Eastern Orthodox celebrate Easter in own time

May 01, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

The mystery and the solemnity, the ornate vestments and the incense, the robust singing and the brilliant candlelight drew thousands of Marylanders to Baltimore-area churches last night for the joyous celebration of the Eastern Orthodox Easter.

They drove from Aberdeen and Bel Air, from Westminster, Sykesville and Forest Hill, from as far as Brinklow in Montgomery County, North East in Cecil County and Glen Rock in York County, Pa., to experience what Nicholas Stchur said "feels more like church than a social hour."

He and his wife, Sallie, and their two children, residents of Glen Rock, are members of St. Andrew's Orthodox Church at 2028 E. Lombard St. in East Baltimore.

It is one of 10 congregations in the Baltimore area -- some very large and some tiny -- that, along with 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus today, four weeks later than most of Christendom.

In 325, the Council of Nicaea set Easter's date for all Christians as the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox, but the Orthodox churches continue to use the old Julian calendar to determine the equinox. Religious traditions die hard.

Mr. and Mrs. Stchur moved 14 times in the first 15 years of their marriage because he was in the military. When they settled in Harford County more than a decade ago, they began a search xTC for an Orthodox church. The nearest ones were in Baltimore and Harrisburg.

"When you're Orthodox in this area, there aren't a lot of choices," said Mr. Stchur, who has a computer business in Shrewsbury, Pa., near the Maryland line.

He grew up in Wilkes-Barre, where "it's not so strange to be Orthodox." He said he and his wife joined St. Andrew's "because of the friendliness of the congregation on our very first visit."

Although it is part of the million-member Orthodox Church in America that began in the Russian territory of Alaska in 1794, St. Andrew's no longer emphasizes its Russian origins. Members come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds.

The long drive to what the pastor calls "a regional church" doesn't bother the younger members of the Stchur family, a daughter in college and a 14-year-old son. "Their complaint is that the services are too long," Mr. Stchur said.

But the pastor, the Rev. Myron Manzuk, said the ancient liturgy and the solemnity of the worship -- what Mr. Stchur says sets it apart from the "social hour" that so many Christian denominations seek to provide -- is attracting people from other churches.

About 40 percent of St. Andrew's members are converts, Father Manzuk said.

At nearby Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, 1723 E. Fairmount Ave., about 60 percent of the 400 members are of Russian ancestry, said its pastor, the Rev. J. Mark Odell, adding, "Few speak the language."

The bulk of Holy Trinity's services are in English.

Holy Cross Orthodox Mission is a new affiliate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America that meets in rented space at 20 Winters Lane in Catonsville. Its pastor, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, a former Episcopal priest, said nearly all of the mission's 70 members came from other churches, mostly Episcopal and Roman Catholic.

A high percentage of conversions is also reported by Baltimore's largest Orthodox parish, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation at Preston Street and Maryland Avenue. Its 1,600 enrolled families translate into about 6,400 men, women and children, a member of the staff said.

"Our conversions come primarily through marriage," the Very Rev. Constantine M. Monios, dean of the cathedral, said. "Most of the non-Orthodox partners in our mixed marriages become Orthodox, though a number have joined independently of marriage."

Father Monios said the cathedral's converts are usually received through the sacrament of confirmation because the Greek Orthodox do not re-baptize Christians previously baptized in another faith. This year, however, he has baptized 15 adults who were never members of another Christian church.

All of the cathedral's members drive to services, some long distances. Since the recent death of an elderly woman who lived in a Mount Vernon apartment, "no one walks to church," Father Monios said. "Phoenix [in Baltimore County] seems close to us."

He lives in Cockeysville, and the cathedral's other priest lives in Perry Hall. Basil Pappas, the president of the Parish Council, drives in from Forest Hill.

Among the cathedral parishioners who commute from Carroll County are George and Zoe Sirinakis of Westminster.

Mrs. Sirinakis, a member since 1946, said her parents worshiped at the cathedral in the 1920s before moving back to Greece and that it was only natural she would be married there and have her children baptized there.

"We allow plenty of time for driving to church," Mrs. Sirinakis said. "We don't want to be the last ones in."

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