The bright red siding and gleaming gold cross atop the roof make St. Anthony’s the Great Orthodox Church hard to miss.
St. Anthony’s is the first and only permanent structure in the Bozeman area for the Eastern Orthodox faith. One year ago, the church opened its doors after parish members built it from the ground up. Since then, their numbers have steadily grown.
“Orthodoxy is actually quietly growing in America,’ said Father David Morrison, the priest at St. Anthony’s. “We just don’t do any flashy advertising, so it’s not really in your face.”
Morrison said the parish has between 100 and 110 people “on the roster” but around 80 typically show up for services on Sunday. He said the bright new building most likely increased their visibility within the community.
“It’s kind of been a ‘if you build it, they will come’ sort of thing,” said Morrison. “We can’t believe it, we’re just this small parish but we have this truly incredible space. I love it, I can’t believe we were able to pull this off.”
Morrison said he and his parish members are planning to continue building on their property in the future as their congregation grows. Their “master plan” includes a cemetery, a community garden, and a larger worship space to accommodate between 200 and 300 people. A large wooden cross marks the spot where they hope to build the expanded service space one day.
The parish purchased a 20-acre plot of land in 2012 and built the church during the summer of 2014. Before then, they bounced around from place to place, at one point meeting in the Belgrade Senior Center.
“This was a really big step for our people to buy land, build their own space, and have a permanent spot,” Morrison said.
According to Subdeacon John Heilman, countless members of the parish stepped forward to offer their own unique skill sets to the building project.
“I was amazed on a regular basis as we built our new church,” he said. “It turned out we had among the members of our small congregation an experienced finance man, a certified architect, a certified land surveyor, a crew of skilled builders and several artists who knew how to put color, shape and texture together. Hours of volunteer labor in the construction must be up in the thousands.”
Morrison and his family came to St. Anthony’s three years ago, so he stepped into the parish just as plans for the new church really started rolling. Heilman and his wife, Judith, have watched St. Anthony’s grow and transition since 2005, though.
“We were previously crowded into a small storefront next to a dog grooming studio,” Heilman said. “Not a site conducive to sacred worship. The best part of the new space is that it is a church. It looks like one from the outside and on the inside it is clearly a beautiful place for worship in the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church.”
The sanctuary in an Orthodox church is quite different from that of a Protestant church. The heady scent of incense lingers in the air even between services and colorful depictions of disciples, saints and religious scenes cover an elaborate wooden wall called an iconostasis. A door in the center opens to reveal an ornate altar.
“Our services engage all of the senses,” Morrison said. “We believe you can feel God in a variety of ways, so we include taste, touch and smell in our services, too.”
The iconostasis represents a “point of union” between heaven and earth, Morrison said. It’s a key piece of Orthodox worship, which the priest called “historic Christianity.”
Though Greeks, Russians, and a whole host of other cultures have their own brand of orthodoxy, Morrison said all are essentially under the umbrella of Eastern Orthodox.
St. Anthony’s is a bit of a melting pot. While the church itself is American Orthodox, Morrison said that just refers to the fact that its clergy is American born.
“We’re the only Orthodox church in town, so we have people from all over the place,” he said. “Greece, Russia, Moldova, Romania. It’s incredible.”
While it may seem unfamiliar and foreign to some, Morrison said the Eastern Orthodox faith is truly “beautiful.”
“It’s an adjustment coming to our services, for sure,” he said. “But it’s really beautiful.