By Subdeacon Constantine Angelos
Now, three decades later, it includes a sanctuary, office, printing wing, social hall and parking lot in north Seattle, with a congregation whose roots are Greek, Ukrainian, Russian and Serbian -- ethnic Orthodox Christians -- and members of diverse backgrounds, including converts -- all bound by a common faith.
But it was not always so. In the beginning, the parish was homeless, an orphan.
It’s voice first was heard on Sunday, January 21, 1968, when the Rev. Neketas S. Palassis startled a hushed congregation at Seattle’s new St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, which he had served for eight-and-a-half years, with this declaration:
"The Orthodox Christian faith is to me of incomparable value. It is not an item to be bartered, debated, and finally compromised on the ecumenical altar of humanistic and anthropocentric love which excludes truth and real divine love. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in His love for us gave us the Church as ‘the pillar and foundation of truth’ (I Timothy 3: 15) ‘with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless’ (Ephesians 5: 27). I cannot conceive how it can be offered on the altar of ecumenical dialogue to be dissected and autopsied for the sake of some abstract ‘love.’
". . . Being part of a church which is becoming Roman Catholic in its administration, Protestant in its faith and Greek Orthodox in its ritual is not for me."
That tenet has guided Seattle’s St. Nectarios parish and others who joined it in protesting ecumenism throughout its spiritual journey to the present.
Father Neketas petitioned and was accepted under the omophorion of Metropolitan Philaret, of blessed memory. Under Metropolitan Philaret’s stewardship the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) at the time represented one of the few remaining traditional Orthodox jurisdictions.
That spiritual steadfastness was to change for the Synod when Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory reposed in November of 1985. With the ascent of Archbishop Vitaly of Montreal to the position of First Hierarch of the ROCOR, a new more liberal church policy, contrary to Metropolitan Philaret’s was inaugurated and.was to lead to a separation from the ROCOR of several monasteries and parishes in the United States, Canada, and France, including St. Nectarios of Seattle.
This group protested the reports of nearly 20 con-celebrations of ROCOR clergy with ecumenist clergy of the "canonical" jurisdictions. That the Synod repeatedly ignored these ecumenist actions convinced us that Synodal bishops would not reprimand those guilty. The protesting clergy then petitioned two Greek hierarchs, Metrospolitan Gabriel and Metropolitan Akakios, who were inactive members of Archbishop Auxentius’ Synod, to be received by them. They did accept us in December, 1986. In July, 1987, we chose to go directly under Archbishop Auxentius, since he was the First Hierarch of the Old Calendarist Orthodox Church in Greece. He received us most graciously. The following year in anticipation of our parish’s 20th anniversary, Fr. Ephraim of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, was ordained to the episcopate as Bishop of Boston.
But that’s getting ahead of our story.
About 30 people met in the hall of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, the Synod’s Seattle parish, on February 11, 1968, to form the American Orthodox Church of Seattle. On March 24, the assembly chose St. Nectarios of Pentapolis, a saint of our century, to be its patron.
And so the parish began, without a roof over its head, without a trained chanter, without a choir, without hymnals. There was nothing -- but faith and determination. The members of St. Nicholas allowed the indigent parish to celebrate Sunday Divine Liturgy at a side altar of their sanctuary, but the St. Nectarios parishioners had to complete their worship before the Russian congregation’s services began at midmorning. Although skeptical of the young parish’s chances of survival, one of its staunchest advocates was St. Nicholas’ aged priest, Fr. Andrew Nakonetschny, of blessed memory, who defended the presence of the fledgling parish under his roof against critics.
Shortly thereafter the struggling parish was allowed to hold its services in the St. Nicholas Hall. One of the first members, Louis Bussiere, built a portable plywood icon screen to give the hall the semblance of a church.
The habit of early services took hold. To this day. Sunday Orthros at St. Nectarios begins at 6:50 a.m. and the Divine Liturgy at 8:15 a.m.
The parish adopted English for it’s liturgical language, following Greek liturgical customs as practiced in the monasteries on Mount Athos. However, its bylaws allow any traditional Orthodox language to be used in its services. The problem of no choir was solved by reverting to an older Orthodox tradition -- congregational chanting. A group of two or three members with the help of Fr. Neketas translated and mimeographed the music for that first service.
The feeling of "family," of father, mother and children praying together, has been a hallmark of the parish from its inception. In its early years most of the children in those families were boys. At major feasts the double row of altar boys extended nearly the length of the sanctuary and encircled half the church during processions. The family closeness is enhanced in parish dinners at Pascha, the Nativity and the feast of St. Nectarios and at the annual parish picnic.
If St. Nectarios of Pentapolis is the parish’s spiritual patron, his strong right arm on earth, as far as the St. Nectarios congregation is concerned, is the Holy Transfiguration Monastery of Brookline, Mass. From its beginning, the parish has been closely aligned with Holy Transfiguration, which has offered counsel and material help. The monastery helped raise funds so the parish could buy its first multilith printing press, and the Elder, Fr. Panteleimon, has provided icons, votive lamps, relics and other religious items and enriched parish spiritual life with his sermons and talks, visiting Seattle almost yearly for many years.
It was largely at the prodding and need of St. Nectarios Parish that the then monk, Fr. Ephraim, now our Metropolitan Ephraim, bent to the task of translating and writing the music used by our parishes for their services.
The first parish president and chanter, Subdeacon Dr. Andrew Tolas, learned the octoechos by listening to tapes of Fr. Ephraim on his automobile tapedeck as he drove from office to hospital.
The most pressing need of the parish was to find a home of its own. That it did in 1971 when it purchased several lots in North Seattle near Interstate-5 and built a modest 1,360-square foot wooden sanctuary and multipurpose room for $35,000. The building was a prefabricated structure designed as a house, but adjusted to the church’s needs with walls moved to form an icon screen and so on.
That effort and subsequent building projects through the years were largely spearheaded by two unusual people, Peter Charuhas, an electrical engineer, and his wife, Carol (Kalliroi), who had worked for various construction firms. Carol Charuhas was one of those rare, determined people who relished in solving problems, bird-dogging a project through City Hall and finding ways to cut costs.
Since then there have been four expansions, including an domed addition to the sanctuary, a new printing wing, a new office, and finally in time for the parish’s 20th anniversary in 1988, a new hall and conversion of a small hall addition into a printing wing. But Carol Charuhas, who helped plan every detail of the last expansion, was seriously ill and reposed after construction began. The Kalliroi (Carol) Charuhas Memorial Hall was dedicated at the 20th anniversary dinner, September 4, 1988. Early in December of 1992, Peter Charuhas reposed. On the 25 anniversary of the parish, the hall was rededicated to their joint memory as the Peter and Carol Charuhas Memorial Hall.
A major remodeling of the kitchen, including new ovens, sinks and plumbing, a refrigerator-freezer and new cabinets was completed in 1997. The kitchen boasts of artistic ceramic tiles created by parishioner Olga Hutchinson of Vashon Island.
Even as an orphan, the parish was a parish with a mission, for if its buckler was the Faith, its sword was the printing press. The first copy of the Orthodox Christian Witness, printed on an old mimeograph machine in Fr. Neketas’ basement, was published March 18/31, 1968. More than 1,400 issues, sent to the four corners of the earth, have appeared since then. The Witness was followed by the St. Nectarios Educational Series, defending the Faith or commenting on the state of global Orthodoxy. Parish coffee hours after Divine Liturgy often turned into parish work parties to assemble, staple and address publications.
In 1973 the women of the parish gathered their own Lenten recipes and researched others to help produce A Lenten Cookbook for Orthodox Christians, followed by Lenten Favorites, two cookbooks designed to help those who wished to keep the holy fasts. More than 19,000 copies of the two popular Lenten-food aids have been printed.
In 1978 St. Nectarios Press was created to publish books and pamphlets in English, beginning with The Way of the Ascetics. Since then more than 30 titles have been printed and made available to English-speaking Orthodox Christians throughout the world. The parish bookstore not only markets the various publications, but also sells votive lamps, icons, crosses, crowns for weddings and tape compact-disc recordings of church hymns, services and talks of the speakers at the annual Orthodox Conferences.
The Press has published heavily-sought-after spiritual children’s books, and in collaboration with the Holy Nativity Convent is preparing a "Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land,’ scheduled for release early in 1998. Interestingly, while the parish is in the far Pacific Northwest corner of the United States, a substantial number of its members have earned the title of "Pilgrim," by participating in the annual pilgrimage to the Holy Land led by the Elder Panteleimon of Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
In 1976 Fr. Neketas gained an assistant when Fr. Ihnat Ponomarchuk was ordained a deacon. On Sunday, July 22, 1990, Fr. Ihnat was elevated to the priesthood, giving the parish a second spiritual father to minister to a wide-ranging flock, for St. Nectarios served a vast area from Vancouver, B.C., to its mission at Portland, Ore., the Nativity of the Theotokos Parish.
A year later in June the parish produced its second active priest for our diocese when Deacon Constantine Parr was ordained a priest. Both Fathers Neketas and Ihnat helped train Fr. Constantine liturgically. Fr. Constantine was assigned to minister to the Prophet Elias Mission in the Bellingham area, north of Seattle and near the Canadian border, but in 1996 a secular job change transferred Fr. Constantine to Portland, where he took over the spiritual guidance of the Holy Nativity Parish there. The Portland parish also acquired a new church structure that year.
While originally founded by faithful of Greek-Slavic backgrounds, St. Nectarios Parish has increasingly become a "Catholic" community —i.e., including people of all kinds of ethnic roots and backgrounds The parish, now counts about 150 members representing about 60 households. From these ranks have come three subdeacons and a dozen tonsured readers.
Three St. Nectarios parishioners have joined the monastic ranks -- Rodion Clinkingbeard is Fr. Nicholas and Dietrich Willibrandt, Father Romanos, both at Holy Transfiguration Monastery; and Dorothy Vagin is Mother Elizabeth at Holy Nativity Convent, also in Brookline, Mass.,
Because being aware of the faith must be practiced, as well as proclaimed, the St. Nectarios Benevolent Fund was established early in 1970. It is the philanthropic outreach of the parish and has continued to grow. The fund actively supports missions, orphans and needy institutions and organizations. It contributes to the difficult work of carrying out philanthropic work among Orthodox Christians in the United States, Canada, Europe and the Near East. The fund is supported by donations and from the profits from sales of books, crosses and icons. Nearly $700,000 in aid has been distributed through the fund in the more than two decades since it was established.
St. Nectarios Press is another operation of the parish which has made an impact on the Orthodox world. Books from the Press are in nearly every Orthodox parish in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. The St. Nectarios Press logo is recognized as the sign of a sound traditional Orthodox publication. The collating of the Press’ Orthodox Calendar is a joyful parish activity in late November and early December each year. It represents an annual opportunity to recall "those thrilling days of yesteryear" when parishioners did all the Press’ work.
Two months after Mount. St. Helens, 150 miles to the south, made history by blowing its volcanic top in 1980, St. Nectarios made history by sponsoring the Second Annual Orthodox Conference in Seattle. The parish also was host to the 1985 conference and to the 1990 conference. In May of 1995 the parish sponsored a three-day mini-conference in which Bishops Makarios of Toronto and Bishop Ephraim of Boston participated.
Now after three decades, the second generation is picking up where their fathers and mothers left off. The younger members are participating in the Parish Council, helping to maintain the church, tithing, attending vigils, sharing in the liturgical work and continuing the traditions handed down to us from generation to generation.
Glory be to God for all things!
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