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Featured Parish: Holy Resurrection + Hobart, Indiana

Holy Resurrection + Hobart, INFrom the Holy Resurrection web site:

The faithful of Holy Resurrection Antiochian Orthodox Church now worship at the corner of 6th and Water in Hobart, Indiana, under the loving care of Fr. Gregory Owen.  In this story, our former pastor, Fr. Gregory Rogers (St. Catherine Mission) recounts a time when we worshipped at 45th and Harrison in Gary, Indiana. We thank God for those early years and the love and dedication that Fr. Gregory displayed for his parish.

On the outside the building wasn't beautiful. It looked like an old brick warehouse, having gone through numerous incarnations and transformations. Originally built as an auto repair garage, it became a printing business, a hot dog stand and video arcade, a warehouse for storage, and finally, an empty and vacant monument to a more prosperous era. The brick didn't match, old with new, white with red, in spite of the tuck pointing and repair that had been done. The neighborhood itself was dreary, across the street to the north, a cemetery, to the east, a convenience store with its transient clientele, to the south, an eighty year old house long past its prime. Like most early spring days in Gary, IN, this one, March 21, 1987, was chilly and overcast, and a trifle gloomy.

Inside, though, was a different story. The building had been stripped to the walls and studs, new wiring, new drywall, painted, carpet on the floor, new furnishings, redone windows. The accoutrements of worship had been added - a wooden altar, a cross suspended on the wall behind it, huge icons of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Mother of God. In the rear of the church an old Russian icon of the Resurrection of Christ hung, candles burning before it, calling down the grace of God upon the people gathered there.

A wellspring of activity was going on throughout the building. Priests with colorful vestments were helping their bishop prepare for the coming service. In the corner the chanters were discussing the music to be used in the coming services. Slowly, steadily the congregation began to arrive, eagerly anticipating the morning's events...we had waited and prepared so long for what was to take place today.

I stood and watched for a moment, trying to drink it all in, but only for a moment...the bishop had needs, hot water needed to be set up, chalice, wine, bread prepared for the priests and the bishop. The chanters needed instruction, the logistics needed to be discussed.

About 9:20 AM, ten minutes before the time the service was scheduled to begin, Bishop ANTOUN called all to attention, and began the prayers of preparation for chrismation. The culmination of a long journey was at hand.

In July, 1977, my wife, Pamela, and I had left the security of the ministry and the "denomination" of which we were a part to begin a pilgrimage. Longing for something deeper in the spiritual life, longing for worship, for an experience of the church that reflected that which we saw in the New Testament, for an understanding of true doctrine, for a life in pursuit of holiness and faith, we began a new congregation in Hobart, IN. We really had no idea where we were going. Three families joined us in the beginning. We consciously said that we were on a journey, that we would study and learn, re-examine everything about our understanding of God and the church and follow His lead. Perhaps we vaguely assumed that our path would head in the direction of the charismatic movement, but in reality we had no idea what direction we would take.

We soon joined ourselves to what was then called the New Covenant Apostolic Order, a group of Christian pastors on a similar journey and who were committed to building churches that implemented what they found. Peter Gillquist was the President of the NCAO, and the group was continually growing, with churches in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. We began to meet regularly, locally, regionally, and nationally to study and grow together. What we found changed our lives forever.

It was apparent that virtually every Christian denomination claims to be the New Testament Church. With all of the contradictory practices that go on, it would be very difficult to determine which one actually was. So we decided to study the history of the church, beginning in the New Testament and going beyond to see what had happened to the New Testament church. How had she developed? Where had she gone wrong? Where was she correct? What can we learn from her about the nature of the faith, the nature of the church, the spiritual life? We read Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius, Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great, Vincent of Lerins, Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximos the Confessor, John of Damascus, Gregory Palamas, the Philokalia, the Didache, the Didascalia, the Apostolic Constitutions, and many other Patristic works. We studied the issues and history surrounding the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and found that we shared the faith expressed in those councils. And we tried to implement in our churches the practices, the spirit, and the life of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that we found revealed there.

One of the most profound lessons was regarding the nature of worship. Our vague presupposition was that true worship was to found in the spontaneous expression of the heart to God. In our experience, spontaneity tended to fall into the same pattern over and over. The only way out of the pattern was to plan the spontaneity, which in effect, was to have a liturgy of worship. We came to understand in our study that the church has always worshipped in a liturgical fashion, and that worship was centered on the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. So we began using the outline of worship described in Justin Martyr's First Apology, a liturgy of two parts, a Synaxis (devoted to hymns, psalms, the reading of scripture, and preaching) and the Eucharist (the service of communion itself, with prayers of consecration and thanksgiving). This developed over the years, embodying more and more of the Orthodox liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, until it finally became the Orthodox liturgy itself.

Many other issues presented themselves that we have not time nor space in this context to discuss: infant baptism, the structure and polity of the church, pastoral care and spiritual direction, the nature of Orthodox spirituality, the church calendar and the sanctification of time, ecclesiology and apostolic succession, to name but a few. In every case, we found ourselves drawn to beginning to live the Orthodox Christian position. We saw ourselves as Orthodox (though with a small "o", in that we were not part of the historic communion of Orthodox churches). But we were convinced that our faith was Orthodox, that we wanted our practice to be Orthodox, and that we should endeavor to join ourselves at some point into communion with the historic church.

In those early days we were devoted to "rebuilding the ancient ruins" of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I asked Fr. Jack Sparks one day if he actually thought that it could happen. It seemed like such a far-fetched possibility. He replied, "I'm betting my life on it." Indeed.

By 1979, it was apparent that we could no longer continue as a loose federation of churches. We needed to have a structure, an identity through which we could enter into dialogue and discussion with other Christian groups, and more importantly, a structure that was consistent with the polity of the historic church. So, on February 15, 1979, the Evangelical Orthodox Church was born. Sixteen local and extra-local leaders were consecrated as bishops, and dioceses were established. The Holy Synod was formed (consisting of all Diocesan Bishops, and headed by Peter Gillquist, who was chosen Presiding Bishop). In May, 1979, I was consecrated to the episcopate of the Evangelical Orthodox Church and named Bishop of the Diocese of Northwest Indiana.

Locally, in Northwest Indiana, we faced many challenges. The pilgrimage itself brought changes; some members could follow, others chose not to. Many of us moved into the Glen Park section of Gary, IN, trying to establish a Christian community, and to minister in that urban neighborhood. We worked on learning Orthodox spirituality. Economically, Northwest Indiana went through a massive upheaval in this period. Unemployment hit 18%; at one point 60% of the heads of household in our parish were unemployed. We lost members as some moved away in search of jobs. Looking for a place to worship in our neighborhood, we bought the aforementioned warehouse (for $20,000, probably more than it was worth), and began the long and arduous process of remodeling the building. Finally, on Palm Sunday 1986 we moved into our new quarters.

Over the years from 1979 to 1986 the Evangelical Orthodox Church was engaged in formal dialogues with the various jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church, seeking a way to become a part of the historic church. Initially, the dialogue was with the Orthodox Church in America. We met with Bishop (now Archbishop) Dmitri, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Fr. John Meyendorff, and an official commission at the All-American Council in Detroit in 1980. Fr. Schmemann encouraged us to broaden our horizons and get to know all of the Orthodox in America. In that spirit, we met Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh, from the Greek Archdiocese, and engaged in a theological discussion with the faculty at Holy Cross Seminary in 1982 under his auspices. Bishop Anthony, the Greek Orthodox bishop of San Francisco, came to a meeting of the EOC's Holy Synod in Santa Barbara, CA. After several years of this type of meeting, it seemed that there was no progress on establishing a process by which we could enter into the church. We felt like a football being punted back and forth between the various jurisdictions.

In 1985, we made a decision to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch for direction. We reasoned that if there was an impasse between the jurisdictions in America we could by-pass them all and appeal for help from the "top". Consequently, Bishop Maximos arranged for us to travel as a group to the Patriarchate in Constantinople to present ourselves to him, and to seek his direction. Because of political intrigue, we found ourselves, once we had gotten there, unable to meet with the Patriarch. We had to content ourselves with meeting with Metropolitan Chrysostomos and Metropolitan (now Patriarch) Bartholomew, who told us that we must go back to America and discuss our situation with Archbishop Iakovos. After several days in Istanbul and Thessalonike, we returned to Boston for a meeting at Holy Cross. Archbishop Iakovos met with us for about 45 minutes, told us that "the Evangelical Orthodox Church does not exist" and stated, to our shock, "there is no dialogue" between us. He added that he would take the matter up with the Synod of the Greek Archdiocese in October. It was clear that God had closed the door to our entry through the Greek Archdiocese. (The dialogue was never opened up, even after the vaunted meeting in October.)

Shortly, thereafter, by the providence of God, Peter Gillquist, Jon Braun, and Richard Ballew met in Los Angeles with Metropolitan PHILIP and Patriarch IGNATIUS IV of Antioch. The Patriarch was making a pastoral visit to his flock in America. They heard the story of our journey and opened their hearts to us. We gathered detailed information about each of our churches and our clergy and submitted them to Metropolitan PHILIP. Over the next year and a half discussions were held, both within the EOC about what direction we were to go, and between the EOC and the Antiochian Archdiocese. Several parishes (5 bishops out of the EOC's 19) ultimately decided to go their own way and not enter into further discussions with the Orthodox church. This had important ramifications in our parish, several families withdrew from our parish and either moved to join one of the other parishes or became involved in a local group led by one of the former presbyters of our church. By the time all was said and done we had lost about half the membership of our local parish in the transition. This period was among the most painful times in my life.

In September, 1986, the Holy Synod of the EOC met with Metropolitan PHILIP and his associates (Bishop ANTOUN, Fr. Joseph Allen, Dr. John Boojamra) at the headquarters of the Antiochian Archdiocese in Englewood, NJ. For two days many issues were discussed, ranging from how parishes would function to liturgical questions and practices. At the end of the discussions, Metropolitan PHILIP extended the invitation to us to be received into the Orthodox Church under his omophorion. The Synod gathered at St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood, NY, to discuss and consider the offer. Overwhelmingly (14-1) the Synod voted to accept Metropolitan PHILIP's invitation. A meeting was set up with Metropolitan PHILIP to tell him that we had decided to accept his offer.

We gathered again at the Archdiocesan headquarters to give him the message. The Metropolitan led us into the large reception room and seated us around the tables. Turning to our leader, Peter Gillquist, he said, "So what is your decision?" Bishop Peter said, "The answer is yes." Metropolitan PHILIP responded with a phrase that has haunted me ever since, "Welcome home."

Home. A place where one can be one's self; a place where there is love and support to be found; a place where correction is made with the best interests of all taken into consideration; an end to this portion of the journey. Tears began to well up in my eyes...a mixture of joy and sorrow, of accomplishment and loss, of hopes realized and visions destroyed, the warp and woof of life all concentrated on a destination, now begun to be realized.

The next few months were filled with incredible activity. I worked with parishes in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Ottawa, Ontario as well as our own parish in Gary, IN, to prepare for entry into the Orthodox Church. Again there were joys and sorrows. Some decided not to go with us, others reached for the future with joyful anticipation.

Finally, we stood there, watching, waiting, and listening for the Bishop to begin the service of chrismation that would bring us sacramentally into the Orthodox Church. The bishop prayed for those who would be chrismated. When the moment came I stepped forward with my wife and children to Bishop ANTOUN. He called out, "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit." The response was thundering throughout the room, "Seal!" I felt the touch of the oil on my forehead, my face, my hands. Stepping to the side, I watched Pam, Joshua, Philip, and our baby daughter, Sarah, be chrismated. Walking slowly back to our place in the congregation, I watched as my flock came, one by one, to be touched with the oil of the grace of God. Tears began to flow down my cheeks.

We were finally home.

And I prayed that the building in which we were standing might be a parable of the spirit reflecting what was happening here today. Though the exterior was decaying, the interior was had been made beautiful. The old garage was now Holy Resurrection Antiochian Orthodox Church. The scars of sin and sorrow may disfigure the outside, but the inside begins to be renewed by the grace of God.

St. Paul expresses this beautifully: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Though the outside is filled with sin, weakness, and failure, the process of renewal has begun in us through the sacrament.

Nearly ten years have now passed since that moment. In it all we have learned that the journey is eternal; there have been struggles, victories, hopes fulfilled, dreams put off. But the Orthodox Church is indeed home. We have only begun to scratch the depths of the love and grace of God. Every day I am ever more aware of my sin and failings. Yet ever more abundant, too, is the mercy of God.

To Metropolitan PHILIP and Bishop ANTOUN: thank you for receiving us into the Holy Orthodox Church, and giving us access to the spiritual and sacramental life of Holy Orthodoxy. May God grant you many years, and may your graciousness bear spiritual fruit for the Orthodox Church in America for many, many years to come.

Glory be to God!

Fr. Gregory Rogers
Aiken, South Carolina
February 13, 1997