Fr Dimitriy Simonow – Our First Rector

Fr Dimitriy Simonow

Dimitry Diomidovich Simonow was born on 4 September 1906 in St Petersburg. His parents were both members of the hereditary nobility of the Smolensk Province. Dimitry’s father, Colonel Diomid Simonow, was commandant of the Mihailov Artillery College in St Petersburg, and his mother, Maria, was the daughter of Lieutenant-General Vladimir Amosov.

At the commencement of WW1 the Simonows were posted to Ekaterinoslav on the Black Sea. There the eight year old Dimitry came in contact with the Russian Scout movement and this became a lifelong involvement. The following year Dimitry’s brother was killed at the Front. His sister Tatiana, who was a nursing sister, was captured by the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, and was sent into internal exile. Dimitry’s mother died of cholera and his father died in 1920 of typhoid. At the age of 14 years Dimitry was an orphan.

Without friends or relatives, Dimitry was lucky to be evacuated with the White Army to Constantinople where he was enrolled in the Crimean Cadet Corps and relocated to Serbia. Upon completion of his studies in the Corps, Dimitry enrolled at the Belgrade University to study mechanical engineering. At this time he also developed a profound love for the Church and served at the altar in the Russian Holy Trinity church in Belgrade. Taking religious instruction from Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky and later Metropolitan Anastasy Gribanovsky, Dimitry became a reader in the church and, after his marriage, on 1 October 1939, to Irina Alexandrovna Hitrina, the daughter of General Alexander Hitrin, was elevated to sub-deacon.

During WW2 Dimitry Diomidovich served as a Second Lieutenant in the Russian Corps, an old émigré military unit formed to protect the life and property of the Russian Diaspora in Yugoslavia. At this time the Simonow’s first daughter died of convulsions during the bombing of Belgrade. Consequently two other daughters were born after the war in Austria. With the threat of forced repatriations of Russian émigrés and the unstable situation in British-occupied Carinthia, the Simonows decided to migrate.

Arriving in Australia on the Fairsea in August 1949, the Simonows were sent to the migrant camp at Wacol, Queensland. There Dimitry Diomidovich served as church warden and twins were born to the family. Unfortunately one of the twins, the only son, died a few hours after birth. Eventually Simonow was sent to work off his two year contract at the Cooper Pedy Opal mines where he worked in the diggings and later, after it was discovered that he had drafting skills, in the office. Upon completion of his contract, Dimitry moved with his family to Brisbane and worked at the Ford plant. Having settled into a new way of life, Dimitry Diomidovich began studying theology by correspondence, with the Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, USA.

Ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in 1956, Fr Dimitry was appointed to the parish church in Rocklea, but in 1958 transferred to Melbourne because of his wife’s state of health and need for an operation at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Having been accepted as second priest in the Melbourne parish, Fr Dimitry was nevertheless obliged to find secular work to support his family. He found employment as a medical orderly at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and stayed there until his retirement in 1971. In 1973 Fr Dimitry was appointed rector of the Melbourne Cathedral, but retired in 1975. From 1976 to 1981, Fr Dimitry celebrated in a number of churches at the request of the ruling bishop, and devoted most of his time to the Dormition parish in Dandenong. After a car accident in December 1981, Fr Dimitry was unable to continue his ministry, and retired.

(Biography courtesy of Protopopov, M.A., The Russian Orthodox Presence in Australia, Australian Catholic University, 2005)