By: Subdeacon Peter Samore
Christmas came about a week early for St. Ignatius Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Twin Falls, Idaho as it celebrated four historic events in less than 48 hours: the opening of the new church temple, the baptism of the baby daughter of the pastor and his wife, the celebration of the patron saint, and the ordination of a deacon. The weekend of December 16-18, 2016 will surely not be forgotten.
His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph had asked His Grace Bishop Nicholas to fly from the Archdiocesan Headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey to preside over the festivities. He landed in the bitter cold (20°F) of the Gem State, and it was outside where everything began on Friday night. Sayidna Nicholas, along with Fr. Michael Habib, pastor of St. Ignatius Church, Fr. John Mahfouz and Dn. Christopher Payne of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Salt Lake City, Utah and the dozens of faithful stood in the snow for the “Service of the Opening of the Doors.” Incense filled the air, as did the frozen breaths of everyone participating in the service.
Sayidna Nicholas blessed the newly purchased and renovated building with holy water and opened its front doors with the words of Psalm 23, which are also used at Paschal Orthros: “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in!” They mark our entry into “heaven on earth,” that is, the church. Once inside, His Grace elevated Fr. John to the rank of Father Confessor, making him worthy to hear confessions and absolve sins.
“You are so blessed to witness the opening of this church,” Sayidna told the people in his sermon. His Grace acknowledged that it is much larger than their old building and not as full of worshippers, but only temporarily. “Having more room for people here at this location with a large iconostasis and beautiful icons will bring yet more people here. This is how the Holy Spirit works. You may encounter challenges and persecutions like your patron saint, but that should not deter you from growing this temple and bearing witness to Christ. So keep busy, and we’ll send Fr. Michael an assistant priest!”
The first new member of the new St. Ignatius Church was none other than the two-month-old daughter of Fr. Michael and Kh. Maria: Maura Sophia Habib. Sayidna Nicholas baptized her on Saturday morning with the help of baby Maura’s father and Fr. John Finley, Chairman of the Department of Missions and Evangelism, who served St. Ignatius Church for two years while it awaited a full-time priest.
On Saturday night at Great Vespers, celebrations for St. Ignatius commenced in the new church temple named in his honor. Sayidna Nicholas chanted the service with the choir, and he presided over the Litia-Artoklasia service as well. The complete building is 15,000 square feet on 4.25 acres of land. The old church at most squeezed in 80 people, but the new one can comfortably hold 350 people.
“The professional aspects of the remodel like framing, drywall, etc. were done by contractors,” Fr. Michael said, “but the rest of the preparation and remodel efforts were done by church members who worked from 9:00 a.m. to noon every Saturday from mid-August through the beginning of December.”
The next day, at the conclusion of Orthros, His Grace tonsured Charles Peter McBride as a reader. This day happened to be the Sunday of the Genealogy of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, and His Grace devoted his sermon in the Hierarchal Liturgy to the inner meaning of the Gospel lection (Matthew 1:1-25) that is always read on this day. “St. Matthew was sneaky,” Sayidna said. “He first said Jesus was the son of David, and then the son of Abraham, although Abraham came first. By the time of Christ, the Jews had known David as their great king, but they had forgotten about Abraham.”
Then, Sayidna Nicholas delved into the backgrounds of the people within Christ’s genealogy. “Jacob was a thief, Ruth was a gentile, and David was an adulterer and murderer. But St. Matthew tells us that the Church is for all people who seek Christ. So we must ask Him to help us read the Gospel and open our minds to understand what is being said in case it is being veiled.”
Following the consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, Sayidna Nicholas ordained Subdeacon James (Kurt) Hefner, one of the founders and leaders of St. Ignatius Church, to the holy diaconate. He played a critical role in helping the community leave its smaller confines for a beautiful new church. Witnessing the ordination of Deacon James was his wife, Karen, who leads the choir, their children and grandchildren, his brother and sister-in-law, and his father-in-law, Subdeacon Benjamin Roberts, 92, who has donated most of the beautiful furnishings to his beloved church which originally opened in 1993.
Following the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy, Deacon James thanked Sayidna Nicholas and Fr. Michael for their love and support in guiding him to his ordination. After Fr. Michael expressed his gratitude to His Grace and the entire community for all that it had accomplished, Sayidna Nicholas then surprised parishioner Pamela Nelson with a “Certificate of Meritorious Service” for her leadership in purchasing and converting the new building into an Orthodox Church. This is one of the highest awards of the Archdiocese. Pamela spent countless hours away from her work and family in the months leading up to the eventful weekend to make sure everything would be ready on time.
Sayidna Nicholas then concluded the festive weekend by again congratulating all of the faithful for their sacrifices and dedication, while also reminding them that their work had only just begun in preparing a house of worship to receive more souls into the Body of Christ.