The parish of St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Greenwood (Charlottesville), Virginia celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding with two days of prayer and fellowship on June 9-10, 2023. His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, who personally helped plant the seeds of the parish as a mission in June 1998 was in attendance for the full slate of events which began with Daily Vespers on Friday evening. The parish then welcomed many old and new friends with a sumptuous dinner, champagne toast, and fellowship, capped with an outdoor “stove fire” and sing-a-long beneath a hazy sunset overlooking the Blue Ridge mountains.
Saturday morning began with the greeting of His Eminence by children of the parish, along with Parish Board Chair, Florin Moldovan and Rector, Fr Michael Abrahamson. The full Hierarchical Divine Liturgy for the Leave-taking of Holy Pentecost followed, bookended by the singing of “O Heavenly King”, led by the St Nicholas choir under the direction of Subdeacon James Guba. During his homily, His Eminence spoke directly and eloquently about the gift of the Holy Spirit, reminding everyone that our natural state is not to hate, but to love, echoing the words of Our Lord from St Matthew’s Gospel to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44). He encouraged us all to overcome the world’s tendency to lead us to idleness and despair by turning back to Christ and living the true “good life” that is only made possible in Him by receiving the Holy Spirit, rather than in the acquisition of worldly pursuits, wealth, and selfish desires.
After the Liturgy, Fr Michael thanked all of those in attendance, and especially His Eminence for his prayers and support of the parish, remarking that the seeds which were planted 25 years ago have been nourished by the love, prayers, and labor of so many faithful parishioners and friends, and have thus borne much fruit. His Eminence noted how rare it is for the founders of the parish to be able to celebrate such a momentous anniversary, and what a joy it was to have witnessed the growth of the parish, led primarily by her founding pastor, Fr Robert Holet and his wife, Pani Christine, both of whom participated in the weekend’s events.
Several founders of the parish received Centennial medals for their lengthy and devoted service to the church, including Richard and Yvonne Zubyk, Karl and Karen Bowman, and Daria Kiselica. Fr Robert was awarded the medal of the order of St Volodymyr for his role as the founding priest, and Pani Christine received the medal of the order of St Olha for her many years of service, most notably as the musical leader of the parish for more than 20 years. Assisting His Eminence during the Divine Liturgy were Fr. Michael, Fr. Robert, Fr. Anthony Perkins (Holy Resurrection Misssion, Waynesville, NC), Fr Panagiotis Hanley (Holy Transfiguration GOC, Charlottesville, VA), Deacon Nicholas Zachary (Sts Constantine and Helen GOC, Richmond, VA), Deacon Pavlo Vysotskyy (St Sophia Seminary, South Bound Brook, NJ), Subdeacons David Murphy (St Nicholas), Andrii Vatrych, Andrii Akulenko, Roman Marchyshak, Mykola Stefanyk, and Yurii Izhyk (St Sophia Seminary).
Following the singing of “Many Years” the congregation gathered at Orchard Creek in Waynesboro for a luncheon banquet. Fr Anthony, a son of the parish who was ordained to the priesthood here in 2007, shared his appreciation for the love of Fr Robert and Pani Christine that welcomed him to the mission parish when he first moved to Charlottesville after being called up to active duty post 9/11. He encouraged all in attendance to do the works of God by showing humility, patience, and kindness to everyone, so that those works may spread out into the world. Fr Robert thanked everyone for their many years of labor and devotion to the parish’s ideals of generosity and kindness which are inspired by St Nicholas himself. Fr Michael wrapped up the celebration by giving a gift on behalf of the parish to both His Eminence and Fr Robert: a photo mosaic of the parish’s main St Nicholas icon containing roughly 1,600 photographs from the 25 year history of the church.
Those who attended will not soon forget the spirit of love, peace, and joy that filled every heart during the two days of celebration. It was a fitting way to mark the end of the season of Holy Pentecost, by sharing the fruits of the Holy Spirit that have sustained and enlivened the parish community of St Nicholas for 25 years, and which will continue to inspire its further ministry to central Virginia for the next 25 and beyond, by the grace of God.