St Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church was founded to fill a need for an Orthodox parish in Southern Maryland. In the late 1980’s, Bishop Nicholas of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese granted permission to parishioner Andrew Single to conduct a census to determine the feasibility of establishing an Orthodox community in this area. Advertisements were placed in local newspapers and on a local cable TV channel. As more and more people responded, the name Southern Maryland Orthodox Fellowship was applied to the growing group.
Services were held in the family room of the Single home by Fr. Thomas Kadlec, the pastor of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Potomac, Maryland. Initially, the Moleben service was offered, but Fr. Kadlec soon received dispensation to hold Divine Liturgies on Saturday evenings to accommodate the expanding community.
At the 16th Diocesan Council (Sobor) held in Chrystal City, Virginia, in July 1992, Bishop Nicholas announced that the new parish would be placed under the protection of St. Thomas the Apostle. In October of 1992, Fr. Chrysostomos Gunning was assigned to minister to the parish, marking the formal canonical establishment of the parish.
Services were soon moved to the meeting room of the Days Inn on Route 301 in Waldorf. The altar, icons, and other appointments were kept in the hotel storage room, set up for each service, and taken down again until the following Sunday.
In October of 1993, the parish once again relocated, this time to the White Plains Commerce Center, where it was to remain for a little over five years.
The weekend of Saturday, January 22 and Sunday, January 23, 1994 marked the first parish visitation of Metropolitan Nicholas. The parish was blessed with the opportunity to have a small, informal dinner with His Eminence after Great Vespers on Saturday evening. At the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, Marc (now Subdeacon Herman) Blaydoe and Andrew Single were tonsured as readers. A grand banquet was held after the liturgy at the Holiday Inn in Waldorf following the liturgy.
At the Diocesan Council of 1996 in the Pocono Mountains, the parish recorded a rare accomplishment for a mission church as parishioner Stephen Hall was elected to serve on the Diocesan Board of Trustees. The Diocesan Trustees usually are chosen from either larger parishes or from well-established parishes. Another high honor was bestowed upon the parish when Pani Barbara Gunning was recognized as Diocesan Sunday School Teacher of the Year 2000.
In the late 1990’s, the parish, at the promoting of parishioner and Building Committee chairman Peter Hagialas, began to consider the need for a more permanent home. After several sites were considered, the present property at 4419 Leonardtown Road in the Forest Park section of Waldorf was selected because of its access to a major highway (Route 5) and the potential to acquire adjoining properties in the future. The property was purchased on December 23, 1998, and just ten days of hectic remodeling later, the first Divine Liturgy was held on the morning of Sunday, January 3, 1999.
In January of 2002, Metropolitan Nicholas assigned Archimandrite Orestes (Binkewicz) as pastor of Saint Thomas. Under Father Orestes’ leadership, the parish has achieved significant growth and the spirit of the community has been revived. A magnificent new sign, completed in July 2002, now greets travelers along Route 5 and proclaims the presence of Orthodox Christianity in Southern Maryland.
The annual parish picnic was re-instituted on Sunday, September 1, 2002. Plans are well underway for expansion of the present church building to alleviate a problem that many parishes wish they had – that of overcrowding.
Our Church Organization and Organizations
People today often tend to think of the Church as a worldwide organization, in which each local body forms part of a larger and more inclusive whole. Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (+106) did not look at the Church in this way. For him the local community is the Church. He thought of the Church as a Eucharistic society, which only realizes its true nature when it celebrates the Supper of the Lord, receiving His Body and Blood in the sacrament. But the Eucharist is something that can only happen locally – in each particular community gathered around its bishop; and at every local celebration of the Eucharists is the whole Christ who is present, not just a part of Him. Therefore, each local community, as it celebrates the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday, is the Church in its fullness. (Timothy Ware [Metropolitan Kalistos], The Orthodox Church, London, 1993.)
And here we are, the local Church, the assembly of the faithful, brought together and held together by the love of Christ for us, by our love for Him, and, through the grace of His Holy Spirit, by our love for one another. We have been richly blessed during these early, formative years our parish with the fullness of the services and teachings of the Church, encouraged and led by priests of God who have worked and prayed hard for our sakes and for our salvation. May they be rewarded for their efforts, and may any shortcomings, theirs and ours, be overcome with love and forgiveness.
We are truly a successful Orthodox mission parish. Unlike the early immigrant parishes here in America, that tended to form almost exclusively along ethnic lines, our parish has nearly as many converts to Orthodoxy as ‘cradle’ Orthodox. And among those born into Orthodoxy, God has blessed us with a rich diversity of ethnically Carpatho-Russian, Russian, Greek, Arabic and Serbian faithful. As the Psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps 133:1)
Metropolitan Nicholas has noted in his letter above, it is natural that we should take a moment to look back with fondness and thanksgiving for milestones that have marked our journey. Let us do that in these pages.
“Early in the morning…”
Andrew Single, our cantor, and now the Reader Andrew, undertook, with the blessings of then Bishop Nicholas, a census that brought together the founders of our parish. These first numbered Andrew, his wife Marilyn, and daughters Rachel, Elizabeth and Tabitha, Janette Gaydovchik and son Ryan, and Mary Reed and daughter Nancy. These were soon joined by Jim and Barbara Maston, Marc (now Subdeacon Herman) and Patty Blaydoe with children Ian, Nicholas and Stefanie, Anita Anastos and daughters Christine Murphy and Gina Readen, Anna Marie Matula with daughter Sandra and granddaughter Jessica, and Nick Rizak. These were the ‘regulars’ at the time Bishop Nicholas assigned Father Chrysostomos and Pani Barbara Gunning to Saint Thomas Mission in October of 1992, and whom we might rightly call our First Founders.
“And at the third hour…”
Others who joined the community during its first year included Steve Balanda, Karen Blackburn with children Ashley, Alexis and Alan (AJ), Sally Brassfield, Steve and Nancy Hall with son Michael, Tim and Linda Miralles with children Tim Jr., Stephen and Kyra, Hilda Munayer with daughter Marilyn, Hope Stephanadis, Gerard and Donna Villalobos, and Mike and Helen Woytko. Early records (and our memories) are sketchy. Thus, we ask your forgiveness if we have failed to identify or correctly categorize other early founders.
The foundational documents of the parish begin the agreement canonically establishing the “Orthodox Mission Community of Saint Thomas the Apostle,” dated December 19, 1992 and signed by then Bishop Nicholas (Smisko), Very Reverend Protopresbyter Frank Miloro, Chancellor, and by Father Chyrsostomos Gunning, Priest. Also, the “Articles of Incorporation,” dated September 12, 1993 and signed by Father Chrysostomos, Marc Blaydoe, Andrew Single, and Christine Murphy, founded to “establish a worshipping community for those Orthodox Christians who reside in Southern Maryland (i.e., Charles, Calvert, St. Mary’s and southern Prince George’s counties…)”.
The terms of our mission parish agreement with the diocese state that the Pastor serves as the chairman of the Parish Council, initially assisted by an appointed secretary and treasurer. The first treasurer appointed by Fr. Chrysostomos was Marc (now Subdeacon Herman) Blaydoe, and the first secretary was Christine Murphy. The agreement also stated that once the mission stabilized, and additional trustee and auditor could be added, and that the officers then be elected, rather than appointed. The first election of officers took place at the December 1997 annual meeting of the parish. Marc Blaydoe was elected treasurer, Diane David secretary, Pete Hagialas auditor, and Steve Hall trustee.
Officers for the calendar year 2002 are treasurer Kari David, secretary Rose Ann Smisko, auditor Sally Brassfield, and trustee Steve Hall. Among others who have served the mission as officers are Katherine Beauchamp, Vickie Briggs, Melissa (Riley) Danvers and Anna Meinhold.
Parish Standing Committees
The parish has four standing committees at this time: Building, Evangelization and Retention, Finance, and Fund Raising.
The building committee is currently considering expansion plans to address the over-crowding with which we have recently been blessed. Father Orestes, Pastor, chairs this committee. Over the years, this committee has benefited from the counsel of Joseph and Barbara Parimucha, architect and designer and members of Holy Resurrection parish.
The evangelization and retention committee is co-chaired by Carl and Lori Lardiero, and is concerned with the Great Commission of our Lord, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt. 28:19-20), and then, to keep them from drifting away should the sea become rough.
The finance committee is tasked with budgeting, record keeping and reporting parish funds, and consists principally of the mission’s elected officers, chaired by trustee Steve Hall.
The fund-raising committee has been absorbed into the Saint Barbara’s Sisterhood in recent years, as that seems to be where our fund-raising talent and energy reside. Nancy Hall chairs the committee and the Sisterhood, and encourages new ideas and volunteers.
The mission’s Sunday school program is currently directed by Katherine Beauchamp, who recently completed a summertime remodeling and expansion program. There are five classes this year, with Olga Dewey teaching pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, Katherine grades 1-2, Phyllis Kopan grades 3-5, Tina Harris grades 6-8, and Rose Ann Smisko grades 9-12.
In July of 1995, the youth of St. Thomas gathered to develop a program of activities and service to the Church. The initial membership included Ian, Nicholas and Stefanie Blaydoe, Stephanie and William Briggs, Lyda Drayer, Ryan Gaydovchik, Jessica Matula, Rachel and Elizabeth Single, Jimmy and Rebecca Stiver, and Irene Vrentzos. Adult advisors were Steve and Nancy Hall, with frequent assistance from lots of parents.
The first year’s calendar began with a service project and weekend pilgrimage to the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Beallsville, Maryland. It ended with a two-week adventure in Maine, with biking, camping, rafting and skiing in between. Similar programs were carried out from 1996 through 1998, when a combination of advisor-drain due to the parish move to Waldorf, and youth-drain due to graduations and moves from the area slowed activities to a crawl.
The youth have continued to enjoy summer sessions at Camp Nazareth, the diocesan youth camp in Mercer, Pennsylvania, and annual ski trips to Timberline in West Virginia.
At the present time, the parish youth are exploring the possibility of establishing a Junior ACRY chapter.
Saint Barbara’s Sisterhood
Originally founded by Pani Barbara Gunning as the Saint Barbara’s Altar Society under the protection of the Great Martyr Barbara, this mission women’s group was reconstituted in 1996 as the Saint Barbara’s Sisterhood with the mission of “following our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ through: His example of helping the disadvantaged; Growth in fellowship and love; and the Building up of His Church.”
The Sisterhood has organized women’s pilgrimages to the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Elwood City, Pennsylvania, toured the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C., and as mentioned above, has assumed a leadership role for the mission’s fund-raising committee in recent years.
The women also provided floral arrangements for feast days, visit shut-ins, maintain supplies for parish fellowship hours, and many other quiet works of love that are vital to the health and life of the mission. A semi-annual Baklava Bake, under the leadership (and recipe!) of Sally Brassfield has become a successful fund raiser, carried out in conjunction with the bake sales of Holy Resurrection Church in Potomac, Maryland. President of the Sisterhood is Nancy Hall.
(Above written by Reader Andrew Single for the Oct 6, 2002 celebration of St Thomas’ 10th anniversary)
A Brief History of the Second Decade in the Life of St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church
To paraphrase the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with…all that took place until the close of the first decade in the life of the parish (1992-2002). We might call those years the decade of the “Establishing.”
The ten years that have followed (2003-2013) might be called the decade of the “Building Up.” There has been the building up of the Body of Christ, the building up of the treasury, and finally, the building up of the Building.
I. Building up the Body of Christ
The building up of the Body of Christ at St. Thomas during her second decade included the following receptions into the Holy Orthodoxy and the parish: 50 new parishioners, to include 9 infants.
These gains in our numbers were reduced in part by the repose in the Lord of the following from among the faithful of the parish during our second decade:
Nicholas Rizak, Jr.
Anita (Anastos) Smith
Unlike many Washington area ‘temporary’ arrangements that turn out to be more permanent than expected, Archimandrite Orestes’ assignment as Temporary Administrator of the parish in early 2002 was indeed temporary, and came to an end on the last day that year. Father Ken James Stavresky, retired Air Force chaplain, provided priestly services to the faithful of St. Thomas briefly in early 2003. During that time, Father Deacon Joseph Edgington completed his preparation for the priesthood at St. Thomas under Father Ken’s tutelage. Father Joseph was ordained priest by His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, February 23rd, 2003, and was immediately assigned as Administrator of St. Thomas.
The ranks of parish clergy were also built up during the decade as Stephen Hall was ordained to the diaconate, Karoly David and Stefan Popescu were ordained to the sub-diaconate, and James Stiver was tonsured a Reader of the Church. The parish has also been blessed with many excellent altar servers through our second decade.
II. Building up the Treasury
As the parish began to take root, and as faith grew that its continued survival was a real possibility, a building fund was established in hopes that a proper place of worship might one day be built. Many fund-raising ideas were tried. Some succeeded, some didn’t.
Among early lessons learned – Southern Maryland is NOT Western Pennsylvania! Piroghis, in addition to being very labor intensive, make for a very messy manufacturing process and facility if they’re sautéed and packaged in the St. Thomas style. Car washes by parish youth at the Wal-Mart irritate accidentally sprayed shoppers.
Three activities did catch on quite well, however: Yard Sales, Sally Brassfield’s Arabic-style baklava and Irene Dzubak’s fruit and nut rolls. These events have been refined over the years, and continue to provide reliable sources of income.
But BY FAR the most successful funding plan is the practice of CHRISTIAN STEWARDSHIP. A pledge system of each parish household’s Time, Talents and Treasure has been in place from very early in the St. Thomas community’s life. There are no ‘dues.’ Tithing, while not required, is encouraged as a worthy goal.
Among the earliest to adopt the practice of tithing were the members of the parish youth group – initially calling themselves the Young Orthodox (The ‘YO’s), and later becoming the parish’s Junior ACRY Chapter. In order to finance their activities, they have conducted a variety of fund raisers through the years, and from the beginning until now, they contribute a tenth of their proceeds to the parish building fund.
Not long after the youth adopted tithing, the parish itself adopted the practice of allocating a tenth of its operating income to the pastor’s Discretionary Fund, which has primarily been used to assist those in need.
The twenty-five-year mortgage on the parish’s ‘house church,’ purchased at the end of 1998 was ceremoniously burned less than eight years later by Metropolitan Nicholas during an October 2006 Archpastoral visitation to the parish.
The following five-year period was dedicated largely to replenishing the building fund after it was significantly depleted by paying the mortgage off early.
We close this section by giving thanks to God, and to so many of you who are reading this, for all of the support the parish received in the form of extraordinary gifts and very generous interest-free loans to the building fund – both from within and especially from our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters beyond the local parish community. May our loving God bless all of your richly for your kindness!
III. Building up the Building
While the faithful Stewards, Bakers, Yard Sale crews and the parish youth were dealing with the finances, the parish Building Committee was trying to settle on a building design and find ways to comply with the Charles County and Maryland State building and zoning codes. After a number of false starts (three or four, we think, but lost count), including Ground Breaking Services, and after purchasing two adjoining parcels of land, a plan was finally agreed upon and approved by the various authorities.
The design of the church evolved through several iterations. The first few would have been additions to the chapel of the house-church purchased in late 1998. Next came some very simple free0standing structures, but the original lot was too small to accommodate them. Purchasing additional land had opened up new possibilities, and the search was on for the ‘perfect’ church design.
Architect and Holy Resurrection (Potomac, MD) parishioner Joseph Parimucha gave generously of his time and talent to tutor St. Thomas’ architect, Michael Pellegrino on the basics of Orthodox Church design. The Building Committee then took Mr. Pellegrino on a series of ‘field trips’ to Orthodox churches in the Washington, DC. New England and western Pennsylvania areas.
The last visit was to the All Saints Camp (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA) near Emlenton, PA, where a timber-framed camp church had been recently (2008) consecrated as the Saint Thomas Chapel! The Building Committee agreed that the search was over – the essentials of the building’s shape and construction had been shown to us by a loving God beside the Allegheny River on a snowy winter day.
From photos and measurements taken on that visit the architect was able to develop plans for a beautiful Eastern European country style church with heavy timber framing and three cupolas topped with golden onion domes and crosses.
That was the good news. The bad news was that when several general contractors were asked for construction bids, all exceeded our budget by fifty percent or more!
But God provides. The Building Committee concluded that the only affordable way forward was to become its own General Contractor, and hire an experienced and resourceful construction supervisor. A contract was signed with Stan Taylor on August 30, 2010 and the construction clock was running.
Lancaster County (PA) Timber Frames was selected to provide the framing (later earning first place for them in a national competition). The Douglas fir frame started going up days before Nativity 2010, and was fully erected a few days after 2011 arrived. With the framing completed, Stan’s skilled crews started roofing and closing in the walls. Construction was essentially completed during May of 2011.
Once the building was complete, work on the liturgical appointments could begin. The wood furnishings were crafted by John Upton, after installing the iconostas with his daughter. As it turned out, this was Mr. Upton’s last commission before his untimely repose.
Iconographer Michael Kapeluck (Archangel Icons) of Carnegie, PA, was a natural choice because he wrote the icons in the Saint Thomas chapel at All Saints Camp, the structure upon which our Saint Thomas the Apostle church was modeled.
Our Church Organization and Organizations in our Second Decade
The ‘Organization and Organizations’ of the parish at the close of our first ten years – as described above in the History of the First Decade – and as we find them at the close of our second decade, are quite different. These changes are perhaps reflections of changes in the world around us, in the people who make up the parish community and in the perceived needs and priorities of parish life.
In the past decade, we have continued to become more diverse with respect to ethnic and religious backgrounds. While we are a parish of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, a majority of our present parishioners arrived at St. Thomas as neither Carpatho-Russians nor Orthodox. The majority of us are ‘converts’ to Orthodoxy from a variety of religious traditions. In this sense, then, we continue to be successful as a mission parish – offering God’s people a welcoming path into the Holy Orthodox Church.
Fewer than half of us now would identify ourselves as descendants of people from the predominantly Orthodox lands of the world. Of those who would do so, about half are nominally Carpatho-Russian decent, and those remaining are quite evenly distributed among people of Arabic, Greek, Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian lineage.
All but a handful of those who were described as our ‘Founders’ in the history of the first decade have either reposed in the Lord, moved out of the area, or have otherwise left the parish. Which thanksgiving to God, the number of losses has in this, our second decade, been modestly exceeded by the number of new parishioners.
During the decade now ending, and especially in the last three or four years, a great deal of energy and resources were concentrated on fund raising and ‘building the new church building.’ This intense focus may account in part for what might be perceived as negative change or decline in other aspects of parish life.
The standing committees of the parish, quite active at the beginning of the decade, have generally ceased to function.
The Sunday school program has been discontinued at the request and the acquiescence of our children’s parents, with the occasional exception of a First Confession class.
While the parish’s former youth group (the ‘YOs’ or ‘Young Orthodox’) has successfully transitioned into a local chapter of our diocesan youth organization, the Junior ACRY (American Carpatho-Russian Youth), their parish activities compete with only limited success against the activities of ‘the world,’ particularly with organized sports programs.
Saint Barbara’s Sisterhood, whose original mission statement included “following our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ through His example of helping the disadvantaged; growth in fellowship and love,” no longer meets except to conduct fund raising events.
We are in a time of transition. Our beautiful new church has been built and consecrated. Beautiful ‘new faces’ have come into our parish community – each with his or her unique combination of God-given time, talent and treasure. At our 2013 annual meeting a set of goals was introduced. Working together with our loving God and with each other, may He grant us the wisdom to know His will for us, and the strength to complete it. Amen.
The Saint Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church Family
The Church is not a building. Rather, it is the assembly of the people of God, that is, the Body of Christ, dwelling together in peace and unity. There are parishioners who are the remnants of those who came to the parish of Saint Thomas in the first decade, “early in the morning,” and those who have come and stayed in the second decade. We must continue to embrace those who will come in the decades ahead to share in the fullness of God’s blessings (cf. Mt. 20:1-16).
The Great Consecration of Saint Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church
On the weekend of June 21-23, 2013, our recently (November 2012) enthroned Hierarch, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, made his first Archpastoral Visitation to Saint Thomas to consecrate our new church building and to celebrate Divine Liturgies in the newly-consecrated church with us on Soul Saturday and Pentecost Sunday.
His Grace arrived on Friday afternoon with the relics of the Holy Martyrs that would be placed into the Holy Altar of the church on the following day. At 6:00 PM the relics were carried in procession from the chapel of our ‘house church’ to the new Saint Thomas church.
The procession paused at the southwest corner of the new church where His Grace blessed the cornerstone, engraved with the well-known exclamation of the Apostle Thomas, “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28)
The procession with the relics of the Martyrs then continued into the nave, where Bishop Gregory reverently placed the glass-topped case containing the relics on the tetrapod of the new church. After venerating them, he invited the clergy and faithful who were gathered to reverence the Holy Martyrs and to celebrate Great Vespers in the presence of the martyrs on the Eve of the Consecration. Following Vespers His Grace carried the relics from the Tetrapod to the Altar where they would rest Friday night on the diskos.
Saturday morning Bishop Gregory was again led in procession from the chapel to the new church where he was welcomed with the traditional gifts of bread and salt by parish Trustee Dana Dewey, his wife Olga and their daughter Katia (their sons Andrew and Benjamin were serving in the procession). Father Joseph then welcomed His Grace and presented him with the hand Cross.
The Bishop took the relics up from the Altar and was led in procession out of the church, circling it three times as the Priests sprinkled the exterior with blessed water, and stopping each circuit at the church doors for the Epistle and Gospel readings. After the third circuit, the Bishop struck the door (hard, nine times!) with his staff, and commanded the doorkeeper inside the church to “Lift up the gates!? The doors were then opened to the Bishop, and carrying the relics, accompanied by the clergy and the people, he re-entered the church. His Grace placed the relics on the Altar, poured Holy Chrism over them, and deposited them into a cavity in the top of the Altar. He surrounded the relics with pieces of paper inscribed with the names of the departed of the parish, as well as the names of departed loved ones of our present parishioners. Then he covered the relics with sand and wax mastic, and capped and sealed them into the cavity.
Then as the cantors chanted Psalms, the Bishop and his Priests – Father Peter Zarynow, Father Nectarios Trevino, Father Maximos Tatum and Father Joseph – washed the Altar thoroughly with soap, water and sponges, and dried it with towels. The table was then washed again, this time with a mixture of rose water and wine blessed by the Bishop.
The Altar was again wiped dry, this time using many new Antimensia (which means ‘in place of the table’), cloths into which a small sack to contain the relics of a Saint has been sewn, printed with icons and bearing the name and location of the church. An antimension must be present on the Altar and signed by the ruling Bishop of the Diocese in order for the Liturgy to be celebrated in his absence.
When the Altar had been dried, the Bishop poured Holy Chrism in the shape of a cross onto the Altar. He and the Priests again took the Antimensia and wiped the Chrism over the entire Altar – top, sides and legs. His Grace affixed an icon of each of the four Evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – one on each of the four corners of the Altar top.
Finally, the Altar was covered with two layers of white linen (katasarkion), the first tied down to the four posts (legs) and around its top, and the second spread over the first. The traditional decorative coverings (green in this case, since we were anticipating the Feast of Pentecost) were put in place, and the Gospel Book, Tabernacle, Hand Cross, Candles and other furnishings were returned to the Altar.
While the Consecration was taking place at the Altar, all the faithful in attendance – at the Bishop’s direction – had been filling an Eternal Lamp with oil, one drop at a time, using medicine droppers. His Grace then went to the tetrapod to retrieve the now-filled lamp, lit it, and placed it on the altar.
The Bishop then censed the Altar and the interior of the church and, assisted by Father Joseph, anointed the four walls of the church and many of the icons. All was completed and the Bishop and his Priests washed their hands.
The Consecration services was closed with prayers and Scripture readings, and the first Divine Liturgy was then served in the newly-consecrated Saint Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church!
Glory to God for all things!
The Consecration Banquet
Having completed the Consecration and celebrated the Divine Liturgy, and being hungry and thirsty, all motored to nearby Middleton Hall for a relaxed, enjoyable buffet and speaking program. Master of Ceremonies for the banquet was St. Thomas Trustee Dana Dewey.
Parish youth welcomed Bishop Gregory, offering him the traditional bouquet of red roses, and lifted their voices in one of their favorite hymns from church services at Camp Nazareth, “Christians praise the most Pure Virgin and Mother Mary.”
Father Joseph offered a humorous introduction of Maryland State Senator and our St. Thomas church neighbor Thomas ‘Mac’ Middleton. The Senator welcomed the parishioners and their guests to his Southern Maryland district, and offered any services that his office might be able to provide to the parish in the future.
Dn. Steve offered two toasts; first in honor of His Grace Bishop Gregory and others Thecla and Helena of Saints Mary and Martha Orthodox Monastery (Wagener, SC), and a second in thanksgiving for the tremendous outpouring of Christian Stewardship from both within and from beyond the St. Thomas parish family who made our new church building a reality.
Andrew Single, the man behind the initial formation of our Mission Community, offered his personal reflections and a brief history of the parish that he, with the blessing and support of +Metropolitan Nicholas of thrice-blessed memory, planted here in Charles County (“If you build it, they will come”).
Father Joseph spoke about a surprise gift from +Metropolitan Nicholas that he received months after His Eminence’s repose. It was an Antimension, signed by the Metropolitan that he had set aside for use in our new church, perhaps thinking that he would present at the Consecration which his untimely repose prevented him from attending. Our Diocesan Chancellor, Father Frank Miloro, discovered it while sorting through the things His Eminence had left behind.
Father Joseph then called Kari and Mary Diane David to the podium and asked His Grace, Bishop Gregory, to present the couple with a beautiful icon of Saint Thomas the Apostle from the parish in appreciation for Kari’s many months of dedication as the parish’s General Contractor during the construction of the new church (and Mary Diane’s corresponding months of ‘widowhood’). His Grace presented a second icon of the Parton Saint of our parish to Kari’s building project assistant, Deacon Steve and his ‘widow’ Nancy Hall.
Our Bishop then offered to the gathered faithful his closing thoughts; or perhaps more accurately, a challenge. He told us that our work is not over; rather it is now beginning in a new way. He told us that ‘you have built it; ad now they will come.’ And our task is to accept everyone whom God sends to us – whatever their backgrounds, whatever their colors, whatever their stations in ‘the world.’ And we’re to welcome them into our parish family with open arms. His Grace closed by showing us how to do just that – he told us in no uncertain terms that he loves us!
And as our wonderful Consecration celebration was drawing to a close, it seemed that we were falling in love with our new Bishop, too.
Eis polla, eti Despota!
(Above written for the "Great Consecration Commemorative Booklet," published after the June 2013 Consecration of St Thomas church)