by Stephanie Taylor
Fifteen years ago, Affaf El-Jakl remembers there was talk of building a new church to accommodate the growing congregation of Saint Antonios Orthodox Church.
And on Sunday, that hope finally became reality.
“We’re in awe,”
El-Jakl, president of the parish council said Sunday morning, as hundreds of parishioners filed into the sanctuary, filling it to capacity until there was only standing room and the upper balcony left to sit.
“It’s not everyday a new church is built and opened.”
The crowd gathered to celebrate the unveiling of the new church with the first of what would be many Sunday masses to follow, sitting in pews that originally belonged to the building when it served as Saint Matthias Anglican Church.
The former church, located across the street from Saint Antonios’ original home on Windsor Street, was saved from demolition and renovated over the past four years to offer a more spacious and modern place for Orthodox worshippers to gather.
“We were sitting on top of each other, literally. Our Sunday school kids were squished 20 to a row,” El-Jakl recalled of their former church.
El-Jakl said in many ways, their new church preserves the history of Saint Matthias and acts an architectural hybrid of the Anglican and Orthodox faith traditions.
For example, the stained glass windows found along the side aisles of the sanctuary were preserved, along with the broken arches and some of the interior woodwork.
Meanwhile, the main altar was transformed to glow with the golden icons and decor from the Byzantine tradition seen in Orthodox churches worldwide.
Most striking of all was the dome above that illustrates a massive vision of the Virgin Mary, embolden in a red robe against a golden wall, with her arms outstretched to the congregation below.
“You feel when you’re sitting in the pews that she’s going to envelope you in her hug and embrace you. It feels so warm and beautiful,” El-Jakl said.