When I meet people from our more established parishes, they are often curious to hear about our missionary endeavors in North Carolina. Coming from parishes that have been in existence for some time, which gather to worship in full-fledged church buildings with chanters and a congregation made up of many mature Orthodox families, mostly of Greek background, with a smattering of converts, they are often surprised to hear about our work here and what life is like on the “frontiers” of Orthodoxy. With the dual aim of providing further information to our brothers and sisters in the other parishes, and increasing interest in missions so that others may become interested in entering this field, I have decided to compose a few words about our life here and experiences.
The missions in North Carolina were born out of practicality. My wife and I lived in New York when we were doing our Master’s degrees, and it was there that we found St. Markella’s Cathedral and the Old Calendar Orthodox Church. However, upon completion of our studies, we returned to North Carolina to be near our families. At this point, my wife and I had still not joined the Orthodox Church, and our distance from any Old Calendar parish made church life an ecclesiastical desert. We went to New York for the feasts, and finally in August 2006 we were baptized, even though Metropolitan Pavlos had remarked, “you have been Orthodox in your heart for a long time.”
Returning to North Carolina, we prayed about our church situation, and receiving a blessing from Metropolitan Pavlos, we began to hold Reader’s services. For those not familiar with the idea, a Reader’s service is any service that is done without a priest; the priest’s parts are removed but the majority of the service stays the same. We did Matins (Orthros) this way, and then the service of Typica, which is the Reader’s service equivalent for the Divine Liturgy.
On a weekly basis, my wife and I were joined by her brother for services, and occasionally friends or guests would accompany us. On one occasion we had ten people with us; but most weeks it was only the three of us. This continued from November 2006 until November 2007. At times it was daunting, but we never wanted to give up, because we knew that patience would pay off.
In August 2007, we were blessed to move in to a home, and we constructed a fully-functioning chapel there. Bishop Christodoulos came with Fr. Savvas and a priest from Florida and we celebrated the first Divine Liturgy in November 2007. While there was not a huge crowd, it was a reverent service which filled us with hope for the future.
Over time, with no priest, growth was not occurring, so it was decided to make me a priest so that liturgy could occur each week here. In the meantime, a blessing occurred when a family contacted me from Greenville, North Carolina, a town about 90 miles to the east of Raleigh. They had discovered the Old Calendar Church, and were willing to set up a Church in their town if a priest could be provided. Around the same time, another man in Raleigh found our mission online, and began attending services. He is now a catechumen preparing for baptism.
I was ordained deacon in April 2008, and priest in June 2008. In June the family in Greenville had a tenant move out of their rental property, and they converted it in to a Church over the next few months. I celebrated the first liturgy on September 8/21. At Vespers were eight individuals; at liturgy six. Two weeks later, we had the second liturgy, with twelve people in attendance. On the third service, many of the same people returned, and we are praying this becomes an established pattern!
Currently, I serve liturgy three Sundays a month in Raleigh, and one Sunday and two Saturdays a month in Greenville. In Raleigh, I serve in my Chapel. It’s hard to get the word out because there are concerns both on the side of those interested in attending that the service is in a home; and there are concerns on our side to advertise our address to the whole world. So we proceed cautiously, and this accounts for the slower growth in Raleigh. If ten regulars can be found, we can probably start renting a space, which may help growth. As God wills.
In order to serve in Greenville, I have to take down all the altar vessels such as the chalice, diskos, censor, antimension, bowls, and everything else, and pack it carefully. We then leave early in the morning to arrive in Greenville, which takes about an hour and a half in the car. When we arrive, we begin to set up for the service, usually the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Our chanter from Raleigh usually accompanies me, and when it’s a Sunday Presbytera comes, too. She tries to make it on Saturdays when possible though, since we all benefit from the additional fellowship.
When the service is over in Greenville, I have to carefully pack everything back up. I join in a trapeza—a festal meal—with those attending, and then we return to Raleigh. We usually are back by three o’clock. It’s a long day, but it’s work that I love doing.
Long term, the hope is that candidates will be identified that can also serve as priests. St. Paul traveled from town to town, and ordained responsible local candidates before moving on. It is my hope that the mission in Raleigh can develop to be a regional hub for southern missions, and that Greenville will produce a priestly candidate in the next few years. God will provide for us and guide us in the direction we should go.
Similar missionary work is occurring in other places. The newest two communities besides ours are Holy Mother of God in Charlottesville, Virginia, and St John (Maximovitch) in Palmer, Massachusetts. There are some other missions and mission stations (potential missions) growing elsewhere as well. For a full list, consult the directory on the diocese’s website.
This is only the beginning of our efforts, and we encourage everyone to be aware of missions. Even if you live in an established parish, you can help us with your prayers, and by sending us your friends and relatives if they live near us, are moving near us, or visiting the area. Donations of icons or other church items are always welcome. If you are in an area with no Old Calendar Orthodox Church, maybe you are being called to follow our footsteps. Contact me if this is the case and I will be glad to help you get started if the bishop blesses it. And if you are in an established parish, bring your friends and relatives to the Church; we all are responsible for growing the Body of Christ. In our lifetime, we may see an Old Calendar Orthodox Church in every state!