Steeped in tradition, Saint Alexis Orthodox Church prepares to break ground on new building
Steeped in tradition, Saint Alexis Orthodox Church prepares to break ground on new buildingOct. 18, 2013 4:19 PM
In a field at the corner of Indiana 43 North and Indiana 225 in Battle Ground, about 50 people waited Sunday for the blessing of the land to begin. The sun warmed their backs as they faced east toward the future altar.
Four men wearing long black robes and gold vestments approached. They began singing hymns in a Byzantine chant, which was practiced throughout the rite. Bishop Gregory of Nyssa led the proceedings, blessing the land by sprinkling holy water on the grounds and the people.
He also led the congregation of Saint Alexis Orthodox Church in burying the “cornerstone”in the ground for the altar. Men, women and children took turns digging up soil so a symbolic stone could be laid. A cross was placed over the stone.
“The Orthodox Church tries to sanctify every aspect of our lives,” said member Ashley Purpura, 27, of West Lafayette. “To build a new church foundation starts with asking (God’s) blessing.”
Once the new building is constructed, the altar will face east, a tradition that has ties to ancient Jewish worship. The construction has been eight years in the making. But eight years is nothing in the eyes of a church that is part of a 2,000-year-old faith tradition.
Although the new façade of the church will be a fusion of American and traditional Eastern Orthodox architecture, the interior of the church will have the same historical and symbolic design as the current building, which is located in Lafayette.
“We hope to be more accommodating,” said Rev. Gregory Allard, the church’s priest. “This (current building) is not serving us as it once did. We hope people will investigate the Orthodox Church.”Saint Alexis Orthodox Church is part of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., which has 81 parishes in the United States and Canada and 8,500 members. Although originally founded by immigrants from countries such as Slovakia, Poland and western Ukraine, the diocese currently consists of people from various ethnic backgrounds.
Local members come from Greek, Russian and Romanian Orthodox backgrounds, but the congregation also has converts. The church has grown from 25 people to 70 families, or 130 individuals, since it was founded in 1993.
Member Dallas Johnson of Lafayette converted to the faith about nine years ago. He grew up attending Christian churches in various Protestant denominations such as Baptist or Methodist.
“I decided I really didn’t know what to look for in a church,” said the 31-year-old. “So I decided to go for the oldest with the most church tradition built behind it.”
His wife, Bethany Johnson, is also a convert. She was raised Christian and attended a Presbyterian church in her youth.
“I grew up in a really great community,” said the 28-year-old. “They loved God. They loved scripture. But I didn’t have that same sense of a whole wave of 2,000 years of Christians and what they’ve learned behind me until I found the Orthodox Church.”
The congregation’s growth and the 8-acre land donation prompted the church to start planning construction eight years ago. During that time the church had to change architects and raise about $400,000 for the down payment on the building, which has an estimated cost of $780,000, Allard said.
The congregation voted to proceed with the loan application and provisional approval in September. The church has hired West Lafayette-based KJG Architecture to design the new facility and Tecton Construction Management to build it. They might break ground at the end of October with an estimated opening in nine months.
The new building will be twice the size of the current facility, which is a retrofit building that was previously used by the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
From the outside, it will look like any other rural Indiana church with white wooden walls.However, it also has hints of Eastern influence. Instead of a steeple, the roof will be adorned with a four-square lantern or the Western interpretation of the Byzantine dome.
The interior will represent traditional Orthodox design, similar to the current facility, which is rife with religious symbolism.
Within the walls of the Lafayette church, ornate oil lamps hang. A cantor’s bench replaces musical instruments.
“For us, it’s just the human voice,” Allard said. “A lot of our chant is done in unison, not all because our tradition has part singing.”
An icon screen separates the nave from the altar. The strong smell of incense lingers.
“We use incense for almost all the major services,” Allard said. “The altar is incensed. It’s a reminder for us again of the earliest times of worship. It represents our sending up of prayer. Incense has been used from the beginning of the church.”