The following is the statement made by Fr. Stephen Mathewes to the parish on Sunday, June 9th:
To my most beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
Christ is risen!
Holy Resurrection has had a long history. A convoluted one, shall we say. For 15 years, faithful and tremendously dedicated people have labored in this humble little vineyard to make it a true Orthodox community—a part of the great worldwide Church. There have been many struggles, many crises, many ups and downs. More than once, the end was thought to be near, only for this plucky little parish to resurrected again, by the grace and power of our Lord. It may be a modest church, but truly Holy Resurrection has beheld the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is with measured joy that we now enter into the next chapter of the story of Holy Resurrection Church. It has been noted several times in the past, among various hierarchs, clergy and laypeople, that perhaps there need not be more than one Orthodox church serving Johnson City and the greater Tri-Cities area, and that perhaps greater work can be accomplished through unity. It is with this bold vision that, through the guidance and direction of our hierarchs, Holy Resurrection Antiochian Orthodox Church of Johnson City, and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Bluff City will be combined into one, united and truly pan-Orthodox church community.
His Grace, Bishop ANTOUN has met with and discussed this major undertaking with His Eminence, Metropolitan ALEXIOS (bishop of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta), and together have seen the great benefit that unity can be to our respective parishes, and to the mission of Orthodoxy here in northeast Tennessee. The new, united parish family will have as its home the building currently used by Holy Trinity Church. I, Father Stephen, will be the pastor. Furthermore, we have been encouraged to join together first in our worship and Sacraments, then work out the other details as time goes on. Therefore, two weeks from today, quite appropriately on the Great Feast of Pentecost, will be the first official Divine Liturgy of our new, united Orthodox parish.
While this is of course very surprising, even shocking news (let me assure you that it has been for me as well), we should keep in mind something very important. What we have been tasked with—combining two parishes from different Orthodox jurisdictions—is a new frontier here in America. This has never been done before. For us, this means two things: first, that there is no “guidebook” for us to follow, and that as such it will be especially difficult work; second, that we have the incredible opportunity to be pioneers. All the Orthodox here in America wish to see true unity. Here, we the faithful living in northeast Tennessee, are being asked to lead the way.
What will this united church look like? First and foremost, it will comprise the faithful of both Holy Resurrection and Holy Trinity. It will represent, in equal measure, the customs and traditions of each parish, and will be led by a Parish Council combined equally from the two. In such cases where we simply cannot combine or “split the difference”, a great amount of humility and sacrifice will be needed so that we can move towards a greater common goal. For instance, as per the hierarch’s decision, the new church will convene under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, under His Eminence, Metropolitan ALEXIOS of Atlanta, a wise, pastoral and deeply spiritual man who shares a great passion for a truly American Orthodox Church. I will remain a priest of the Antiochian Archdiocese, on loan to the Greek Archdiocese to serve this parish. It will maintain the identity and vision that has been so important to us: to be pan-Orthodox, mission-minded, and welcoming to outsiders and inquirers. We will be, as we always have been, intentional in our Orthodox faith.
As surprising as this news may be, some of you may also find it sad or even distressing. You may feel disappointed, hurt or frustrated. These are all feelings you are entitled to. We all love Holy Resurrection very much, we have poured so much of our own blood, sweat and tears into this church, and none of us want to see it go. But it is not going. I want to make it absolutely clear that Holy Resurrection is not shutting down, and Holy Resurrection is not being absorbed by another church. This truly is the next chapter in our story, and all the hard work we have done is not for naught, for it has brought us to this point. We are entering into a marriage—albeit perhaps an arranged marriage—, and all the fearful joys that come with it. So while it is OK to grieve, let us also keep in mind all that we will be gaining.
If there is one thing I have learned in the ten blessed months that I have served as your pastor, it is this: you are all resilient, hardworking people. There will be very difficult work ahead for us, many months of careful planning, of fervent prayer, and, as I said before, heaping doses of sacrifice and humility as we grow together with our brothers and sisters of Holy Trinity. But I have seen you at work, and you have already proven yourselves up to the task. I believe that, through your continued dedication and faithfulness, combined with the dedication and faithfulness of our brothers and sisters at Holy Trinity, we can do the unprecedented, and create a new, truly pan-Orthodox church to give witness to the One, True Faith here in our mission field of northeast Tennessee.
I am humbled to be shepherding you on this journey, and ask that each of you pray for peace and success as we together build our new church.
Christ is risen!