The End of One Journey is the Beginning of Another
Fr. Evan Armatas is fond of using the phrase, “matter matters!” And that’s because it does—the physical space we occupy has an impact on our spirituality, largely because these two are not separated as modern Christians have come to see them, but rather inextricably linked.
The physical space of our lives is of great importance, and two weeks ago at St. Spyridon Orthodox Church in Loveland, Colorado, that showed.
Years ago, the parishioners of St. Spyridon’s, along with Fr. Evan, embarked on a journey to buy a new church building and then renovate it to be a true place of worship—an Orthodox Church in every way. On August 4th and 5th of 2018, this effort came to fruition with the opening of the new sanctuary in all its glory.
For those not part of the St. Spyridon’s community—or for those not part of the Orthodox community as a whole—it is important to understand how crucial a church building is. We do not view a church building simply as a utilitarian-modeled shelter to keep the rain off our heads; it is not just a roof with four walls to get us out of the weather.
In Orthodoxy, as has been the case in the Judeo-Christian tradition for millennia, the construction of a temple is of theological significance and not just practical. The physical structure we worship in affects how we do so because we are, at our core, physical in nature—just as Christ became physically man and not just a spiritual being.
It was with this knowledge that the parishioners undertook the challenge of renovating an old church and making it Orthodox in every way—a journey with many bumps and bruises, to be sure, but one with great rewards, the likes of which are finally being realized. At the opening of the doors, it was easy to see the tears of joy—tears that were well-earned—on the faces of those most deeply involved with the process of renovation, construction, and beatification of the new St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church.
For the past year, the “Gymachurch” or “Sanctinasium,” as Fr. Evan calls it, has served as the place of liturgy for the members of St. Spyridon’s. It wasn’t pretty, and it lacked the reverence of a true Church because it was not constructed with that in mind. Even without knowing those who built the building, it was easily felt by all those who attended services there—it was not assembled with the intent of holiness.
So it was there that Fr. Evan began the services on August 4 and led the procession over to the new Sanctuary. As the congregation moved closer and closer to its new home, liveliness entered their voices; a cumulative joy rose from the many who had waited patiently for this day, and it could be felt as well as heard.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me and heard my cry.”—Psalm 40.
After cutting the ribbon, the congregation moved into the narthex and a reverence I have not felt in many years was immediately apparent. Even my 3 and 4 year old sons, who are normally quite lively, were visibly awed and quieted. The songs reached a different place than they had for the last year as the dedication to the physical space of a new sanctuary became not just visually apparent to those present, but felt.
Moving into the sanctuary itself only deepened those feelings and was recognized by all. It did not need to be vocalized to know what most were thinking—this! This is what we have waited for!
Speaking from the perspective of a layman who is often distracted by children and all of their wondrously diverse needs, it is difficult to find all the words necessary to convey what took place on both August 4th and 5th, as there was so much—from the uplifting of everyone’s spirits by the realization of journey’s purpose to the joyous tears of those most closely involved with it. I feel as though some of it cannot be conveyed honestly through words on a page.
But it is also difficult to understate the importance of what took place. As Fr. Evan spoke for the first time in front of this wonderfully beautiful place of worship, tears welled up in his eyes—not of sadness or hurt, but of joy. For it is the end of an arduous journey and the beginning of another. The long hours and stress paid off in ways not fully understood prior to this task’s undertaking.
It is that reality in which I began to appreciate this process at a new level. Fr. Evan noted that conducting the service and singing in the new sanctuary “was like driving a new Ferrari.” Perhaps he is right in more ways than one. If this building were like an exotic car, after spending thousands of hours laboring over its detail and taking great care to make it the best it could be, would we let it sit in the garage just to look at?
Of course the answer is a resounding no. Just as Fr. Evan spoke of the book of Mark in the New Testament placing the Gospel in the context of being “on the move,” ours is a faith that is not stagnant. It is old but fully embracing the reality of occupying the present; ancient but timeless and moving forward all in the same moment.
Thus is the seemingly paradoxical reality of Orthodoxy and why this new Church building means so much to so many. Ours is a physical faith…yet so much more. It is not just spiritual because, “matter matters!” And yet…it is spiritual. More so than anything else I have been a part of because it recognizes the physical and does not relegate it to the back seat of a utilitarian model.
For this reason, I for one am deeply appreciative of the work done by all those involved with the new St. Spyridon’s, as it is the culmination of a long journey for me and my family—and a transition into joining the family of St. Spyridon’s to begin a new one. As I heard the hymns echoing through the newly-christened sanctuary, I could not help but feel part of something more than myself; something that transcended my present reality, while simultaneously grounding me to that exact thing.
It is my great privilege to be part of this transcendent present as it moves forward. Our new Church is the appreciation of a journey and the realization of the physical beauty being inherently connected to the spiritual reality. These are all connected, and St. Spyridon’s is embracing that while moving forward in its mission.
“It is not he who begins well who is perfect. It is he who ends well who is approved in God’s sight.”—St. Basil the Great
Photos from the weekend can be viewed by clicking below: