In the years after Jesus’ Resurrection, apostles and missionaries traveled throughout the known world spreading the Gospel. Soon five major locations were established as centers for the faith: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. In the year 1054 the Roman church broke from this united Church, and five hundred years later Protestant churches began breaking away from Rome. But the original Church has remained united in the Apostolic Faith since the first century. This is Orthodoxy.
One of the tasks of the early Church was defining, and defending, orthodox theology against the battering waves of heresies. These heresies often appeared in disputes over the nature of the Trinity, or how Jesus could be both God and Man. Church Councils were called to search the Scriptures and put into words the common faith, forming a bedrock of certainty that could stand for all ages. From this time, the Church has been called “Orthodox,” which means “right belief” or “right praise.” The Nicene Creed originated at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and is the central Orthodox statement of faith, a preeminent example of the work of the Councils. Built on the foundation of Christ and His Apostles, nothing has been added to our faith, and nothing can be added. It is complete.
Orthodox churches still use forms of worship that were practiced in the first centuries. Our worship is based to a great extent on passages from Scripture. We sing most of the service, joining our voices in simple harmony to ancient melodies.
Our worship is focused on God, not on our own enjoyment, fulfillment, or fellowship. We come into the presence of God with awe, aware of our fallenness and His great mercy. We seek forgiveness and rejoice in the great gift of salvation so freely given. Orthodox worship is filled with repentance, gratitude, and unending praise.
We try, as best we can, to make our worship beautiful. The example of Scripture shows us that God’s design for tabernacle worship (Exodus 25, 26) included gold, silver, precious stones, blue and purple cloth, embroidery, incense, bells, and anointing oil. Likewise, in Saint John’s vision of heavenly worship (Revelation 4) there are precious stones, gold, thrones, crowns, white robes, crystal, and incense. From the beginning to the end of Scripture, worship is offered with as much beauty as possible. While a new mission’s finances may call for simple appointments, our hearts come to worship seeking to pour out at the feet of Christ all the precious ointment we possess.
A common misconception is that awe-filled, beautiful worship must be rigid, formal, and cold. Orthodox worship shatters that stereotype. The liturgy is not a performance, but an opportunity to come together as a family of faith before our beloved Father. True Orthodox worship is comfortable, warm, and joyful. It could be nothing less in His heavenly presence.
Values that are usually termed “Judeo-Christian” have never left Orthodoxy. We believe that sexual expression is a treasured gift, one to be exercised only within marriage. Persons with homosexual or other extramarital sexual impulses are welcomed as fellow servants of God, receiving loving support as they make an offering to God of their chastity. Marriage is a commitment for life. Divorce is a very grave action, and remarriage after divorce a concession to human weakness, undertaken with repentance.
Orthodoxy has stood against abortion since the earliest days of the church. The Didache (circa A.D. 110) states, “Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.” In the midst of a culture which freely practiced abortion, infanticide, and the exposure of infants, early Christians were a consistent voice against violence, as the Orthodox Church continues to be today.
Caring for the poor and disadvantaged has always been a concern for the Orthodox. The strong sermons of Saint John Chrysostom, written in the fourth century, bear witness to the importance of this Christian responsibility. The Church continues to see its mission in light of the whole person, body and soul.
Orthodox believers are right, left, and center on many issues. But where Scripture and the witness of the early Church guide us, there is no controversy. We uphold and obey God’s will.
Watch an Introductory Video Series based on the book Welcome to the Orthodox Church by Frederica Mathews-Green
A Short History of Our Community
Lebanese and Syrian immigrants came to the new world with hopes and dreams of a better life. The Orthodox faith was the bond for just fifty families in the Louisville, Jefferson County, area during the first few years of the 20th century. They gathered in homes and at the “Neighborhood House,” a settlement house on South First Street. As their bond strengthened, they sought to build a spiritual home.
The women organized first, holding Bible studies under the leadership of Jaleelah Aboud. Visiting priests held services in homes, where small chapels were formed. However, a church in which to raise families in the Orthodox faith was desperately needed, the construction of which would require funds.
The women began to meet this need with the tradition of the “family dinner.” With the permission of the “Neighborhood House” and generous donations from area businesses, the faithful served their first meal and raised over five hundred dollars. These funds were used to purchase a building at 432 East Jefferson Street near downtown Louisville. The site was across the street from the “Louisville Haymarket” where many Syrian and Lebanese families had opened businesses. Originally the temple of the B’nai Jacob Jewish congregation, the building was dedicated to the protection of the Archangel Michael in November 1934.
During the early years of the growing parish, the services of the church were conducted in classical Arabic by such clergy as the Reverend Fathers Thomas Abodeely, Gerasimos Yerrid, George Trad, John Hakim, Elias Hajj, Nicholas Husson, and Elia Abi Karem.
Realizing the needs of the youth, a group of theologians was commissioned on the national level to translate the Divine Services of the Church into English. With the arrival of an English-speaking priest, Father Gregory Reynolds, youngsters began to learn and live their Orthodox faith.
Early in 1962, the parish both recognized the need to expand and experienced the loss of the church building on East Jefferson Street, which was demolished to make way for the construction of Interstate 65. Father Michael Howard and the parish council began negotiations for nine and one-quarter acres of land in Eastern Jefferson County. In 1963, under the pastorate of Father George S. Corey and the lay leadership of Anthony Thomas and Lee Farah, the property at 3024-28 Hikes Lane was purchased for $85,000.
In 1965, an educational building was erected (now used as the Parish Hall), and liturgies were held in what is now known as the Double Classroom. Ground was broken for the present church in September 1971, and it was consecrated on October 8, 1972.
St. Michael is the only Byzantine structure in Kentucky. It boasts a gold-plated chandelier made in Greece with over 250 lights. Under the spiritual leadership of Very Rev. Fr. Alexander Atty, the interior of the church was frescoed in Byzantine icons.
By the 1990s, St. Michael’s had tripled in size with not only traditional Orthodox Christians, but also converts from other faiths. After the fall of Communism, the parish became a beacon to the faithful from Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. In addition, Orthodox Christians arrived from Egypt, Ethiopia, India and Palestine.
In 1999, St. George Chapel was built on the east side of the property and was made available for 24-hour worship. The Parish Hall was expanded to include new classrooms, a library and media center, and meeting halls to educate everyone in the Orthodox faith. The Holy Trinity Apartments, a residential facility for the elderly, was also built on the campus, as well as a facility to house special needs children and adults. The campus also has several single family homes, including a stone house that belonged to the Hikes family that dates to the late 1700s.
Today, St. Michael is a Pan-Orthodox parish with over 900 members from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds.