At the end of the 1800s to the early 1900s, difficult economic conditions and religious persecution led to a great wave of immigration from Austria-Hungary, Galicia, Carpatho-Russia, and Russia to the United States. Most immigrants entered the United States through New York City. Many found their way to the Reading area.
In 1903, eleven men and their families gathered for the purpose of founding an Orthodox church in Reading, PA. The founding members were: Michael Koziar, Kiprian Koziar, Michael Kacsur, Nicholas Kotula, Michael Muha, Stephen Falot, Andrew Falot, John Teliha, Afton Mirna, Michael Seaman, and John Terenchin. Until a church could be built, religious services were held in the homes of the founding members. After 2 years of planning and saving money, properties at 241 and 243 South 3rd Street, the present site of the church, were purchased on August 23, 1905. On this site, St. Nicholas Church was erected. The main walls of the existing brick houses were used in building the church. The building was consecrated in 1906 by Archbishop Tikhon, who in 1917 became the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. Fr. Alexander Nemolovsky, who later became Archbishop of Brussels, Belgium, became the first rector of St. Nicholas Church.
In 1927, the church became incorporated and received its charter from the Berks County Court of Common Pleas in the name of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church of Reading, Pennsylvania. Chartered members were: John Kotula, George Kotula, Andrew Zuy, Nikita Laskevich, Michael Mihalchick, John Prokopchak, John Tomko, Michael Hriczov, Michael Koziar, Michael Noga, Sofron Divinec, and Peter Hriczov. In 1930, the cemetery was purchased in Kenhorst, PA and it was decided to build a new church. Plans were set into motion and the building of the new church was begun in early 1931. The new church was consecrated on Labor Day of that same year by Bishop Adam (Philipovsky).
In 1947, the retirement of the church mortgage was celebrated with Divine Liturgy and Moleben, followed by festivities in the parish hall. Archbishop Adam and visiting clergy participated in the joyous occasion. In the late 50's and early 60's, $26,000 in renovations took place through the tireless work of Rt. Rev. Michael E. Barna and Church President John A. Lesko, Jr. The improvements included a new bell for the bell tower, complete renovation of the interior, new Iconostas, Altar, Table of Oblation and Tetrapod. In addition, the entire interior was painted, including the writing of new Icons on the Iconostas and ceiling of the church by the late iconographer Michael Kupetz. On November 23, 1963, after all of the work was completed, Metropolitan John (Wendland), along with assistant rector Fr. Michael Barna and visiting clergy consecrated the new Altar and blessed the new Iconostas. Following Hierarchal Divine Liturgy, a banquet was held at the Berkshire Hotel. In 1967, Rt. Rev. Archimandite Ignatius Barna, St. Nicholas’ longest-serving pastor, retired after 35 years. During his time of service, the parish met many hardships.
A week of torrential rains in June 1972 caused flooding in many areas of eastern Pennsylvania. Reading was hit particularly hard. The overflow of the Schuylkill River flooded many areas of Reading, including the area near St. Nicholas Church. The basement of the church was flooded, and the nave of the church was flooded up to the first step of the Amvon. A call for financial help to restore the damaged buildings was heeded by many, including the Bishop's Council, who sent a sizeable contribution.
A few years after the flood, St. Nicholas purchased three properties on Spruce Street next to the church from the Reading Re-Development Authority. Fifteen hundred dollars was donated by Peter, John, and Michael Tomko to purchase the lots. Members of the church worked together to level and seed the property and put up a fence. In 1976, the Church Council decided to build a small chapel on the cemetery grounds to hold services for the departed.
The 75th Anniversary Celebration of the parish was held on November 8, 1980. Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Ireney, assisted by the pastor Fr. Matthew Searfoorce and visiting clergy. At that time, the parish raised $28,000 to repair the cupolas and roof.
From the 1990s to the present, the membership of St. Nicholas increased once again due to a wave of immigration from Russia and Eastern Europe. Some of the major renovation projects during this time included covering the three front stained-glass windows with Lexan, painting the interior of the church at a cost of $11,000, repairing and painting the church exterior windows at a cost of $6,000 and installing a new heating system for $6,500. St. Nicholas also raised $7,500 to add air-conditioning.
In 1999, a Russian Festival was reestablished. It has been a yearly event and attracts many people from different backgrounds in the Reading area.
The parish encountered many hardships over the past four decades but was able to overcome each one because of the unwavering loyalty of its core members: The Salaneck families, the Guresh family, the Noecker family, the Lesko family, the Barna family, the Tomko family, the Arnidis family, the Duchan family, the Hodich family, the Shay family, the Ursulak family, the Fecera family, the Defenderfer family, the Whelan family, the Simon family, the Halecky family, the Roth family, the Spinka family, the Billis family, the Gajewski family, the Soltanov family, and the Kaulback family.
Recently, the parish set up a website to connect with the Orthodox community. Many people have contributed to our first 100 years including our Church Council and members, the recently re-established Sisterhood under the leadership of Joyce Beekley, our current priest Reverend Michael Sydek, our Reader Andrey Ageyev, our Choir Director Alex Lesko, and our Church President Theodore Salaneck, Sr. We are also in the process of acquiring the lot on the north side of the church from the city of Reading. Father Nicholas Yuschak was unrelenting in his efforts to obtain this property, which we intend to turn into a church yard. We hope our membership continues to be steadfast in their religion and contribute to our future projects, so we can celebrate another 100 years.