The congregation of the St. John of Damascus Orthodox Mission celebrated the beginning of a new worship space at a groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday, the first Orthodox church to be built in East Texas.

"The official name (of the groundbreaking service) is ‘The Order of Planting the Crosses and Establishing the Church,'" said John Mikita, who has been the priest for this congregation in Tyler since 2008. "It's a liturgical service. There are a lot more than shovels involved."

The new 2,000-square-foot facility will contain only a temple (sanctuary), with a great hall a possibility for later.

The church, which has about 55 members, is part of the Diocese of the South of the Orthodox Church in America, headquartered in Dallas. The diocese has cosigned on the loan for the facility, which is estimated to cost about $520,000.

The former facility the small congregation was using as its worship space actually belongs to the cemetery association that maintained the cemetery across the street, Mikita said. The church will still use the facilities for classes and other activities, he said.

"Our goal is not to build large churches with big congregations," Mikita said. "We focus on spreading out from city to city."

Although the diocese still technically refers to the St John of Damascus Church as a mission parish, the parish will be given the status as a parish church in the near future, said Archimandrite Gerasim, rector of the St Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas who led the ceremony on Saturday.

"Our hope for the St John of Damascus Parish is to serve as a witness to the Christian faith in East Texas, to introduce the local people to the Orthodox Christian Church by means of her worship and proclamation of the Orthodox Christian faith," Gerasim said in an email exchange. "As all Orthodox Christian Churches we hold the faith the Council of Nicaea expressed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which we call the Symbol of Faith. One step in the process of the witness of our faith in East Texas is the construction of a traditionally designed temple (church building) for public worship there in Tyler, TX. Priest John Mikita is a well educated priest and an excellent preacher. We are pleased to have him as the priest in charge of the mission in Tyler."

Among the other rituals of the service, a stone with an image of St. Andrew's Cross was blessed with oil and water and placed in the ground on the property as the foundation stone.

"It was placed using the words, ‘This Church is founded to the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, in honor and memory of St. John of Damascus, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God Most High, Who has founded this church, is in the midst of it, and it shall not be moved. God shall help it right early. Blessed and illustrious shall this place be for a house of prayer, to the honor and glory of God, glorified in the Holy Trinity, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,'" Mikita said.




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