By LINDA M. LINONIS
Wherever you look in St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church, there are beautiful symbols of faith. Fourteen vibrantly colored stained-glass windows depict the patron of the church and major liturgical feasts. The iconostas features St. Nicholas, Archangel Michel, Blessed Virgin (Theotokos), Jesus, St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist while the royal doors highlight Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Archangel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin.
For members of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church, the outward signs of faith represent beliefs. The church mission, abstract ideals put into practice, demonstrates how members live their faith.
The church mission is:
To worship in the fullness of joy and truth.
To unit ourselves with Christ through a sacramental life.
To reach out and care for others in love by being a guiding force in the lives of our parishioners.
To follow God’s commandments.
To love one another as Jesus loves us.
Recently, the Rev. Andrew Nelko, pastor for two years, and Linda Livosky, church council president and 52-year member; Nick Vansuch and Debbie Zelinsky, lifelong members; and Audrey Chengelis, anniversary chairwoman, reflected on the church and congregation as the 95th anniversary is celebrated this weekend.
Faith fuels activities within the church and outreach activities.
Warm the Children is a collection of hats, mittens and scarves, Livosky said, which go to Russian orphanages.
On the home front, Zelinsky said the church recently completed a collection of school supplies for the Campbell district. She said the Campbell “O” Club of the church provides coffee and refreshments the first Sunday of the month. Donations go the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley.
Livosky added the church also has an ongoing collection of clothes, canned and other goods that benefit the Rescue Mission.
“It’s all part of the mission of the church,” said Vansuch. “The church helps the less fortunate.”
In November, the church Sisterhood sponsors Soup for a Caring. Funds benefit various charities, Livosky said.
Within the church, the Junior “O” Club is for 10- to 18-year-olds and brings together church youth in social events and service projects. The Altar Society focuses on care of altar linens and vestments
The Sheeley Foundation recognized the church for its altruism and gives it an allocation of $500 annually. The funds go toward charitable projects.
Livosky described the 150 members as “one big family.” That’s evidenced by the participation ont the anniversary committee, some 50-plus people, from youth to adults.
“Whether it’s for something festive or sad like a funeral, when you need something and call one person, you get the group,” said Chengelis.
Vansuch, who described himself as a “cradle church member,” said he has witnessed “ups and downs” in the church but one constant is the membership’s caring nature. “People rally around to help,” he said.
He noted there have been “serious needs” in the church including a $57,000 roof repair. The membership faced that challenge but members also tune into family and individual needs. “Encouraging youth” is important to the membership, which is supportive of young members.
“Many members have extended family here,” Zelinsky said. “You expect your family to help out but here people volunteer as family.”
The church preserves its Russian Slav heritage in food projects. Apple strudel is made and sold this month and in December, kolachi (nut roll). In December, the church will sponsor its St. Nick bake shop featuring cookies, kolachi and ethnic foods. Zelisnky said “Russian pizza” remains popular — it’s pagachi (bread) with a potato and cheese filling. At Easter, the custom of decorating eggs in intricate patterns, pysanky, continues.
As for faithful practices, Father Nelko said a healing (akathist) service is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. the last Wednesday of the month. The service asks for the healing intercession of St. Nectarios (1846-1920); the church has an icon of the saint and a relic. Livosky said the service began about four years ago and has been well-received.
The icons are “aids to worship” and “windows to heaven,” Father Nelko said.