Holy Apostles Orthodox Church…A History
Archbriest Daniel Hubiak, Hieromonk Thomas Greene, Archbishop DMITRI,
Archpriests: George Sondergaard, George Gladky and Myron Hill.
Holy Apostles Mission began in 1982, when Fr Seraphim Storheim, visited regularly with a small group of about ten Orthodox faithful in Columbia. Eventually a retired priest, Fr Peter Smith, held services monthly while members did lay services in his absence. During these formative years, the mission was helped greatly by the local Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox parish including one of their members who donated a room in his dental office for services.
In 1987, a “new” Fr Peter Smith became the first full-time pastor when he moved with his family to Columbia. This early community slowly grew and bought a small warehouse in West Columbia in December of 1990. They transformed this into a lovely church, for what had become about 35 regular participants. A few of the early members are still with us: Pat Oneil, Francis Scarpus, and Don and Sandy Pecic. Many like the Gregorys, Floyds, Hodges, Novaks, and many others who travelled from Aiken for many years, finally have a small mission of their own, Holy Resurrection, in North Augusta.
Fr. Thomas was ordained by Archbishop DMITRI to Holy Diaconate in June 1992. He served the growing mission with Fr. Peter for five years before attending St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. He was ordained to the Priesthood in June 1998, and was first assigned to St. Innocent Mission in Macon, GA. After a year Fr. Peter was assigned to St. Mary of Egypt in Atlanta and Archbishop DMITRI asked Fr. Thomas and Matushka Kyra to return to Holy Apostles.
In 2000, Pat Madden and Fr. Thomas opened a bookstore and coffee shop in West Columbia which was a very fruitful evangelical enterprise. It enabled Holy Apostles to outgrow their building and to begin looking for a new location. This led to us finding our new church building as well as opening our new Philokalia Bookstore. She and Melangell Harwell continue to keep the store staffed and stocked. Melangell also has served as our “ex-officio” treasurer for many years. Very few realize all the work she does for our Church.
The Church was blessed with steady growth during these early years, and as mentioned outgrew the old building. Eventually we grew discouraged from searching for so long, but Archbishop DMITRI visited in 2003 and told us to look for a building overlooking Columbia on a busy four-lane highway. The next day we stumbled upon just such a complex of two warehouses and pecan grove only a few blocks away but in a much better location. We sold the old building in days but were only able to purchase one of the new buildings. Ken and Vera Bozko-Summers bought the other two pieces of property and moved their business operations there. After several years, Holy Apostles was able to buy those two pieces of property. The Church is grateful for their foresight and faith in this growing community. The faithful were quickly faced with turning old warehouses into a church.
During the next few years by knocking out walls and adding rooms, we converted one warehouse into a hall and Orthodox worship space. Due to limited funds most of the work was done by a group of parishioners, both men and women, who were nicknamed the “Barnraisers”. They also did many charity jobs throughout the city and for parishioners. We greatly miss Leonard Steere who with Ken Summers took the lead in many of these early projects. We also remember fondly two of our other beloved departed members: Lydia Bozko and Zora Milasnovich. The space on the bench where they loudly “whispered” with Lottie Smith left a huge hole in the fabric of our Community. May their memory be eternal.
A word should be included here for the memory of Claudia Pennock and her father, the Archpriest Alexander Varlashkin. In her will, she left a modest sum for Holy Apostles to build a new Iconostasis. Before we could begin work, we heard of a church in Pennsylvania that was being bulldozed. When we were offered its hand –carved, turn-of-the-century Iconostas, several members drove up, dismantled it, and brought it back to Holy Apostles. The first time Claudia’s daughter, Sandy Pecic, saw our “new” iconostas, she was overcome with tears. This Iconostas was the one from the church in which Claudia grew up and her father presided. It is our “miracle” Iconostasis, and it is a unique feature of Holy Apostles.
Many others were invaluable during this period. Along with Melangell, Subdeacon Joshua Godbold and Michael Prestash have done an outstanding job of keeping our finances transparent and in order over the years. Many members have gone on to be ordained priests: Frs. Marcus Burch, Steven Freeman, Michael Bock, Edward Rommen, Mark Mancuso, Maximus Weimar, Cyprian Durant, and Peter Robichau. Many more like Michael Lieberman, Bret Barnard, Michael Shepherd, Aaron Brown, John Braxton and Greg Hayda have become readers and subdeacons taking up leadership responsibilities not only for worship but also for the grounds and buildings. There are so many who have been faithful stewards throughout the years: Lawrence and Juliana Gillespie, Matushka Louise Hill, Mark and Frances Shorten, Kathy Lu, Don and Sandy Pecic, Dennis and Kathy Poole, Aaron and Analucia Brown, Michael and Nicholas Hodge, Luther and Casey Lown, Charlie and Dorothy Walters, Philip and Valerie Selby, Eugene and Despina Brown, and Jake Strobridge just to thank a few. Remarkably, Christian Borgheresi has served faithfully as our choir director for all these years. Last but certainly not least, it is impossible to imagine how any of this would have been accomplished without the quietly peaceful, loving support of Matushka Kyra.
Some of our community hail from other lands, but now call America home: Nikolai and Tatiana Zheltov, Alexander and Elena Yonkovsky, Yelana and Alexander Romanov, Larissa and Andrei Chavlich, Igor and Natasha Agafanov, Vitaliy and Anya Degtyarev, Spirdon and Galyna Gill, Valentyna Gregg, Valentyna Axtell, Branco and Sneezana Popov and Nadia Steere. These men also have great technical engineering skills, and they have helped with much of the work on our Church. We appreciate their connections to the Orthodox world and especially the women’s contribution to our local Russian café at our St. Nicholas Festival. We have been hosting the St. Nicholas festival as a community outreach and fund raiser for charity for over ten years. Nicholas Carmine fills in for St. Nicholas when necessary and serves as our “I.T.” man by preparing the bulletin and website without too much grumbling. Sarah Straney is our fairy Godmother without whom children would not enjoy the magic of giving or know that St. Nicholas slapped Arius!
Our recent bell tower project could not have been completed without the oversight of Greg Hayda and Marty Cipolla, and the many others who have sacrificed time and sweat to erect a candle on the hill overlooking Columbia.
Our annual camping trips continue to grow with four Orthodox communities represented in 2013.
We have continued to beautify our property, and by this writing, Holy Apostles has grown to about 100 regular attendees. However, we should note that during these years of growth many more have become members of the Orthodox Church in America and gone on to join or start new Orthodox Churches in other areas of the U.S. In total we have been blessed with 139 Baptisms and 70 Chrismations since 1999, and we have completed a beautiful temple, community hall, and bell tower which have become landmarks in West Columbia. Along the way we have done many local charity outreach programs, as well as foreign and local missionary endeavors through IOCC and OCMC. We regularly support local charities such as Helping Hands and Harvest Hope Food bank. Our youth have been involved in Souper Bowl Sunday, Fill a Truck and Homeworks each winter. We are also proud to have supported our local monastery, Saints Mary and Martha, both financially, spiritually, and liturgically throughout their early years of growth. We have benefitted greatly from their participation in our community life.
Finally, it is important to note that we thought it our responsibility over the years to speak out on some of the moral issues of our time.
The early Church took great care of the bones of its saints. We also lovingly laid to rest our beloved Archbishop DMITIRI. We are convinced it was his early and now eternal prayers to God for us which made this all possible. May his memory be eternal.
From the original history written in 1990: “Our Lord is watering and tending this vineyard that He has planted through the efforts of so many who have come before us, and we are grateful for them, and to the Lord, for the increase. Easily accessible by land, sea, and air. Please consider this an invitation to ‘Come and See!’”
Follow the light!