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16124Eastern Orthodox members trying to grow in Jacksonville

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Feb 27, 2012

      Eastern Orthodox members trying to grow in Jacksonville (Illinois)

      JACKSONVILLE — For Karen Woods of Jacksonville, attending Divine
      Liturgy, the primary worship service in the Eastern Orthodox Christian
      tradition, has meant making a 90-minute trek one way to Quincy’s St.
      Raphael of Brooklyn Mission Church each Sunday.

      Woods, a convert to Orthodoxy along with her husband, Martin, and son,
      Andrew, 18, is hoping to generate interest in the faith in her community
      of about 20,000, 35 miles west of Springfield.

      The idea, says Woods, who operates a publishing business out of her
      home, is to form a parish, but she admits that might be down the road.
      Currently, a dozen or so members — numbers have reached as high as 20 —
      gather monthly in a small chapel inside Grace United Methodist Church
      for Vespers, or evening prayer.

      On a recent Sunday, the faithful, a mix of full Orthodox members and
      inquirers, cross themselves and venerate icons of Christ and the Virgin
      Mary on stands flanking the altar.

      Prayers for a litany of hopes — for bishops and clergy, for civil
      authorities and armed forces and “for seasonable weather, for abundance
      of the fruits of the earth and for peaceful times” — are chanted with a
      response of “Lord, have mercy.”

      As three members take turns singing the apostikha — literally “hymns of
      the verses” — the Rev. Thaddeus Nielsen uses incense in the entire
      chapel, an ancient ritual symbolic of offering up the prayers of the
      saints to God.

      “We have something to offer,” says Woods in a church parlor afterward,
      over a light meal of soup and bread, “and what we have to offer is Jesus

      “Orthodoxy is nothing more and nothing less than the authentic church
      Christ founded, proclaiming the gospel from the apostolic age until
      today. Christ is present here, and he is present strongly.

      “That is the heart of Orthodoxy. It’s a faith one lives.”

      ‘A well-kept secret’

      Peyton Tosh, 18, of Jacksonville is, like Karen Woods, a convert to
      Orthodoxy, which she calls “a life-changing experience” for her and her
      family — father, Peter, mother, Jennifer, sisters, Lydia, Rebekah and
      Daphne, and brother, Gabriel.

      “It really is a beautiful faith,” says Peyton, who regularly attends St.
      Anthony’s, a Greek Orthodox church in Springfield. “Unfortunately, it is
      a well-kept secret in this country.”

      Worldwide, there are about 250 million adherents of Orthodoxy, with
      about 5 million in the U.S., where ethnic enclaves started many
      churches: for example, Greeks in Springfield and Russians in Benld, a
      town an hour south of Springfield.

      “Orthodoxy is not all that visible (here in the U.S.),” Woods says,
      “probably because ethnic communities are somewhat, to outright, insular.”

      Woods claimed the Orthodox faith after growing disenchanted with the
      Episcopal Church. A 2010 study by the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox
      Institute in Berkeley, Calif., revealed that half the members of the
      Orthodox Church in America are converts mostly from Roman Catholic and
      evangelical Protestant backgrounds.

      Like Peyton Tosh, Woods got in on “the secret” of Orthodoxy, a faith she
      finds both exuberant and demanding.

      “It’s not something you put on on a Sunday and take off an hour later,”
      Woods says. “God calls us to sanctification; in Orthodoxy, we call it
      deification. Not that we become God, but we become more God-like, more
      dedicated to the faith.

      “In the liturgical cycle, the church gives us periods of feasting and
      fasting, periods of deep introspection. All of the senses are engaged:
      the incense of the prayers offered up, the beauty of the icons. It’s a
      full-body experience.”

      Adds Tosh: “We asked the harder questions of other faiths and would get
      vague answers. We pretty much found the answers here.”

      ‘Up to God’

      Rev. Nielsen, the priest-in-charge at St. Raphael, a mission church
      located in a storefront in downtown Quincy, has been driving to
      Jacksonville to tend to the needs of the Orthodox community here.
      Nielsen and others might know more about the future of the movement in
      the coming weeks when Bishop Matthias (Moriak) of Chicago and others
      take up the matter.

      The bishop may give the community permission to celebrate Divine
      Liturgy, in addition to Great Vespers. He could assign a priest, send a
      rotating or supply priest from the area, or wait until numbers grow.

      “The possibilities are endless,” Woods says.

      Nielsen knows a little bit of what the Jacksonville group is going
      through. The Quincy group had a similar grassroots beginning going back
      to 2000 before the mission was designated in 2004. Nielsen came to
      Quincy in 2005 from northwestern Wisconsin.

      The next step for St. Raphael’s, Nielsen says, is for it to be
      designated a parish.

      “We’re flying by the seat of our pants,” Nielsen says. “The Orthodox
      (Church) has not been historically strong in reaching out to people.
      We’re trying to show the faith can be meaningful here.”

      For now, Woods is networking around the area and has established a
      website. Numbers-wise, she likes the group’s chances.

      “Where it will go from here,” she says, “is up to God.”

      Steven Spearie can be reached at spearie@... or at 622-1788.

      A brief history of the Eastern Orthodox Church

      Adherents see the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church with lineage
      to Jesus Christ and the apostles. It has a shared history with the Roman
      Catholic Church; in 1054, though, Pope Leo IX excommunicated the
      Patriarch of Constantinople, who issued a mutual excommunication that
      wouldn’t be removed until 1965. Two primary disputes were the primacy of
      Rome, and the insertion of the “filioque clause” (essentially, the
      phrase “and the Son”) to the Nicene Creed.

      Although there are ethnic distinctions, Eastern Orthodox churches are
      theologically unified.

      Eastern Orthodoxy came to North America in 1794. Easter dates differ
      with the Roman Catholic Church for a number of complex reasons. Some
      churches, such as Holy Dormition in Benld, part of the Russian
      Patriarchate, use the Julian calendar, meaning Christmas is celebrated
      Jan. 7.

      -- Steven Spearie


      St. Anthony’s Hellenic Orthodox Church

      Jurisdiction: Greek Archdiocese of America
      Where: 1600 S. Glenwood Ave., Springfield, 522-7010
      Services: Divine Liturgy Sundays at 10:30 a.m.

      Holy Dormition of the Theotokos

      Jurisdiction: Patriarchate of Moscow
      Where: 300 S. Fourth St., Benld, 835-2202
      Services: Divine Liturgy Sundays at 9:30 a.m. (Note: Priest is not in
      residence. Call ahead for schedule.)

      Skete of the Holy Apostles

      Jurisdiction: Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America
      Where: Nokomis, www.easysite.com/holyapostlesauoca or 563-2899
      Services: information not available

      Orthodox Christians of Jacksonville

      Jurisdiction: Orthodox Church in America
      Where: Meets at Grace United Methodist Church chapel, 400 W. Morgan St.,
      Jacksonville. www.orthodoxjacksonville.org or 473-1474
      Services: Vespers service monthly at 5:30 p.m. Sundays. Future dates:
      March 25, April 29, May 27, June 24, July 22, Aug. 19, Sept. 16, Oct.
      28, Nov. 25, Dec. 30.
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