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16143Eastern Orthodox members trying to grow in Jacksonville

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
    Mar 1, 2012

      Eastern Orthodox members trying to grow in Jacksonville
      (Il) 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
      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 Christ.
      “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
      “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
      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
      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
      “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
      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

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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