I’m posting some photos and video below of last Saturday’s road trip to All Saints Orthodox Mission in Victoria, Texas.
I was not prepared for how obvious and visible the new church was from the highway. I was looking for the big water tower – a handy landmark when you’re trying to find the church – but it was the starkly white and unusually shaped (for Victoria) church building that got my attention. You just can’t miss it as you drive into town on Hwy. 87. As I posted last time, Victoria has never had an Orthodox church. It has a large percentage of Roman Catholic churches, but mainline Protestant and non-denominational are equally present. There’s even been a Muslim mosque for several years, but never an Orthodox church. Corpus Christi, 50 miles away, had the closest Orthodox church.
Can you spot the small water tower near the church? This was about 10:30 a.m. as folks started to gather outside. By the time the service started I’d guesstimate there were close to 75 or 80 people there, including several Protestant clergy and a photographer from the Catholic Diocese of Victoria.
The Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby, pastor of All Saints, and our own, the Very Rev. Fr. Leo Poore, begin the service of Thyroxenia or opening of the doors. (And check out those doors – gorgeous! An All Saints parishioner pointed out to me that the metal scroll work on the doors perfectly matched the filligrees on the 7-branched candlestick on the altar. Not intentional but a beautiful coincidence.)
Now, I don’t think many people have ever seen this service performed so none of us knew what to expect, but the symbology of what is being done ties perfectly into the purpose of the service – the opening of the doors of a new church. Up to this point the reading of Psalm 83, “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord”, the litanies, the Epistle reading from Hebrews 3:1-4, “For every house is constructed by someone, but God has constructed all things.”, and the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-18, “…thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”, pointed above all else to the founding of God’s Holy Church, both temporal and spiritual. The climax of the service outside the church and the literal opening of the doors comes after another litany specifically for the raising of a new temple. The priest then repeats three times a literal knocking at the door:
Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.
Stationed inside the church is a parishioner reading a response to the priest:
Who is this King of Glory?
And again the priest knocks:
The Lord storng and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in.
And the final response from inside the church:
Who is this King of Glory?
The priest’s final statement:
The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.
Below is a clip of Fr. Dimitri at this point in the service. It was a pretty windy day and you can barely hear the exchange described above.
After entering the temple, Fr. Dimitri blessed the interior with holy water. Now I’m sorry I didn’t get more pictures, but the interior is something else. The nave is semi-circular with side areas that will be perfect for adding more space on crowded days. The doors separating the narthex and nave are huge glass double doors, that when combined with all the clear windows in the church and the windows around the dome, make the church feel almost like it’s outdoors. The floors are stained concrete and the altar area is floored with the most satiny smooth exotic hardwood. All I can say is the finished effect is simply beautiful. Once the iconostas is in place and the iconography on the walls and dome, then this will be an example of the very best in “modern” Orthodox church architecture.
Fr. Dimitri’s sermon at the conclusion of the service was particularly good. He’s a very scholarly priest and I’ve never heard one of his sermons that didn’t expand my understanding of the Church. All Saints is blessed to have him. (You’re gonna to have to bear with me on the video – how was I supposed to know that if you hold the camera sideways the video would turn out sideways too! Fr. Dimitri usually doesn’t preach in this position, but I think he’d be the first to say that his perspective on things is usually just a bit “off kilter”. That’s our life as Christians – off kilter from the world. So turn the volume up, close your eyes and everything will be alright.)
The parish catered a wonderful meal by a local Greek restaurant (sorry I just can’t remember the name of the business). Despite the wind and the cool tempertures it turned out to be a perfect day. God is blessing this mission in so many ways and I pray for their success in this life and the next.