Holy Transfiguration Celebrates Consecration of our New Church Building

The annual namesday feast is always an inspiring event in the life of any parish, especially when the Bishop is there to celebrate with his people. This year, the people of Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church of London, Ontario, felt themselves doubly blessed, not only in having their Bishop ALEXANDER, of the Ottawa Diocese, visit and celebrate with them their namesday feast, but also because he was able to consecrate their newly acquired, former Protestant church, located at 465 Horton Street East.

Built in 1897, the church was erected by a group of Congregationalists who had come to Canada from the United States. The stout brick building, with its central bell tower, tall, elegant windows in the nave, and serene, stately archover the back wall that just calls out for an icon of the Blessed Panagia, follows an uncluttered architectural style comment nineteenth-century New England that lends itself well to transformation into an Orthodox temple. For a congregation used to worshipping in a low-ceiled, former Kingdom Hall that effectively deadened all sound, this new church with its soaring height and live acoustics has been received by the entire congregation as an incredible blessing. The most common comment made by parishioners coming into the church for the first time was, “This church is beautiful,” even before the renovation!

So it was with joy and a great sense of anticipation that chairman Ghassan Chehade and members of the Parish Council went on the afternoon of August 5, 2011, to the London International Airport to pick up Sayidna ALEXANDER from his flight in from Montreal. Celebrations began on Friday evening with Great Vespers for the Feast of The Transfiguration, with Litia and Artoklasia followed by the traditional blessing of the grapes. The Bishop, clothed in a purple and gold mantia, bearing his staff, was received into the Church by Father Geoffrey Korz of All Saints of North America Orthodox Church of Hamilton, Ontario (Orthodox Church in America); Father Demetrios Mouselimis of St. Demetrios Orthodox Church of Sarnia, Ontario (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America); and Father Vladimir Morin of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church of London, Ontario (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia). As usual, the Transfiguration Vespers was well-attended, with parishioners from each of the six Orthodox parishes in London. At the end of the service, everyone was invited downstairs to enjoy refreshments. As our former church did not even have a kitchen, and most meals necessarily had to be served buffet-style and eaten standing or balancing on a chair, this was a sheer delight to the congregation. Holy Transfiguration has a reputation for always providing plenty of food, but now, with tables and chairs, it can be properly enjoyed!

All of the food provided over the two-day celebration was cooked and provided by various parishioners under the capable leadership and supervision of the Holy Transfiguration St. Thekla’s Society, headed by President Graciella Chehade and Vice-president Janet Smiaris.

Saturday, the actual day of the Feast, began with Orthros and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. Con-celebrating with Sayidna ALEXANDER were Father Martin Meitz; Father Polycarp Gilbert, former priest of Holy Transfiguration; Father Christopher Rigden-Briscall of Christ The Saviour Mission in Waterloo, Ontario; Father John Ayoub of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Windsor, Ontario; and Father David Scott of St. Ignatius of Antioch Mission in St. Catharines, Ontario. After the Liturgy, everyone was invited downstairs for a complete fish dinner and many wonderful desserts. It was a great time of food and fellowship, especially among so many Orthodox from other parts of Ontario who rarely get a chance to see one another. The day ended with a Great Vespers with the Bishop in attendance.

On Sunday, August 7th, Sayidna ALEXANDER consecrated the church in a ceremony rich with symbolism. The service began just before the completion of Orthros and the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. He was assisted in the service by Father Martin Meitz and Father Polycarp Gilbert. Sub-deacon Alex Younes from St. George’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Richmond Hill, Ontario, served as a cantor along with Natalia Sinclair, our very faithful cantor at Holy Transfiguration.

The Bishop consecrated as well the beautiful oak wood altar built by parish member Petros Kifle. Sayidna placed the relics inside the altar, along with the names of the parishioners both living and dead. The new altar was washed, the Evangelists were placed at the four corners, and then it was anointed with the Holy Chrism. The shroud, or katasarkion, that was sewn by parish member Toula Kalogeros and is never removed, and the maroon, red-fringed altar cloth, were placed upon the altar.

After the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, the congregation was invited downstairs for another dinner, this time of Ethiopian food. (Our English-speaking parish is made up not just of Arabs, Greeks, Russians, Romanians, and various converts of many different nationalities, but also of many faithful Eritrean and Ethiopian people. Indeed, as a sign of Christian solidarity with us, the entire parish council of the Ethiopian church in London was present at the consecration.)

Also among the worshippers were founders and core members of the 33-year-old parish: Dr. William (Vasilios) Bush, Dr. Dmitri Pospielovsky, Sarah Fluter, Adnan Chehade and Despina Jennings. Holy Transfiguration grew out of an Orthodox Fellowship group that met at the University of Western Ontario in London. The members felt the need to worship in English. Holy Transfiguration continues as the only Orthodox church in the city whose services are in English.

The name “Holy Transfiguration” was taken at the urging of Dr. Dmitri Pospielovsky to honor and remember the city’s first Orthodox church, founded in 1916. The first “Holy Transfiguration ”was under the Russian Patriarchate. It was composed of both Russian and Greek immigrants. When events after the First World War contributed to the rise of ethnic congregations and the multiplying of jurisdictions, that first “Holy Transfiguration ”was forced to close. God has shown through the recent events in the life of our own parish, however, that He has always wanted an Orthodox temple here in South London, and while man might have failed to achieve that original purpose, God has made it possible for a temple of true Orthodox worship again to take its place in what is known as the South Horton, or “So-Ho,” region of London. Our present church stands in the same part of South London by the river Thames near Adelaide Street where that first Orthodox Church stood. Thus, it is a visual confirmation that the prayers and offerings of God’s people are never lost or go without their reward.

The South Horton area of London is not only the richest in terms of the city’s history and immigrant settlement, but it is also the true gateway to the city. God grant that our parish may be a true gateway to Orthodoxy for many years to come!

Courtesy of Fr. Martin Meitz

“The Word” volume 56 No. 2 February 2012