The once-fledgling and predominantly Russian parish of St. Alexander Nevsky Church has grown, and is quickly becoming ‘a church for all of us.’
by Betty Adams
Toddlers, babes-in-arms, and other young children populating the church yard and inside St. Alexander Nevsky Church showed just how rapidly the parish family of the Russian Orthodox congregation has grown. Inside the sanctuary Sunday was another sign: the ordination of the Rev. Nathan Williams to the priesthood, the ordination of Joseph Kimball to the deaconate and the investiture of two tonsured Readers, Patrick Kimball and Matthew O’Donnell. Tonsured Reader is a first step toward priesthood.
The ordination was performed by Metropolitan Hilarion, who is First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, and informally referred to by congregation members as “the bishop.”
The event started with the celebration of the feast day – or in this case week – of the church’s patron saint, St. Alexander Nevsky, a Russian prince who lived and fought during the time of the Crusades.
Then there was the recognition of Archpriest Chad Williams’ 30 years of service as rector of St. Alexander Nevsky Church.
The elder Williams was ordained 33 years ago by Metropolitan Hilarion.
“Today is a remarkable day,”
the metropolitan said after listing triple reasons to celebrate.
“When Father Chad came here 30 years ago, it was a dying parish,” the metropolitan recalled after Sunday’s services. “Now he’s brought in a new flock with many children.” He noted that the congregation had changed from one of predominantly Russian emigres to one that is more longstanding American.
“Two-thirds of us are not Russians,” said the elder Williams, who is referred as “Father Chad.” “It is a church for all of us, for all people, many of whom who have chosen the Orthodox Church as their spiritual home.”
He said currently the Orthodox Christian community is made up of some Americans, some Russians and some people with other ethic backgrounds. “There’s been an interesting transition over the past 30 years.”
The rector said the church has about 140 people listed in its congregation, with about 75 people for most services, some coming from as far away as Blue Hill, Scarborough and Bethel.
St. Alexander Nevsky Church is part of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
There are several orthodox mission churches elsewhere in the state, including Mother of God Surety of Sinners Chapel in Wytopitlock
On Sunday, given the triple celebration, more than 100 people, including young mothers with headscarves, circulated in and out of the church during the hourslong service conducted mostly in English and Church Slavonic.
The Rev. Nathan Williams, 35, the eldest son of the Williams family, wore shimmering white floor-length vestments toward the end of the ceremony, a contrast to the long black robes he donned afterward.
“I was asked by my father if I would consider ordination because the parish has grown and there is a need for a second priest,” he said, as his youngest brother, Andrew, pulled on ropes to start the church bells pealing. His mother, Cindy, conducted the choir Sunday.
Nathan Williams lives in Gardiner with his wife, Anna, and their three children. He’s a certified interpreter of Russian and does written translations of liturgy. He received congratulations from many in the congregation both inside and outside the church.
“It’s really something, isn’t it?” he said to one well-wisher after receiving a bear hug.
Helen Raymond of Pittston spent some of the service sitting on a bench in the cool yard. “I was brought up Orthodox in Connecticut, so it was natural to seek out this church here.” A member of the Richmond church for 22 years, she too has seen it grow and attract what she described as “a lot of people who’ve been seeking a deeper knowledge of belief, tradition.”
Another woman sitting near her, Janet “Anna” Clement of Richmond, concurred.
“I grew up Methodist,” Clement said. “I walked into the church 15 years ago on the Feast of the Transfiguration and was totally overcome by the service and almost immediately became a catechumen.”
She saw others joining the church as well, becoming involved in the choir, as catechumens, being baptized and married and now bringing their children to the church.
“We just have people who are hungry for something else,” she said.
Joanna Willmarth, one of the Rev. Chad Williams’ daughters, returned home for her brother’s ordination to the priesthood. Her husband, the Rev. Ephraim Willmarth, was on the altar for the service and unable to help her chase their four children, ages 4 months to five years.
Willmarth is assistant dean at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, New York, which the Rev. Nathan Williams and his brother Anthony, an ordained deacon, attended.
“It’s a wonderful, rich life,” she said. “Our entire life revolved around the church.”
She recalled that when the Williams children were young, they were the only children at the church.
“Now it’s like there are more kids than I can count and many of them related to me,” she marveled, counting eight nieces within eyesight.
Jared Brewer, his wife, Natalie Zelensky and their son Nicholas, of Waterville, were among the congregation Sunday. They’ve been coming to Richmond for services for about five years and watched the growth, which Zelensky said has expanded beyond ethnic lines.
And while they mostly attend St. Alexander Nevsky, the family sometimes goes to Holy Archangels Orthodox Church in Waterville, which is also a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, but uses the Western Rite rather than Eastern Rite.
The Rev. Matthias Brookes, 85, parish administrator at the Waterville church, had come for Sunday’s ordination service as well.
A deacon from that parish, the Rev. Father Abraham Fortier, is to be ordained a priest Oct. 9 in New York. Metropolitan Hilarion will conduct that ordination ceremony as well.