In 1921 about one thousand five hundred Russians landed in Rio de Janeiro. They escaped from the revolution in Russia and at that time found themselves in Western Europe. On 21 July the first lot arrived on French ship «Aquitania». There were 650 Russian refugees from Turkish camps Lemnos, Galipoli and Constantinople. On 2 August the second lot comprising 750 Russians arrived on «Provence». About 400 remained in Brazil. Rio was the largest city in Brazil at that time — its Capital. Some families went elsewhere in Brazil, but the majority remained here. The arrivals were, in their majority, former army officers and their families. They were totally on their own, without any assistance from the Government, without any means of existence, without knowledge of Portuguese. Most had to accept the hardest and dirtiest manual labour as means for survival.
In the beginning of the 19th century a church was built in Rio de Janeiro. It was attached to Russian Embassy and was built with personal funding of Russian Emperor Nicholas II. The church was named after St Nicholas, Archbishop of Mirres Licea. After the October revolt in Russia, its Embassy ceased to function, there was no one to take care of the chursh and it was handed over to the Orthodox Church of Antioch.
Recently arrived Russians organised their own community (named after St George the Conqueror), but for more than ten years had to use St Nicholas church, now belonging to the syrians, as their place for worship. There was neither a suitable place of their own, nor any Russian clergy. In 1930 the community sent a petition to metropolitan Eulogius (Georgievsky), Administrator of the Russian Orthodox parishes in Western Europe, asking for a priest to be sent to Brazil to attend to their needs. Metropolitan Eulogius responded favourably and ordered hieromonk Micheas (Ordintseff), who was at that time in Peru, to proceed to Rio de Janeiro to take charge of the community. Later hieromonk Micheas was transferred to Sao Paulo. On 28 April 1933, at the installation meeting of the Parish Council, N M Schelkunoff moved that the Parish should built its own temple. He was also entrusted to draw up the Statutes of the parish.
Only in 1934, after the registration of the Russian Orthodox community as a juridical entity, an opportunity presented itself to buy in instalments in its name a plot of land in Santa Teresa for the purpose of building on it its own temple (the final payment for land was made only in 1941). The reason to buy land in Santa Teresa was due to the fact that at that time there were tramway lines serving the area. For fund raising the Russian community kept organizing concerts, balls, theatrical performances and shows.
Original project, following the style of Pskov churches of the end of 13th, beginning of 14th centuries and plans of building were made by engineer Konstantin Dimitrievich Trofimov. He combined the technical knowledge with his title of qualified archeologist and a connoisseur of church architecture of Ancient Russia (in 1939 he was ordained priest and remained in charge of the parish until 1950). Building control was exercised by architect Gleb Konstantonovich Saharoff. At the time when the main skeleton of the temple was ready his dearly loved wife died and he donated a fairly large sum of money towards building expenses, on condition that the temple would be consecrated in the name of his wife’s heavenly patron — St Martyr Zenaida.
Construction started on 11 August 1935 with the solemn foundation ceremony performed by bishop of Sao Paulo and all Brazil Theodosius (Samoilovich) and metropolitan of Tyre and Sydon Elias (Dib) (Antiochian Orthodox Church). On 29 August 1937, in the presence of large gathering of the faithful, bishop Theodosius blessed the Temple and its Altar in honour of St Martyr Zenaida (feast on 24 October) Practically all the Russian families, who lived at that time in Rio de Janeiro, donated funds towards building expenses and worked personally on construction during spare time, because of which factor the Temple was built in record time, even at to-day’s pace. The first priest in charge of the Church of St Martyr Zenaida was Georgiy Gordoff, a lawyer by profession, and a former mayor of one of the towns of Crimea.
After the first influx to Rio of Russian emigrants from Russia and France (1921 — 1924), its numbers were augmented by considerable waves of refugees from post-war Europe and, later, in larger numbers, from China. With the arrival in Brazil of Russians from China, where church life up to the end of the 40s was very well organized, a new page was opened in the history of St Zenaida.
The years of expansion of church life and parish activities were 1950 to 1963. The composition of the choir at that time was up to 25 people under many years of leadership of maestro Boris Evgenievich Kirilloff, who came from China with his family in 1953. At present the choir no longer exists.
Between 1956 and 1959 the parish undertook some extensive technical works to strenghten the ground adjacent to the Temple above the priest’s residential area. Considerable contribution towards this was given by a member of the parish Alexander Mihailovich Sinkovsky. Between 1956 and 1969 the parish priest here was Nicolai Paderin (bishop Nicander) . In 1967 he became bishop of Rio de Janeiro, auxiliary to archbishop Theodosius and, after the latter’s death, was appointed administrator of the Sao Paulo Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile in whose jurisdiction the church of St Zenaida was from 1937 to 1976.In 1964 certain events took place in the parish of St Zenaida with grave consequences for the church and for the whole Russian colony in Rio de Janeiro. Conflict between the priest and part of the members of the parish resulted in the Church Committee, choir, and half of the members abandoning St Zenaida and going to the parish of the Protection in Niteroi. A lenghty court case began. In 1968 for disobedience to higher hurch hierarchy priest Vassily Pawlowsky was suspended from his priestly office and, in 1969, deprived of holy orders. In spite of these sanctions, he continued celebrating church services. At the initiative of Vassily Pawlowsky and with support of the remaining parish members St Zenaida parish passed to the jurisdiction of the Autocephalous Church of North America. The priest in charge was again Vassily Pawlosky. After his death in 1998, services were performed by archpriest Anatoly Topala, parish priest of St Sergius’s church in Porto Alegre (Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate)
In the beginning of 1999 the community met in the presence of the Deputy President of the Department of External Church Relations archimandrite Theofan (Ashurkoff) (at present bishop of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz) and decided to send a petition to Moscow be received under the Omophorion of His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Their request was accepted forthwith. The new Statutes of the parish, adopted by the General Assembly of the members governs its activities and was registered at the Brazilian Ministry of Justice on 27 January 2000 and at the Notary Public in Rio de Janeiro on 10 February 2000.
From August 1937 up to the present the church was under the charge of 11 parish priests. In 1955 — 1956 services at the chursh were conducted by priests sent there for this purpose by the Diocese.
Since 1998 services at St Zenaida were, on many occasions, presided over by the metropolitan of Argentine and South America PLATON. From January 2000 up to October 2001, during the time when abbot Sergiy (Ziatkoff) was in charge here, some works were done on the residential area of the priest’s quarters and all the area around the chursh was cemented. Costs were covered by the Moscow Patriarchate and contributions by the parishioners.
On 6 October 2001 the Holy Synod nominated as parish priest Pavel Feoktistoff. In 2002 the community here celebrated 65 years since the blessing of the Temple. In his message of congratulations the President of the Department of External Church Relations, metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad KIRILL stressed that even now the church of St Zenaida «remains for the compatriots as symbol of living contact with distant, but much loved land» and «the community, united in faith and love, continues to serve the exalted objectives to bring the dispersed children of God to unity within the Holy Church».
In December 2003 a capital restoration of the Temple building began, during which the Altar and Iconostasis were covered with white marble and blue granite, dug in the state of Bahia, and special type of oak grown in Brazil. Church icons were restored with contributions of the faithful.
On 19 February 2006 the ceremony of the Grand Blessing of the Temple took place presided by metropolitan KIRILL, President of the Department of External Church Relations and metropolitan PLATON of Argentine and South America assisted by the clergy of Brazilian district. Into the base of the Altar and into the Antimension, issued by His Holiness the Patriarch Alexis II, holy relics of one of the new martyrs of the 20th century during the persecution of the Church of Christ were placed — Martyr Sergiy Rakveresky whose memory day is on 30 January.