DIOCESE OF AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND: August 17, 2010
Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart Celebrates Divine Liturgy at a New Russian Orthodox Church
The Central Coast of Australia, with its lakes and ocean beaches, is the nearest recreational area for the four million people living in Sydney. Over the last twenty years, with improvements in roads and public transportation, many people have decided to move from Sydney to this area to be closer to the sea, where the cost of living is lower. Over 300,000 people now live there, many of whom are Russians.
The closest Russian Orthodox church being over an hour away, ten years ago, a small group of people in the Gosford area decided to establish their own church. The Diocese supported this endeavor and appointed an Australian priest to the parish, Fr James Carles. Over this decade, many changes have taken place.
A group of people was gathered and funds collected to build a church. Taking into account that this happened when land was expensive, the community bought a parcel in a commercial zone. As one approaches the site, located on the outskirts of Gosford, it is hard to imagine a church being here. Only the inscription over the entrance “Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!” indicates that this is an Orthodox Church. Yet as one enters the edifice, a different world is revealed. Through the efforts of the priest and parishioners, a church and altar have been established here, with icons and everything else needed, where every other week, divine services are held with 40-50 worshipers. A parish hall was set up in the neighboring room, where the parishioners gather after services.
The church is dedicated to St Panteleimon. On July 7, the parish celebrated its feast day with a hierarchal Divine Liturgy.
His Grace Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart, visiting from the German Diocese, officiated. Joining him in the altar were Protopriest Michael Li, Priest Daniel Metlenko and other clergymen. Some 20 singers sang under the direction of Olga Ivanovna Itsikson, creating a prayerful atmosphere.
Approximately 200 people attended the service, parishioners of St Panteleimon Church and others as well.
Afte the service, everyone took part in a festive trapeza organized by the parish sisterhood in nearby Niagara Park.
We interviewed Nestor Petrov, one of the parish’s founders:
- We have a very friendly parish, we are like one big family. The Parish Rector is Fr James, and Fr Martin is our deacon. We don’t have a warden, but everyone does what they can, no one gives orders, but there are people who are responsible for various tasks in maintaining the church. Pavel Pereboev is in the Church Council, Victor Bendevsky works with the youth, Vladimir Golovin designed, and was the main builder of, the church and maintains it. The sisterhood includes several people headed by Senior Sister Olga Petrova. On holidays, like today, for instance, we have a lot of helpers. We don’t have many regular parishioners, but we do have about 40-50 people attend regular services.
- But today you had about five times more than that.
On holidays, our friends from other parishes come. The first time we celebrated out parish feast day, 210 people came. After each service, the people don’t just disperse, we sit together at the table for lunch and talk. We put up a small overhang, and when we have good weather we eat outside.
We value our relationship with Fr James. Despite the fact that he has a full-time job in order to support his family, he tries to keep everything in the church in good order. The parishioners love him. Fr James is not paid by us. He is unmercenary and is an exceptionally honest and decent man. He lives humbly, does not own his own house, but still donates money for the needs of the church. After work, he visits the sick, sends information to the parishioners, and tries to keep everyone up on the latest parish news, and holds our community together. So we are happy to come to church, we feel the warmth. We have never even quarreled. We have services on the first and third weekends of each month, in English, and the choir is led by his matushka Maria.
- Tell us how the parish began. Who built it?
- Eleven years ago, we gathered for services in a social hall in the town of Narara, which we would rent. We would have services once a month, when a priest from Sydney would be sent to us. Since we didn’t have a priest of our own, and Sydney was far away, sometimes we would miss services. When Fr James was appointed, he seized the opportunity, and we decided that we need our own premises. Vladimir Golovin was appointed to the task of finding a solution. We could not buy property and build a church, since there weren’t enough people, or money. But a solution was found. The west side of Gosford at the time had new industrial units, and for 120,000 dollars we could buy one large enough for our needs. Vladimir said that he could set up a church inside one of them. That’s how it began.
In about a year, the church was established. Despite the fact that there aren’t many of us, the parishioners donated generously to create a church. We took a bank loan for 15 years, but paid it off in 5. Our parishioners are of various ages. We have infants and 90-year-olds attend services. Young people make up about 30% of our parish. Greeks and Serbs also attend our services. We now have almost everything we need. Many icons were donated to us, St Vladimir Church also helped, and Catherine Rubbo did the frescoes. Recently we bought a set of vestments for the clergy. We are now collecting money to buy vestments for altar boys.
- What else is going on now?
- We have a fishing contest organized by Pavel Pereboev, and people come all the way from Sydney. We also have fishing competitions for children. Whoever catches the most fish wins a prize. We have picnics on Father’s Day and have regular barbeques. We stay to celebrate after Paschal midnight office, and everyone brings food, drinks, and we go home at 4 or 5 in the morning. We are like a big family.
- Has the parish been growing over recent years?
- Somewhat, yes. We have new parishioners from Russia, some who live in Hornsby, Berara and Terrigal. They attend services and help in any way they can. They also bring their children. So our parish has a future.