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St. Anthony the Great in Florida Celebrates a Consecration, Ordination, and Elevation

By Deborah Thieme

On May 7, 2016, St. Anthony the Great Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Melbourne, Florida celebrated a Consecration, Ordination, and Elevation. The consecration of a church is a once in a lifetime event for a parish. It was especially eventful for this struggling mission parish, which had been meeting in various rented facilities for its 15-year existence. 

As a convert who only just celebrated my first Pascha as an Orthodox Christian this year, I beheld these events with wide-eyed wonder, and what follows is my feeble attempt to share this wonderful story with you.

But first, you should know how the story almost never came to be…

The mission was established by Fr. Paul Moses in 2001.  After a few years we purchased four acres in Palm Bay with the plan of building our own church, but the various fees, permits and other financial requirements by the city proved prohibitive, and the land was sold. Over the next several years we had looked for properties and found a few possibilities, but nothing panned out.  Parishioners had been getting discouraged, some predicting we would soon close our doors.

Then in June 2015 we got the news that we would be getting a new priest. Hopes began to rise as we heard of the other parishes and churches he had built during his career. 

Father Elia Shalhoub came in like a whirlwind in July 2015, stirring up the faithful to action and challenging our faith in God to provide.  By the end of December we had found and purchased an existing Nazarene church building on six acres. 

Within a few days we got word that a local family was selling their chapel, and because of their friendship with Fr. Elia, Calliope Karas and her family donated nearly the entire contents of the chapel to St. Anthony.  Most notable is the iconostasis and all the iconography, and the altar, but there were also pews (which we learned later had originally come from the Nazarene Church!), a beautiful baptismal font, much furniture, and other items too numerous to mention. Due to this great gift worth untold thousands of dollars, Mrs. Karas was honored with the Antonian Silver Medal at our consecration banquet on Saturday afternoon.

The building was in need of renovations to make it suitable for our needs, and this was accomplished quickly on a shoestring budget.  Unbelievably, we moved in on Thursday March 10, and we celebrated our first Divine Liturgy in the new building on Forgiveness Sunday, March 13, 2016.

The following is an account of a most wondrous day in the life of a parish:

The festivities began with Bright Week Great Vespers on Friday night with Bishops Antoun and Thomas in attendance. Our choir was greatly enhanced at Friday and Saturday services by the voice of Mr. Jackson King, Choir Director at St. George Cathedral, Coral Gables.  After Vespers the Parish Council hosted a potluck dinner. 

Saturday morning Matins began quietly, but the anticipation grew as the people began to gather. There were visiting clergy and laity from all over the state of Florida.

Matins with its abundance of joyous Paschal hymnology moved into the Consecration Service, presided over by our beloved Bishop Antoun of the Diocese of Miami and the Southeast, and Bishop Thomas of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic.  The clergy were all gathered by then:  our own V. Rev. Fr. Elia Shalhoub, St. Anthony the Great; Melbourne; V. Rev. Fr. John Hamatie from St. George, Orlando; V. Rev. Fr. Ernesto Rios from St. James, Port. St. Lucie (OCA); V. Rev. Fr. Peter Shportun, St. Mary’s, West Palm Beach; V. Rev. Fr. Antoun Araaj, St. Ignatius Mission, Boca Raton; V. Rev. Fr. Michael Byars, Holy Cross, Daytona Beach; Fr. Gustavo Alfonso, Miami; Archdeacon David B. Nimer St. George Cathedral, Coral Gables; soon-to-be Deacon Stephen (Salim) Adili, St. Anthony the Great; Melbourne; and Subdeacon John Najjar, St. Anthony the Great, Melbourne; Subdeacon Elie Bardweil from Miami and Chairman of the Order of St. Ignatius for the Diocese; Subdeacon Christian Proano from St. Philip in Davie, F, and Subdeacon Douglas Hamati from Orlando.

The relics of St. Raphael of Brooklyn and St. Elizabeth were sealed into the altar, which had been previously consecrated in the chapel.  We knelt as the bishop prayed that the altar be appointed as a haven for the tempest-tossed, and place of healing for the passions, a refuge for the weak, and a place that puts demons to flight.

The altar was vested in a white linen cloth representing the Lord’s burial shroud, and then covered with a beautifully worked piece done by Fr. Elia’s mother, the late Bahige Shalhoub of blessed memory. The walls, the icons, everything was anointed with Holy Chrism, by Bishop Thomas, followed by Bishop Antoun sprinkling Holy Water, and the whole retinue of priests and deacons, while we joyfully sang The Troparion of the Holy Cross. 

After standing prayerfully before the icon of Christ for most of the Hierarchical Liturgy, our beloved Subdeacon Salim was ordained to become Deacon Stephen. Amid shouts of  “He is worthy!” “Mustaheq!” “Axios!” the new deacon was vested by Bishop Antoun and Fr. Elia.

Last but not least, Bishop Antoun called forth our beloved Fr. Elia, recognized him for his achievements, and elevated him to the rank of Great Economos for his tireless efforts in managing the finances of the church. Bishop Antoun then presented Fr. Elia with the gift of his own precious cross from Russia.

After the ceremonies and the blessing, we all headed over to the parish hall of St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, which graciously gave us the use of their hall for our celebratory luncheon.  We enjoyed a great time of feasting together, as a fitting end to a day we will always remember with thanksgiving.

It is impossible to relate these facts without attempting to express the overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude to God for all His abundant provision that brought us to this day, and for the beauty of our surroundings in our new church with its priceless iconography, and the rising sound of the most glorious chanting, with joyous exclamations of “Christ is Risen!”  This day with all its blessings was just the icing on the cake of Bright Week!

As parishioner Michael Clevenger put it, “Matins, double hierarchical liturgy with seven priests and two deacons, an ordination, an elevation, and a consecration of a parish all before noon. Oh what a time to be alive!" AXIOS! AXIOS! AXIOS!