Remaining true to our roots as a mission church, Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church  continues to grow by the grace of God to meet the demands for Orthodoxy in Lafayette, Louisiana. It has only been a few years since the church welcomed her first full-time pastor in the persons of Father Philip and Khouria Kathryn Rogers. Under their leadership, we have extended our reach into the community, beautified our sanctuary, and increased our numbers. God has allowed us to establish a choir, a Sunday school program, and a local chapter of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at the nearby university. While still looking ahead to the future, we paused on the last weekend in February, 2010 to remember all that God has already given us. We were honored and delighted to host a visit from our spiritual father Bishop ANTOUN, who would help us consecrate a new Holy Table.
We began the weekend with a beautiful Friday evening Akathist service followed by an intimate dinner with the parish council at the home of the Malek family. The next morning, a couple dozen of Archangel Gabriel’s tiniest members cooked and served a pancake brunch for His Grace. Fellowshipping with the children over such delicious pancakes was surely one of the highlights of the weekend for the Bishop, for he was quick to remind us later of the great treasure we had in these children. Indeed, the spirit of our children makes us confident in the direction of our future; that is, toward Christ! After Saturday evening Great Vespers served by His Grace Bishop ANTOUN, Fr. Daniel Bethancourt of St. Nicholoas in Shreveport, LA, Fr. John Henderson of St. Peter in Madison, MS, Fr. Nicholas Meyers of St. John in Memphis, TN, and our own Fr. Philip Rogers, our whole church family shared a Lenten meal at Damascus, a local restaurant owned by one of our members, Elias Loli.
The celebrated occasion began early Sunday morning. Pleased to welcome visitors from the far reaches of our state, brothers and sisters in Christ reunited and greeted one another outside the church doors. Inside the narthex, the faithful began to put aside all worldly cares as candles were lit and the Matins prayers began. Entering the nave, celebrants stepped into a newly-transformed sanctuary to stand amidst the cloud of witnesses. In every direction, windows to heaven were opened by the presence of new icons. Our attention was immediately drawn to the Holy Place by the presence of a new iconostasis more fit to serve as the gateway into the presence of God. Through the Holy Doors were several priests standing and serving around the bare altar, praying and preparing for what was to come. His Grace Bishop ANTOUN and Fr. Philip were joined by Fr. Nicholas Meyers and Fr. John Henderson; all of whom graciously offered themselves up for the completion of this great task. As the consecration of the Holy Table began, members of the congregation watched with such joyful anticipation as if it were their own newborn child being baptized. Working with great diligence and attention to detail, the priests washed every inch of the altar. Baptismal waters flowed, along with tears of joy from some of the faithful. As the stunning scent of rosewater washed over our minds, Khouria Kathryn led holy voices to a sacrifice of praise. The altar was dressed with a “shroud” of linen, reminding us of the burial of Christ. Since by his death he conquered death, eternal life sprung forth from the sepulcher as from our altar. This is why we remembered the names of all our parishioners, including the departed, on a scroll inside the altar. Just as early Christians celebrated the Eucharist at the tombs of martyrs, we too celebrated, in a physical way, the connection we have with those who have gone before, by placing inside the altar the relics of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, a saint with whom we have a special connection. Founding numerous Orthodox Churches throughout the country, one of St. Raphael’s many stops was Beaumont, Texas. With our parish’s long connection to Beaumont, we are pleased to have a relic of our spiritual father in Christ within our community. At the conclusion of the heirarchical divine liturgy, the faithful made their way to the front of the church: first to the bishop, to receive a blessing; then, to the antidoron for a piece of blessed bread; and finally, to the arms of a grieving mother, whose son’s memory this altar is dedicated to. Alex Loli was a shining youth of our parish who unexpectedly departed this life last year. Love runs pure from the heart of a mother, and her heart, more than any other, was left at this altar as a monument to faithfulness in God. We left the sanctuary to share a final meal with our guests, carrying with us a renewed sense of purpose rivaled only by our sense of gratitude to God.