About Our Parish
Welcome to The Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Christian Church (Saint Mary's) which is a parish of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A. whose presiding bishop is His Grace, Bishop Gregory of Nyssa. The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese is an autonomous diocese under the spiritual protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople of which His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is the Primate.
Our Parish was founded over 100 years ago in the Southern Coalfields of West Virginia. The parish was located at Elkhorn, in McDowell County. Organized in 1895, the church building (which still stands) was built in 1912. Immigrant coal-miners from the Carpathian mountain region of Eastern Europe were the founding fathers of the parish. The old church was sold and a new church built in Bluefield, West Virginia in the year 2000. Since then, the church has experienced new growth, with Orthodox Christians from many different ethnic backgrounds becoming members, along with a number of American converts to Orthodoxy. Our parish is known for its warm, welcoming atmosphere. You are cordially invited to join us as we worship the One God in Trinity at the Sunday Divine Liturgy, celebrated at 10:00 a.m. Other services are as scheduled. Please see the monthly calendar on this website for more information and a detailed list of events .
Our parish finds itself at a unique time in her life. We have been over a decade in our “new” church in Bluefield, and much has happened during the course of that time. Our church membership is evolving. This church was founded by Carpatho-Russian immigrants over 100 years ago, and we use the liturgical and chant traditions of that heritage. Our diocesan headquarters is in Johnstown, PA. There, our new bishop Gregory serves in the cathedral consecrated to Christ the Savior. But our parish could be called “Pan-Orthodox” because of the many different groups of people found here. There are some nine ethnic groups represented in our parish; each one having unique traditions of food, chant, prayers, dress and other religious and cultural expressions. This is showcased each October during our ethnic food festival, pictures of which you can see on our multimedia page.
Deeper and more powerful than ethnicity, however, is our common bond in the Orthodox faith through which we have “put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him; where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all.” (Col 3:9-11 KJV)
As Orthodox Christians, we have to focus not only on what we are DOING in our parish, but especially on who we ARE. If Christ is truly to become all within us, we must, in the words of a contemporary Russian elder: “mercilessly persecute hypocrisy within ourselves.” Our faith teaches us that we are given the opportunity to unite ourselves with Christ, primarily through the Holy Mysteries of Baptism and the Eucharist. The presence of Christ in our lives (Divine Grace) then encourages us to struggle to become the people He wants us to be. Our lives are a process of becoming. This is a human issue, not an ethnic issue. This is why Orthodoxy is for everyone, not just those whose last names sound exotic and foreign to American ears.
Having established that we are called to a hypocrisy-free life, and one which is utterly consecrated to our Lord and Savior, we recognize our weaknesses and the many ways we have missed the mark. At the same time, we know we are called to share with our local community the divine grace and blessing which is poured forth through the Church, especially in her various ministries, from liturgical worship to other activities which reflect the influence of the gospel on our daily lives.
Our liturgical life is rich and varied. If you look at our monthly calendar, you will find both Vespers and Liturgies served on Sundays and Feastdays. Worship of the Triune God is at the heart of our lives, and Orthodox worship is very powerful and moving. Over 95% of our services are in English with just a sprinkling of other languages used which help to make our foreign-born members feel at home. The liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church is like a wheel which rolls around each year. Those who are connected to this calendar look eagerly forward to different prayers, blessings, chants, processions, decorations in the church, fasts and feasts. To be a genuine Orthodox Christian is to make your faith a WAY OF LIFE, which takes deep root in every aspect of living and offers true joy in the Lord.
Following the banquet of the Liturgy which is a taste of the Eternal Banquet in the Kingdom of God, we gather in our church hall for what we call “coffee hour.” A better name might be the agape meal, or meal of love. The food is prepared by those who have signed up to make it, and it reflects the different cultural backgrounds treasured in our community. Recently, we have enjoyed food from Lebanon, Palestine, Georgia, (in the Caucasus mountains) Romania and West Virginia. During this time after the Liturgy, people get to visit with each other, plan new church activities and enjoy time with their priest and his family.
Our church has a number of “catechumens” (those who are studying to become Orthodox Christians) and we often gather on Tuesday evenings for prayers and classes which are open to anyone who is a teen and over to learn about the Orthodox Church. During the last few years quite a few of those who attended these classes have been baptized or confirmed into the Faith and they have found a permanent home in Orthodoxy. Linked to this ministry of instruction is a Prison Ministry. Since June of 2011, Fr. Mark and Subdeacon James have been visiting FCI McDowell (a federal medium-security installation near Welch, WV). Divine Liturgy is served there once a month with weekly visits including catechism and bible study. There will be the first Orthodox baptism of an inmate there in January, 2013.
We have a Ladies’ Altar Society which has recently been re-activated. They are busy with many projects, primarily with the organization of altar cloths and other vestments for the church. They also work to decorate the church with flowers, organize coffee hour meals, and keep the church and hall spotlessly clean. Recently, the ladies put together various fruit baskets which included an icon of St. Nicholas and other beautiful things for distribution to our elderly and shut in parishioners. Those who brought the baskets sang Christmas carols of both Western origin as well as the unique Carpatho-Russian carols of Eastern Europe which fill our church on Christmas eve.
Our parish supports the Union Mission of Bluefield, WV especially during the Thanksgiving season. Food and monetary donations are collected to help this very worthy and essential organization which serves the poor and downtrodden of our corner of Appalachia. Craig Hammond, director of the Bluefield Union Mission, is familiar with our church family and regularly hosts Fr. Mark on his radio show which covers many local issues, including those having to do with Orthodox Christianity in the area.
Finally, the parish hosts a unique ethnic food festival the first Saturday of October each year. Food from all over the world is presented by our parishioners who work for weeks to make this a successful event. We have a threefold goal for this festival: One, to open up our church for tours and to introduce our local community to the beauty of our church and faith. Two, to encourage fellowship amongst ourselves as we work together. Lastly, we raise funds for the future operation of our House of Worship. This year we were very pleased to welcome our parishioner Dan Adams and some of his very talented friends for a marvelous exhibition of live music which included classical pieces, Slavic and Romanian folk music and even gypsy jazz.
Our parish is alive, and full of life. Orthodoxy is not a dead, fossilized religion of ancient Byzantine forms, meant only for people who were born in a foreign land or for their first generation children. It is for them, and for all of us. Orthodoxy is for all peoples, all races, all generations, at all times since the apostles first went out to preach to both Jew and Gentile. We welcome new visitors almost every Sunday and we would love to welcome YOU! Consider a visit to that “gold-domed church up on East River Mountain.” It just might be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. May God bless you!