By: Kh. Maria Jackson
As the new altar of St. Stephen Orthodox Church was sealed with the names of the parishioners, the community received a spiritual sealing of their love and commitment to God, His Church and each other. The newly purchased and renovated building in Campbell, California was consecrated on, October 2, 2004. The joy was doubled when the faithful servant Stephen Johnstone, became Fr. Deacon Stephen on Sunday, October 3. Following the services on Sunday a luncheon was held at a nearby banquet facility.
His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH offered words of encouragement to the people on Saturday evening following the services. In his talk he described the spiritual significance of the consecration service. He acknowledged the diligent efforts that had been taken to renovate the building into a beautiful house of worship, and he reminded the people that God is not trapped in time or space. God resides in each believer, who is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Believers are to continue the renovation of their souls with good works, virtues and the fruits of the Spirit. He admonished parents to be mindful of their children’s education not only in the knowledge of this world, but in the knowledge of the Kingdom of God . His teaching continued with the homily on Sunday morning. At this time, since the ordination of Stephen Johnstone was taking place, he reflected on the role of the deacon and the spirit of diaconia. Not only does a deacon serve in the church, but that ministry extends beyond the church community and touches all he meets. Sayidna spoke of the ministry of St. Stephen the Protomartyr and patron of the community and noted the divine blessing it was to have Deacon Stephen ordained the same weekend that the church St. Stephen was consecrated. His parting words were a reaffirmation of the words he had shared with the community at its 10 year anniversary in June of 2003. It was after this time of feasting and fellowship that Sayidna and the faithful Subdeacon Michael Habib left to catch their flight back to Los Angeles .
The consecration service speaks its truths with rich symbolism and holy prayers. It alludes to many events in the life of an Orthodox Christian. The prayers, Psalms, and hymns are reminiscent of the services of baptism and chrismation, the wedding ceremony, ordinations, memorials, and feast days.
Following the initial prayers, the Bishop and clergy together with all the faithful made Three Processions around the Church. The Three Processions symbolize that the church is on holy ground, a place set apart from secular buildings. The Bishop concluded the prayers outside the church asking God to “Grant that there may be with our entrance, the entrance of Thy holy angels, ministering with us and glorifying with us Thy goodness.” Sayidna ascended the steps and he knocked on the doors and called out “be lifted up oh ye ancient gates that the King of Glory may enter!” The doors opened, and the Bishop entered the church carrying the holy relics followed by all the clergy and the congregation as choir sang: “O Holy Martyrs, who fought the good fight and have received your crowns, entreat the Lord to save our souls. Glory to Thee, O Christ God, the Apostles' pride, the Martyrs’ joy, who have preached the consubstantial Trinity.”
At these moments in the service many were reminded of the weddings and ordinations we witnessed together and of previous Paschas. They saw how their lives have become woven to the liturgical tradition of the Church that has become the fabric of their lives. Children looked up with anticipation as Sayidna knocked on the doors as they had seen their priest, Fr. Patrick, do in the darkness of Pascha mornings. This building is like no other in their lives.
Upon the placing of the relics of St. Stephen in the holy table the congregation sang “Memory Eternal.” Thoughts were turned to departed loved ones who are in the presence of Christ, and to the holy Saints, who unhindered by the fetters of this earthly realm, intercede for our souls. The Bishop placed the names of all the members of the congregation both living and departed in the center of the altar. There the names rest, sealed in the altar. Just as their names are enclosed completely in the altar, so are their lives to be enveloped in Christ for all time. This time in the service harkens to the scripture that says “…we are buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
The altar was then washed twice once with soap and warm water and then with red wine and rose water. The Bishop anointed the holy table with holy Chrism at the center and the four corners, and he anointed each of the Evangelists’ icons which he sealed to the altar with wax, and he anointed the Antimins. The holy altar, just as the newly baptized person, was vested in white. A new altar cloth, the Gospels, the Tabernacle, the candlesticks, and the blessing cross were then placed upon the altar and sprinkled with holy water.
During the singing of Troparion of the Holy Cross, Sayidna walked the interior of the church and anointed the walls. Another Paschal allusion highlighted the end of the service as the Bishop lit the Paschal candle, from which all the lights on the altar table and throughout the church were lit.
The new home of St. Stephen is not the largest or most glorious temple in our diocese, but it is the glorious home of a grateful community in the San Jose area of California. Its beauty is simple, but nonetheless it is a place set apart for the glory of God -- a place where heaven touches earth and where those who approach “with the fear of God and faith and love” can meet their Creator.