It’s not every day that one goes to the doctor, and ends up finding a priest to serve at his or her local Orthodox parish, but that is exactly what happened when Donald and Susan Dimoff went to an appointment with physician Dr. Patitsas, also known as Fr. Christos Patitsas.
On the one hand, Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church was searching for a way forward after years of challenges and difficulties, being served during this time by visiting clergy, who, while dedicated, could not provide a permanent solution to the parish’s pastoral needs. The plans for this historic church were finalized in 1916, with members pledging two dollars a month for the treasury. Two lots were purchased at the corner of North Jefferson and Sherman Streets, and church furnishings and liturgical items were imported from Russia. Parish historian Georgianna Abrashoff remarks that the chandelier, banners, and Bible remain to this day. Some of the funds for the Church came directly from Tsar Nicholas II, who was later glorified as a saint in the Orthodox Church due in part to such philanthropic activities, and also for suffering exile and death at the hands of the Communists in 1917.
As with many parishes built by hard-working Eastern European immigrants in the early 20th century, the parish faced many challenges over the decades as demographic changes, Orthodox jurisdictional disputes, and natural disasters took their toll. After Hurricane Agnes in 1972, the Church, which was closed at the time, was almost given over by the Redevelopment Authority to a non-Orthodox group whose parish was slated for demolition. This led to parishioners rallying together, and the Church flourished for twenty years after.
However, Mount Union, once a prosperous silica brickyard town, fell into decline, and as older parishioners reposed and younger ones moved away, the parish numbers again dwindled. These last ten years, there were only twice-monthly Divine Liturgies, celebrated on Saturday evenings, but parishioners were aware that this situation was not tenable over the long run. Remaining parishioners, many on fixed incomes, rented out the parish rectory to make money, and stopped using the parish hall to save on heating costs.
Meanwhile, Fr. Christos Patitsas was looking to the next chapter of his priestly ministry. Formerly a priest in another Orthodox jurisdiction, the eruption of a doctrinal disagreement there led to him and several other clergy, parishes, and faithful leaving and aligning themselves with the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians (GOC), an Old Calendar Orthodox Church headquartered in New York City. Unfortunately for Fr. Christos, the other priests at the local Pennsylvania parish where he served did not join the GOC, leaving him without a local community in which to serve. His intention was to serve in his home chapel, while discerning God’s will for the future.
Then came the doctor’s appointment.
Orthodox priests often have to have a second job, as the small number of parishioners in any given area does not allow for a sufficient salary to support a priest and a family (Orthodox priests who serve parishes are generally married, although some are unmarried monks). Fr. Christos happens to serve as a doctor, and on the appointed day, the Dimoffs came to his office, and upon entering, noticed the icons there. They asked Fr. Christos if he was Orthodox, and he replied that not only was he so, but that he was also a priest. Susan Dimoff asked Fr. Christos if he would like to come to their Church, and he replied, “I’d love to.”
Within two weeks, a priest without a parish was joined to a parish in need of a fresh start. Parishioners were overjoyed to find the GOC, where they could live their Orthodox faith to the fullest, without the compromises present in many other modern, ecumenistic jurisdictions. Bishop Demetrius came to the parish immediately, welcoming them with love and respect. After so many years of struggle, the Church has grown, with existing parishioners being joined by those who came with Fr. Christos to the GOC. Bishop Demetrius remarked, “and now your reward has come.” Asked what she would say to others considering following Sts. Peter and Paul on this course, Georgianna Abrashoff remarked, “fear not! We are now a real Orthodox Church celebrating our faith in beauty and harmony.”
Assisting Fr. Christos in his ministry are his wife, Presbytera Katina, who leads the Byzantine chanting in the English language, and their five sons George, Demetri, Peter, Paul, and John Auxentios, who help serve. On the Feast of Theophany (Epiphany), the parish made a procession with the cross and icon banners to the Juniata River, to perform the Great Blessing of Water there for the first time in 70 years.
See also: PA Parish Joins the GOC
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October 12-14, 2018
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An Orthodox Christian Worldview