Prayers, memories, and laughter echoed throughout St. Matthew the Evangelist Antiochian Orthodox Church and its social hall during a wonderful celebration of its 25th anniversary. Father Andrew Harmon and the parish welcomed Bishop Anthony to town to preside over the weekend celebration November 15-17, 2013. It was a doubly important weekend as November 16 is both St. Matthew's Day and the actual founding date of the parish as a mission 25 years ago.
St. Matthew traces its history back to its founding as a mission extension of St. George Church in Akron, Ohio back in 1988. With the blessing of Metropolitan Philip and the leadership and guidance of Fr. Lou Mahshie, Fr. James Meena (Memory Eternal), Father Fr. Gillquist (Memory Eternal), and the work of the mission founders and many friends, the first Divine Liturgy was on December 17, 1988. Our beloved pastor, Fr. Andrew Harmon, was assigned to St. Matthew's in January, 1990, arriving with his wife Bonnie and their four sons (one more son and a daughter have come along since then!).
On Friday November 15, Bishop Anthony began the celebration weekend by having a dinner and discussion with our deacons and sub-deacons, Parish Council, members of the Order of St. Ignatius, heads of our various ministries, and the 25th Anniversary Committee. The bishop answered many questions and focused particularly on our special responsibility as Orthodox believers to share the words and promises of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to serve those in need, and to demonstrate good will to all.
On Saturday November 16, Bishop Anthony had brunch with the Brotherhood of our parish. Again, many questions and answers made for a great discussion time. The focus of the discussion ended up being on the role of Christian men in their families and how we can deal with all the current challenges to traditional morality and family life. In the early evening we had Vespers with the bishop.
Then there was a lovely banquet to celebrate our Anniversary with nearly 175 members, guests, and friends in attendance. Bishop Anthony gave his sincere congratulations on our anniversary and our God-given progress over the years. He urged us to keep working hard for the Lord and the Faith and he read to us the recently received letter from Metropolitan Philip giving his blessing to our planned future building expansion project. Sayedna Philip's timing was perfect as he sent his blessing just in time for our anniversary weekend.
Sunday morning November 17, was the highlight of the weekend as Sayedna Anthony led a beautiful and inspiring liturgy. The singing of the chanters and the congregation (yes, we all sing—the whole parish is our choir) never sounded better as we all together raised our voices in praise of God. The bishop's homily was a fascinating and moving explanation of the gospel reading from Luke 12 about the foolish rich man, and an exhortation to us to keep our priorities straight and prepare for the world to come by what we do with our lives in "the here and now." After the Liturgy, two of our parishioners, Scott and Simona Palmer, were inducted into the Order of St. Ignatius. Then to wrap up the busy weekend we all enjoyed a wonderful potluck extravaganza meal hosted by our parish's Sisterhood.
A wonderful weekend it certainly turned out to be! Thanks be to God for all of His blessings upon us!