- February 6, 2016
EAST COUNTY — Beams of sunlight seeped through windows and reflected off hand-crafted mosaics and murals lining the inside of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church.
Last week, five parishioners whispered to each other while they cleaned the empty sanctuary that would soon be filled with more than 300 guests.
On Dec. 13, Metropolitan Alexios, an archbishop, traveled from his home in Atlanta to Sarasota to lead the church’s community in a two-day event — the night of the great vespers and the consecration — that baptized St. Barbara. Alexios dedicated the church through the presentation and sealing of relics onto the holy table, and other traditions of the service.
It took 22 years for the St. Barbara church to be cosmetically as close to perfect as possible, and to be ready for its dedication. Only after the proper iconography and artwork is displayed — in its correct location according to orthodox standards — will the Metropolitan grant permission for the consecration.
For example, a painting of Mary is always positioned behind the altar, where Jesus hangs on the cross.
“It takes a long time to get the church just the way it needs to be, just the way the community wants it,” said the Rev. John Bociu, of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church.
Although the ceremony only lasted two days, the preparations leading up to it started when the church opened its doors in December 1991.
The church installed mosaics in 1992 — its first step to get ready for its eventual consecration. Over the years, church members added to the artwork collection at the church, and now, after more than two decades of preparations, the community members deemed it fit to be brought to the Metropolitan for consideration.
Alexios started the ceremony with the presentation of the skeletal remains of the selected orthodox martyrs, which he brought from New York to Sarasota for the ceremony.
The four figures chosen to represent the East County church are St. Barbara, Pate Leimon, Kyricos and the priest of St. Stavis, a Jerusalem monastery.
He placed the beeswax-coated pieces onto the holy table Friday night. The relics sat over night to “breathe.”
Saturday, Alexios poured a mixture of marble dust and hot beeswax, comparable to cement, over the relics of the martyrs, whose fragments are a quarter of the size of a fingernail. The mixture sealed the relics onto the holy table, along with two scrolls of the names of church members, allowing the community to remain a part of the table forever. Officials placed a cloth over the table to protect it; it never will never be removed.
To get the community involved, each participant received a wrapped gold box filled with memorabilia from the event and a plastic case with a piece of Alexios’ robe, which was shredded after the ceremony ended.
The Metropolitan annointed areas in the building to form the Greek Orthodox symbol chi-rho, the first two Greek letters in the word Christ, to complete the dedication. Alexios used a 30-foot pole with an oil- and myrrh-soaked sponge on the end to brush against select areas of the church to form the symbol.
“Everything is special about this event,” Bociu said. “It happens only once in a church’s lifetime. Just as natural and spiritual births can only happen once, the same is true of the consecration.”
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected]