambassadors to South Africa V.B. Lukov and A.A. Kushakov, the sacrificial help of parishioners, the daily work of the rector of the parish, Father Filaret.
And so, on 2 March 2003, the solemn consecration of the church in the name of St. Sergius of Radonezh took place with a large crowd of people. This day was unforgettable for all those present in the temple that day. They were filled with the joy of personal involvement in this great event in the life of the Orthodox of South Africa. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (now His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia) performed the rite of the great consecration of the church and the Divine Liturgy.
It is hard for those who are used to seeing temples at almost every turn to imagine the joy felt by those people who entered under the arches of the newly built temple. It became a second home, a place where they could pray to God, renew their souls in the saving sacraments of the Church, get answers to difficult questions, speak Russian, and discuss common problems. It is very important for people who find themselves so far from their homeland to participate fully in Christian life, attending services and listening to the pastor's instructions in their native language.
A stage of great importance in the life of the parish was the painting of the church, which was carried out under the next rector of the parish, Archpriest John Lapidus. For seven months a group of icon painters from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts worked on this project. In January 2008 the painting was completed, the temple acquired a finished look, and the external splendour was now combined with a unique internal painting. The best examples of Old Russian painting of the 12th century were taken as the stylistic basis for the painting, in particular, the painting of St George's Church in Staraya Ladoga and the frescoes of the Transfiguration Cathedral of the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery in Pskov.
The architectural ensemble of the temple complex was completed with the construction, with the support of MMC Norilsk Nickel, of a chapel in the name of Saint Prince Vladimir in memory of Russian volunteers who died in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. Thanks to the appearance of the chapel, both Russians and South Africans rediscovered a page in the history of relations between Russia and South Africa and preserved it for posterity.