Building a home for their faith

Congregation renovates building to establish first Greek Orthodox church in the county

September 10, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Covered in paint and spackle, George Karalekas and Bill Roros worked feverishly to put the final touches on the new home for their church, a modest clapboard structure on a country road in northern Harford County.

The men had floors to carpet, walls to paint and dozens of paintings to hang before the 40-year-old white building on Dublin Road truly would become the county's first Greek Orthodox church.

"We have no choice - we have to finish," said Karalekas, a Bel Air resident. "The bishop is coming."

Roros, the parish council president, added, "He will bless the church so we can have services on Sunday."

Metropolitan Evangelos, who oversees 60 parishes from New York to North Carolina, was scheduled to bless the building - Maryland's 13th Greek Orthodox church - during a vespers service last night.

"The bishop blesses the opening of the doors with special prayers so that services can take place in the sanctuary," said the Rev. Kosmas Karavellas, pastor of St. Constantine and Helen Church in Annapolis and vicar of the Maryland Greek Orthodox churches.

The bishop will give the new parish a name - possibly this weekend - from among those suggested by the congregation, and he will assign a pastor by next month. For now, members are content that they have found a church home.

"This is not about me," said Roros, a Bel Air resident. "It is about my family, about giving my children and someday their children a church."

The congregation has gathered on Sundays for more than two years at John Carroll High School, preferring the school's chapel to the alternative of driving to Baltimore or Delaware for services in the closest Greek Orthodox churches.

"We are trying to fill a void for families here," Roros said. "There are only three of our churches in the Baltimore area."

Karalekas added, "Now we are 18 minutes from Bel Air."

Karavellas said the Greek Orthodox community is growing in Maryland, particularly in rural areas that are experiencing rapid development. Frederick County has added a church to his charge and a group in Leonardtown in St. Mary's County is raising money for another. Karavellas' 850-family congregation in Annapolis recently relocated to a 500-seat building.

The Dublin church, which was previously occupied by an Apostolic congregation called the Abundant Grace Family Worship Center, came with usable pews that provide cushioned seating for about 135. When the property came on the market, the Greek orthodox congregation of about 75 families bought the building, its parish house and nearly 4 acres for $410,000 and began renovations. Many, like Karalekas and Roros, have spent their vacation time restoring the building.

"At this point, my boss has fired me," said Roros, who owns a contracting business.

In the last month, volunteers replaced dark paneling with sheet rock and painted the interior in soft shades of white - gilt trim will come later. They installed fluorescent ceiling lights and built a wall with arched openings before the sanctuary. A carved wooden altar, a gift from Karavellas' parish, arrived Thursday, along with altar lanterns and several other ecclesiastic items that had been in storage since the Annapolis congregation moved to its new church.

"We promised the people who gave the altar to us that it would always be used some place," Karavellas said. "Now the good Lord has provided us a space for it."

Other parishes have sent their sister church ornately painted icons, sacred images of the Madonna, the Apostles and saints that will line the walls.

"Our next goal will be stained-glass windows and eventually a circular window behind the altar that will let the sun shine in," said Roros, who built the cross that will hang behind the altar and the archways that lead to it.

Much work remains, including converting the basement into classrooms and meeting areas, but for now, at least there is a church.

"There is a lot more to do, but we are set up nicely," Roros said. "You don't know how exciting it is for us. We have been working for this for years. We have a place of our own where we can all come together to worship."

Before services, members light a traditional candle at the back of the church and say a brief prayer.

"I light a candle for all the loved ones who have passed away," Karalekas said.

That sentiment is in keeping with the solemnity of the day, said Karavellas, who marveled at what the congregation has accomplished in the past month.

"They have done this for their kids," he said. "They are looking at the long-term and extending the faith of their fathers to their children."

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