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Consecration of St. Andrew Church + Pensacola, FL

From the March 2012 edition of The Word:

St. Andrew – Intercessor for the Orthodox in America

St. Andrew the First-called Apostle began work as a fisherman and, as proclaimed by our Lord Jesus Christ, he became a fisher of men particularly through his missionary journeys along the Black Sea. Not only did he work during his life here on earth, but he continued to pray and nurture the seeds he had planted in small villages such as Byzantium and Kiev to such a degree that these areas flourished over the centuries and became glorious and mighty centers of the Orthodox Faith. Thus St. Andrew is recognized as the patron saint of Constantinople, Ukraine, Russia, and Romania, as well as several other places. But to what degree does St. Andrew care for the Orthodox Faith here in America?

God revealed St. Andrew as a powerful intercessor for the Orthodox Church in America on the weekend of December 3–4, 2011, when two church temples dedicated to St. Andrew were consecrated in our Archdiocese – one in Riverside, California, and one in Pensacola, Florida. Both of these consecrations share in the blessings of God’s grace through St. Andrew, overcoming earthly hardships with a heavenly respite; temporary sickness with an eternal hospital; demonic despair with divine glory; and murky sin with the light of salvation. Having an incarnate location in these communities in which to bring such cares to God mercifully provides the spiritual nourishment the body requires.

Spiritual nourishment certainly was granted to the parish of St. Andrew’s, Pensacola, at the consecration of their temple. Some might say that it was even more necessary on account of all the preparations for the weekend that had been going on for months! Many parishioners took on the tasks of preparation with great gusto. Sue Ann and Molly Young headed up the consecration committee, doing a lot of work and providing guidance for work that needed to be done. In addition, Sue Ann provided the proper altar coverings and savanon worn by the bishop during the washing of the altar table. The adult and children’s choirs also met the challenge of the weekend through the expert leadership of Khouria Nora Bleam.

The preparations reflected the example of hard work and commitment that this community had seen in their beloved Bishop Antoun, who graciously came to preside over the consecration. The weekend began with Great Vespers on Saturday, December 3. How fitting that an Antiochian Church should be dedicated on the Feast Day of two great Syrian saints, the Great Martyr Barbara and St. John of Damascus! Bishop Antoun was very proud and impressed by the chanting and singing of the children during the service. Following Vespers, a banquet was held at a local restaurant.

In the Orthodox Church, icons represent those who have departed earthly life holy and deified. In a complementary manner, a slide show at the banquet provided present members of the community with earthly “icons,” showing themselves as they progress from mission to consecrated church, and by God’s grace, deification. Words of thanks and remembrance were offered by Parish Council Chairman Michael Papadelias, who thanked Bishop Antoun for his leadership and decisive action in beginning an Antiochian mission in Pensacola. Bishop Antoun in turn, thanked the community for their actions and expressed his desire that the people of St. Andrew’s continue in what God has begun in and through each of them.

On Sunday morning, Bishop Antoun consecrated the church with great reverence. He sealed the relics of St. Raphael of Brooklyn and St. Blaise of Sebaste in the Holy Table, after which he washed and chrismated it, and then the entire temple. During the Divine Liturgy, Bishop Antoun ordained Subdeacon Theodore Wertmuller to the diaconate with an exuberant “AXIOS!” from all the people. During his homily, His Grace spoke of his joy at ordaining such a man as Deacon Ted. He also reminded the faithful that all of the efforts that led to this day of consecration were done not for themselves, but for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

After the beautiful consecration, ordination, and celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the weekend came to a close in a way befitting St. Andrew – with a fish fry. As a fisherman, St. Andrew must have had countless fish meals with the Lord; but, unlike Bishop Antoun, he never had the pleasure of eating fish fried by Chet’s Seafood! As a fisher of men, may St. Andrew continue to “entreat the Master of all to grant peace to the world, and to our souls, His great mercy.”