The History of the First Pan-Orthodox Parish in the Antiochian Archdiocese

St. Anthony Orthodox Church has a unique history within the story of Orthodox Christianity in North America.
On july 3, 1956 the late Metropolitan Anthony Bashir presented a charter for a new church to seven founders. The founders’ mission was unique -- to create a Pan-Orthodox parish comprised of Orthodox Christians from the traditional cultures of Eastern Christianity such as Greek, Serbian, Slavic, and Middle Eastern. Services would be conducted in English. The founders were Mitchell Moore, Theodore Maloof, Abraham G. Debs, George Shamyer, Alex Sahadi, Edward Deeb, and George A. Hatab.The new church was placed under the patronage of St. Anthony the Great, the Father of Monasticism for the entire Christian World, East and West. It was hoped that the missionary zeal of St. Anthony's would galvanize and bond together the parish’s various cultures as it embraced all who would look for the truth of Orthodox Christianity.

However, St. Anthony's parish has not always had easy sailing; many years of hard work, dedicated service, committed families, outstanding personalities, and tribulations of various kinds, have helped to shape this parish into one of the most illustrious communities in the Orthodox "oikoumene" (ecclesiastical world). This would be no surprise to anyone who knows the vibrancy and action-filled community which is found at 85 Ivy Lane, Bergenfield New Jersey.

In 1961, and with much debate, the growing parish acquired two parcels of land, approximating one acre, at the crossroads of three Bergen County towns: Bergenfield, Englewood and Tenafly. In November, architects Harsens and Johns were selected to construct a church, budgeted for $135,000 that would blend Byzantine tradition with the New World. The property, at 385 Ivy Lane, also included an existing residential building. The new church was dedicated in 1964. Metropolitan Antony Bashir and all the local Orthodox Clergy celebrated the first Divine Liturgy. That same year the dedication was featured on a nationally broadcast TV program, “Lamp Unto My Feet”.

In 1965, Father Ashie left St. Anthony’s to serve another English-speaking Pan-Orthodox Church in California. Father Michael Irwin became the next priest. After two years, Father Michael Irwin left to serve as a missionary in Alaska and as Assistant to Bishop Theodosius.

Our third and present pastor, Father Joseph Allen came to St. Anthony's in 1967. Father Joseph has faithfully guided our parish. Father Joseph, who holds a Doctorate Degree in Theology (Th.D), has been a professor at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA from 1977 to 1984 and St. Vladimir Seminary in Crestwood, NY from 1978 to 1992. He has written and edited eleven books on Orthodox Theology and many articles in various publications. He currently is the Director of the Department for Theological and Pastoral Education in our Archdiocese and National Chaplain of the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch. He is also Director of the Antiochian House of Studies and St. Stephen's Course of Studies in Orthodox Theology.

As St. Anthony’s grew during the late 1960s and 1970s, it became apparent that the parish’s physical plant had to expand. Thus in 1976, we broke ground for our present Church Hall, including a kitchen, stage and bathrooms. This opened up the possibilities for an increase social calendar in which we no longer had to reserve and rent outside locations to celebrate our various social functions. When the beautiful Church Hall was finally completed we began to hold such occasions as Spring Soirées and Fall Dances, as well as Wine Fests and Art Auctions. But by far the greatest undertaking was our International Festival which draws large crowds to our various ethnic foods and the opportunity for pre- Christmas shopping. First held in the new Church Hall in 1977, most every parishioners participates today in the preparation and work in this major fundraiser.

Over fifty years of community life has produced many annual events and parish ministry teams. Outreach Sunday, in January, celebrates our patronal feast day and also serves as way to welcome new parishioners and reconnect with old ones. Christian Education includes preschool to Adult Education. Teen Ministry includes Koinonia discussion sessions, lock-ins, and a full schedule of activities, both social and humanitarian. The Ladies’ Guild, now called the Women’s Guild, organizes fundraising drives for humanitarian causes and hosts a variety of parish activities. We have a committed Choir and Chanters. The Fellowship provides a number of social events including a Lenten Communion Breakfast, Pre-Lent Mardi-Gras, spring golf outing and Parish Picnic. Finally, the Archdiocese’ Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch is well represented, with our community, boasting one of the highest percentages of parishioners who are members of the Order.

Although it would be absolutely impossible to name the many outstanding lay- chartered families - still we can trace the efforts of the years through noting the various clergy who offered leadership to the fledgling community. In the same year of the charter, 1956, the Episcopal priest, Father Jim Mitchell welcomed the original group, small as it was, to worship at St. Paul's Chapel in Englewood, New Jersey. On May 13, 1956, the young seminarian Raymond Ofiesh, now Father Gregory, conducted the first Typica Service at St. Paul's. These continued until September 30th, when Father Joseph Kreta from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in New York celebrated the first Divine Liturgy. Other priests who celebrated Divine Liturgy in the early days were: Father Alexander Schmemann, Father Peter Sayama (the first Japanese Orthodox priest ordained in the U.S.), Father Daniel Hubiak, Father John Psillas, and Father Stephen Lyashevsky. It was our good fortune that Father Lyashevsky was able to serve the parish until a full-time priest was found who was more suitable to our particular needs. In the Spring of 1957, Sub-Deacon Gabriel Ashie was sent by Metropolitan Bashir to assist Father Lyashevsky and our parish. This was the first sign of our permanence as an Orthodox Christian Church.

With the growth of the Church's membership, we overcrowded St. Paul's facilities and on December 1, the move was made to the Masonic Lodge on Palisades Avenue in Englewood. At this point, there were thirty active families in regular attendance. Father Lyashevsky, for the most part, continued serving on Sundays at the Masonic Hall until Deacon Gabriel Ashie was ordained in September of 1958 and became our full time Priest. This was a time of rapid growth, spiritual revelation and joy in the growth of the movement. At the Masonic Lodge, we were permitted use of the premises on Sundays and Wednesdays only. It was therefore necessary to have a portable Iconostasis which had to be put up and taken down every Sunday, along with folding chairs.

Over our fifty years, St. Anthony’s has been blessed with the presence of many seminarians who, who studying Orthodox theology, have gained practical and pastoral practice at our parish. In fact, many have been ordained here and currently serve as priest and pastors throughout our Archdiocese. Two of those seminarians have advanced to the Office of the Hierarchy, Bishop Basil (Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America) and Bishop Alexander (Diocese of Ottawa, Eastern Canada and Upstate New York).

In 1989, St. Anthony’s embarked on a Beautification Program, which improved the Sanctuary, Narthex, and the Nave. The effects of this program are visible with its icons and dramatic lighting. Eleven years later it initiated Expansion 45, called in recognition of the church’s 45th Anniversary. The community purchased a parcel of land from its rear neighbor in order to create more parking spaces, a new multi-purpose room and offices, barrier-free access via an elevator/lift, and a vesting room. The kitchen, storage, church school, and altar (prothesis) and library were enlarged/expanded. Architect Romeo Aybar was retained for this project, with construction commencing in March 2002. The project also included the purchase of new pews, with kneelers for the first time, modernizing the sound system for the church and hall and new carpeting in the church and new carpeting and stage curtains in the Fellowship hall. The North Complex, as it is called, was dedicated by Bishop Antoun in June 2002.

In November 2005, St. Anthony’s became the first Antiochian parish to utilize solar technology to reduce energy costs and take advantage of a renewable energy source. An array of 124 panels was installed on its roof by SunFarm Network.

On the occasion of our Golden Jubilee, celebrating 50 years of our charter, the bold experiment envisioned by its founders has been a success. Indeed, our parish has served as the prototype of many subsequent Pan-Orthodox parishes in North America. It is a vibrant community of diverse Orthodox cultures into which many converts have been joyfully received. It is a community that celebrates and recognizes diverse heritages while gaining strength and love from the fullness of the Orthodox Faith. On this foundation and with God’s grace, we proudly anticipate the next 50 years.