With the Paschal season now coming to full bloom after a downright cold and rainy (and even snowy) beginning, the Saturday of Thomas week (April 21st) served as fitting moment for the faithful of St. Nicholas parish in Charlottesville to welcome our spiritual father and leader, His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony, to the community for the festivities surrounding the parish’s celebration of its 20th Anniversary. His Eminence was accompanied by, and capably served by Deacon. Volodymyr Jaworskyj, Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak and Seminarian Oleh Kravchenko of St. Sophia Seminary.
Also travelling a distance for the celebration were V. Rev. Stephen and Panimatka Elizabeth Hutnick (Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Wilmington, DE; Holy Trinity, Whaleyville, MD and St Nicholas, Dover,DE). The arrival of numerous other guests who returned to St. Nicholas for the event, including Reader James Burkeen, from Wilmington NC who was received into Orthodoxy at St. Nicholas and later ordained a reader by Met. Antony, brought great joy and cause for remembrance and former student-members and leaders from local colleges.
As in the Gospel accounts of Thomas Sunday, the presence of Christ was manifest to us in the presence of our Chief Shepherd, Met. Antony – although while he didn’t enter through closed doors, when the doors did open he was welcomed with the traditional Ukrainian greeting of bread and salt by Parish Board Chair, Mr. Jacob Ritter and by Miss Katrina Hamilton, who presented him with a lovely bouquet of flowers. V.Rev. Robert Holet, extended the handcross to the Metropolitan in welcome as well, and the celebration would begin formally with the vesting of the Hierarch in the nave.
However, before beginning the Hierarchical Liturgy, there were several important matters to be addressed. First, parish member, Mr. B. David Murphy, who has been a student at St. Sophia Seminary for two years, was ushered forth to receive the tonsure and ordination as a Reader. His Eminence exhorted David to immerse himself in the word of God in his own life, and practice the readings prior to proclaiming them in church, that the Word might richly speak to the hearts of the faithful.
Then, His Eminence, assisted by the subdeacons present, proceeded to vest David and ordain him to serve in the holy altar as a subdeacon. In doing so, he called him to be ever-faithful in his ministry to Christ, in all humility.
But there was one more task to be completed. Over the past four years, the parish had planned and constructed an interior dome of the church, to serve as a starting point for the implementation of a full iconographic schema for the church space. The dome was built in 2017 and in December, iconographer Michael Kapeluck began the execution of the iconography for the dome with the painting of the eight panels holding sixteen icons of the prophets. The prophets are arranged in groups of four, thematically, by the prophecies on their scrolls: including those on the East side, proclaiming the Glory of Christ as Lord of all Creation. The North panels announce the saving coming of Christ in His Incarnation, while the messages of the prophets on the South panels told of the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord. The West panels remind us that as Lord, Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. The prophets speak to the themes of the saving work of Christ that we profess in summary in the Nicene Creed.
The central icon, however, is the icon of Christ the Pantocrator – the Lord Almighty, exquisitely painted on the 10 ft. hemispheric dome. It’s size and breadth is captivating, and it was fitting the His Eminence would be the one to offer the consecratory prayers of this image – of Christ as the one Who presides over all of creation and all of us. While Mr. Kapeluck was unable to join us in person for the celebration, he was with us in our prayers of thanksgiving and will continue to be so as the icon speaks to the hearts of those who pray before it.
The Divine Liturgy was celebrated with joy – the responses being led by Pani Dobrodyka Christine Holet, leading the congregational singing along with the chanters of the parish. Parish members Subdeacon (Dr.) James Guba and Vladimir Gavrilovic served in the holy altar as well. The newly ordained Reader/Subdeacon David Murphy capably chanted the Epistle. After the Gospel reading, Metropolitan Antony invited the children to kiss the Gospel book and dismissed them. But then he paused and spontaneously called the children back up front and proceeded to ask them what the book he was holding was. Without hesitation, Shamus Hamilton proclaimed, beating the other children to the response, that it was the ‘Gospel Book’ (!), to the delight of all and the relief of his parents and the pastor. Metropolitan Antony then encouraged all the parents and the children to take the word of God to heart, to read it at home and make it a firm foundation of their lives. His Eminence continued his homily, including a reminder for us to recall the sacrifices of those who have gone before us that enable us to live our life in the Church,
With prayers and intercessions for the parish and the Church, the Liturgy culminated in the Consecration and Distribution of Holy Communion – received piously by most of the eighty or so faithful who had gathered for the event. Before the dismissal, the Metropolitan again paused the proceedings to call forth Karl and Karen Bowman, to receive a special hramota in acknowledgement as founding members of the parish present from the very first liturgy held in the Holiday Inn hotel on June 27, 1998. Another acknowledgement was made of the long-term, outstanding witness and service of Richard and Vonnie Zubyk, who were, unfortunately, unable to attend the events due to illness.
After the Liturgy and the requisite picture, everyone proceeded on the gorgeous spring afternoon for a splendid luncheon at the nearby Greencroft Club. Following the cutting of the anniversary cake, a short program was held. Jacob Ritter took a few moments to thank everyone for their support of the parish and in making preparations for the event.
Fr. Robert took to the podium, for some remarks and reflections for the day. He spoke in acknowledgement and thanks of the personal love and ministry that Metropolitan Antony had extended to the parish from its very founding – noting his numerous visits to the parish and that seemingly, every time he showed up, something wonderful happened soon thereafter – including major events like our property purchase, the parish Master Plan, and the Dome project. Fr. Robert then acknowledge the loving support of Pani Christine in her service of the parish community in powerful ways, as well as to him in his personal ministry. The parish lovingly acknowledged her as well.
Taking up a bit on the theme that Metropolitan had noted, how St. Nicholas parish was ‘unique’ Fr. Robert spoke about how the parish has ministered to many people, but often for just a short time – unlike so many of our established parishes who have had the same families living and serving in their midst for generations. Due to the highly mobile lifestyle of young families who come to the Charlottesville area, many stay for only a couple of years, then move on to new destinations. Yet, in the course of those short stays, the parish has been deeply touched by so many faithful people coming from a variety of backgrounds.
Fr. Robert spoke of several of them, beginning with one of the early parishioners, Dorian, who came into contact with the parish at the first liturgy in 1998 while facing accusation for a serious crime, (which he did not commit). He was received into Orthodoxy while incarcerated, and to this day prays deeply for the parish and its needs, while serving a sentence in the Virginia prison system. Fr. Robert mentioned with fondness, the arrival of Douglas Anthony Perkins, and Paisius McGrath who would eventually be ordained as priests in our Church – Fr. Anthony now serving at St. Mary Parish in Allentown (and in other roles in our national Church), and Fr. Paisius at Ss Peter and Paul in Lyndora, Pa. Fr. Robert recounted the ministry of the late Mrs. Charita Stavrou, the mother of a former parishioner, Irene Lohkamp, who in the spirit of St. Tabitha (Acts 9) lovingly sewed vestments for our parish, and who, in her seventies as a widow, dedicated herself as a full-time missionary with OCMC in Africa. The stories of her work are the stuff of legend there. The supportive ministry of Fr. Peter Gillquist to the parish was recalled in its early days, and in particular, Fr. Peter’s extraordinary speech proclaiming Christ in the ‘pinnacle of secularism’ in the area – the Dome Room of Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at UVA - as a spiritual ‘statement’ to the world. In these, and many other examples, God has blessed the parish community with extraordinary people of faith who have given witness to what Christian life is all about. But, indeed, every person who has come through the Church doors has brought something rich and distinctive to St. Nicholas parish, which we cherish always.
Metropolitan Antony then again affirmed the parish as he spoke about the importance of being willing to dream and work to make the dream a reality – using the example of what has taken place in the parish as an example of how dreams can come to fruition, and the work that it takes to make it so. And with his final blessing to wind down the events of the day, so many people remarked of how they were touched by the openness and warmth of His Eminence - in his formal remarks, as well as the casual interactions that so enriched so many.
Time did not allow a full opportunity to tell all of the stories behind the Timeline made by the parish youth, or the revolving set of pictures on the computer screen that ‘told the tale’ of the growth of the parish from its infancy. But in the spirit of that growth, as part of the parish’s 20th Anniversary celebrations, there will be a special effort made to prayerfully consider and study the long term facility needs of the parish, and a sincere effort to reduce or eliminate the parish debt – hopefully by the 25th Anniversary celebration.
Before his departure, His Eminence could not resist one more opportunity to gather with some of the children present at the event for one last picture in the midst of the lovely grounds of Greencroft and while pictures such as this will help us to remember the joy and blessings of the day, the spiritual awareness of the presence of Christ the Good Shepherd in the midst of His people, will remain in the hearts of the faithful for years to come.