Heritage and faith are cornerstones of 100-year-old Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church.
By LINDA M. LINONIS
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Places of worship often are called houses of God, and that term uniquely applies to Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church.
It started out as a house -- a Victorian stone mansion -- built at 626 Wick Ave. in 1881 by Charles D. Arms, father of Olive F.A. Arms. The former home of Olive Arms and her husband, Wilford, now is the Arms Family Museum of Local History and is next door to the church.
Parishioners of Holy Trinity church, which was organized in 1906 and is marking its centennial this year, worshipped at a temporary site until securing its first building in 1910 at 830 Wilson Ave.
"After the World War II veterans returned home, there was a need for a bigger place," said John Farcas, 81, who was baptized in the church and is a lifelong member. "The beloved old church was sold," he said, and with some other funds, the church bought the mansion in 1944.
The council, the governing body of the church, hired architect Arsene Rousseau and contractor H. Italiano and Sons to remodel the former residence into a house of God. And they did just that, completing the project in September 1946. Beautiful remnants of the mansion's former glory remain.
"The sanctuary is the former ballroom," said Farcas, who also is on the 100th anniversary committee. "The choir loft is where the band would play."
The iconastas, an ornate wooden structure featuring icons of Jesus, Mary the mother of God, and saints, is made of ornately carved mahogany that was salvaged from the mansion.
An original fireplace mantel was incorporated into the iconastas, and the front of the cantor's podium was fashioned from the headboard of a bedroom set. Both are original pieces in the mansion and feature ornate carving in dark mahogany wood.
Tall stained glass windows adorn one wall of the sanctuary, and the opposite wall features a bold depiction of Christ's descent into Hades to get souls kept there by the devil before Jesus' resurrection. "It shows bringing human nature back to God," said the Rev. Cosmin Antonescu, who was named parish priest in March.
Icons of archangels Gabriel and Michael and the Holy Trinity, along with saints including St. Theodora, St. Nicholas and St. John the Romanian, also enhance the sanctuary. "The saints are examples for the congregation," Father Antonescu said. Saints are not so much revered, he continued, as they are examples to follow.
In its early years, the church provided a place where immigrants, who were learning English and becoming Americanized, found comfort in hearing the Divine Liturgy in Romanian, a history of the church explains. "The church was the center of the community for those of Romanian heritage," said Charles J. Chetian, also a member of the anniversary committee.
Orthodox churches are ethnically oriented, Farcas added.
Holy Trinity showcased its ethnic origin by participation in an International Institute held in the city. "We've tried to maintain the heritage," said Louise Gibb, who was Greek Orthodox but after her marriage became a Holy Trinity member. "I think of us as one big family," said the member of the anniversary committee.
"Our Divine Liturgy is in Romanian and English," said Father Antonescu, who added that parishioners can follow along in both languages in liturgy books. "It's a blend of old and new."
The committee members and priests acknowledged that the first and second generations of immigrant families who were parishioners spoke Romanian. "They needed to hear the language and speak it and be understood," Father Antonescu said.
The Romanian heritage remains an important element in the church. "You never lose track of where you came from," Chetain said, and noted a shared heritage added something special to the church.
"It's like comfort food," Gibb said. "You just feel so comfortable."
The church keeps its ethnic and religious connection vibrant through affiliations including the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, a diocese of the Orthodox Church in America; Eastern Orthodox Clergy Association of the Mahoning Valley; and Association of the Romanian Orthodox Ladies Auxiliaries of North America.
And though, as Farcas noted, the "ethnic identity is diluted" with every generation, the faith remains firm. "Orthodoxy is a strong faith," Gibb said. "The spiritual life of the church is the nucleus."
"The spiritual well-being of parishioners is important," Farcas said. There are 110 voting members of the parish.
Sunday school sessions reinforce the faith and heritage and the choir sings hymns in English and Romanian. "The church is heaven on earth," Father Antonescu said.
Monthly dinners in the social hall strengthen the bonds of faith and fellowship, as do other activities and organizations, including the sewing and parents clubs, dance group, Bible study, ladies auxiliary, Romanian veterans, bulletin crew and junior and senior American Romanian Orthodox Youth. Dedication to the various groups is evidenced by the willingness of members to serve multiple times as officers. The church council handles such matters as finances and building maintenance. "The council works with the priest to keep things running smoothly," Gibb said. "The priest helps preserve our faith and acts as our shepherd."
Father Antonescu and his wife, Camelia, and their 5-year-son, Robert, represent the youngest family in the parish. "From the very first day, we were comfortable. My son has many 'grandmothers' here," she said.