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How St. Luke Orthodox Church Developed-18 Years of Change
By Some Founders of the Parish

Aristea Zekios: On January 29th, Saint Luke the Evangelist celebrated its 18th Anniversary. I can still remember our first Divine Liturgy, which was celebrated at the Wayside Chapel in Palos Park, Illinois. The thirty-one worshippers climbed what seemed to be umpteen million steps to the top of the hill. We lugged icons, candle stands, liturgical items, and music books. We were 18 years younger then and filled with excitement. We had no inkling about the journey that lay ahead.

The idea for this mission parish evolved in the early 1980's. At that time, several of us gathered regularly for evening Bible study to deepen our experience of the Orthodox Faith. During the study of the Holy Scriptures, our group felt a strong need to move beyond the ethnic boundaries of our individual cultures. We wanted to establish a new Orthodox Christian parish where we could witness to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and worship exclusively in the English language. Also, we knew this dream could most effectively be realized through the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

Membership in the OCA meant a jurisdictional change, which was not easy. However, we approached His Grace, the late Bishop Boris Geeza, who at that time was the OCA Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest. We 17 founders met for several months with His Grace. He offered us encouragement, but cautioned that hard work and sacrifice lay ahead. He set guidelines, provided words of wisdom, and advised us to keep the best of our various traditions. His Grace named the new mission parish "Saint Luke the Evangelist," much to our delight.

After the first two liturgies at the Wayside Chapel, we made provisions to rent the vacant Sacred Heart Church located on 107th Street and Kean Avenue in Palos Hills, Illinois. His Grace was right about all the work. We needed to regularly attend meetings, elect a parish council, continue to set up and take down liturgical furnishings, learn music, bake prosphora, clean the basement for the church school, and spread the word about our new mission parish.

We began holding liturgical services with Father John Matusiak as the main "supply priest." Fr. John's expertise in establishing a mission parish helped to provide a firm foundation for the years ahead. He conducted classes for us that covered comparative religion, the structure of the Orthodox Church in America, and evangelization techniques.

As parishioner numbers grew, Fr. John became the "priest-in-charge" and then the first permanently assigned priest. Two deacons were also attached to our community-Dn. Andrew Werbiansky and Dn. Joseph Kopka, who is now a priest serving another Illinois parish.

Over the years several changes occurred. In 1986 our dream of establishing an English-only parish became reality when we bought our present property. In 1989 our one community became two, when Fr. John and those parishioners living in far western DuPage County formed the new community of St. Joseph in Wheaton, Illinois. In addition, St. Luke Orthodox Mission became St. Luke Orthodox Church.

In the years that followed, various priests were assigned to St. Luke Church. It wasn't easy to adjust to the frequent clergy changes, but these pastors helped mold, shape, and reshape our community as it matured. We are grateful for the guidance during those years of Fathers Mark Stevens, William Bass, James Doyle, and Kyril Riggs.

In December 1995 Very Reverend Andrew Harrison was assigned to Saint Luke Church. Under his leadership we began to prepare for the challenges of the 21st Century. One of the first steps was to create a website so the St. Luke parish could "go global."

In December of 1996, many of us founders witnessed the signing of the last mortgage payment for our church property on 107th and Kean. It was a time of rejoicing, for another dream had been realized. However, permanent ownership of the property meant complete renovation from "head-to-toe." Fr. Andrew must have stayed awake at night thinking of all sorts of ways to beautify our edifice. Not one inch of the building escaped cosmetic surgery. Then it was time to dedicate the remodeled building to our Creator.

On Sunday, October 19, 1997, St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church was consecrated. At that time His Grace, Bishop Job, emphasized that the consecration symbolized an ending and a beginning.

Our days of establishment were over, but our true mission was just beginning. Already plans were underway for a new addition to the church building, iconography for the walls of the sanctuary, and a new sturdy iconostas with additional icons. Thanks to God, we have been able to quickly attain these goals due to income from cell-phone towers that were constructed at the back of our property. Who would have ever thought that the little church on the hill was a strategic location for wireless communication!

In October 1998, our pastoral staff was expanded when parishioner, Izaat Doss, was ordained to the diaconate, becoming Deacon Danial Doss. Several subdeacons and readers were also tonsured at this time. In addition, Fr. Andrew received the jeweled cross for his many years of service to the OCA.

In April of 2001, Bishop Job blessed the long-awaited ground breaking for the new bell tower and parish center that will house classrooms, a pastoral office, the fellowship area, a new serviceable kitchen, and more-easily accessible bathrooms. With joyous anticipation we await the completion of these new facilities.

Pat Dravillas: Our first step in petitioning for a new parish was to meet with Bishop Boris. I was impressed with his warmth and pastoral love. He guided us in our decision, but gave us time to digest the seriousness of establishing a mission church. We were very excited and looked forward to the taking the risks that would make it happen.

One of our first challenges was to transform the former Sacred Heart Church into an Orthodox house of worship. The Divine Liturgy was (and still is) exciting and meaningful. At first it was quite a change to sing and hear everything in English, but that is quite natural now. There was so much to learn in the beginning! Thankfully Fr. John Matusiak guided us during our infant stages. I remember him teaching us the music, giving us pitches, and always explaining what had to be done in the area of evangelization.

Paul Dravillas: After holding initial church services at the Wayside Chapel in Palos Park, it soon became evident that we needed more room. We could not be hauling icons, candle stands, and other needed items up the hill every week. (Even that "big uke" Gene Pituch was getting tired). We learned that we could rent the old Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills. At that time it was being used as a Newman Center for the Catholic Church. Our contact was Bill Droel, a Moraine Valley Community College employee, who served as the religious liaison between the college and the Catholic Church.

We approached Bill about the possibility of purchasing the Sacred Heart property. We were not sure that the Catholic Church would be willing to part with the it, let alone sell it to people of another faith. We told Bill that we were a recently formed community and didn't have any money for a down payment. Bill arranged for Lee Kopulos to meet with Administrator Sister Margaret Ivers. It was agreed that the Saint Luke community would buy the property for $60,000 with no interest, no down payment, and a $6,000 lump-sum payment at the end of each year for ten years. The only condition was that the building and land could only be used as a church.

God was certainly looking after us to get such a deal. We owe a debt of gratitude to the late Cardinal Bernadin for his kindness and faith in the Saint Luke community. Without his approval, this sale could never have been transacted.

It's hard to believe that some years later cell-phone companies wanted to pay us a lot of money to erect communications towers on the back of our property. This has provided the money to expand our facilities. Think about it! Sounds like Divine Intervention to me!

Linda and Lee Kopulos: The champagne was poured, we all clinked our glasses and congratulated one another after Bishop Boris approved our status as a new mission of the Orthodox Church in America. Besides the Bishop and the founders, Frs. Michael Procurat (the Chancellor), John Matusiak, and Hillary Madison were present and became the supply priests for our new mission. This celebration was the culmination of many "house" meetings by the founders, who had gathered to plan the establishment of this English-speaking Orthodox parish.

We had met regularly to discuss our needs and desires for the new parish. When the group reached a consensus, we contacted Bishop Boris to begin the process. At last we would be able to bring our young children to a Liturgy conducted in a language they understood!

We all sprang into action to prepare for the first Vespers service and Divine Liturgy and to plan for our Church School classes. (Those of us with children were the obvious volunteers to begin the lessons. It seems truly amazing now how easy it was to structure some multi-grade classes with direction and materials from Fr. Matusiak. It was so much fun to come up with activities for the children from week to week. Plus, they all enjoyed themselves while learning their particular lessons. The new environment was invigorating for us all.

Time and experience provided a great foundation for our organized Church School program, which continues to this day. We started teaching at Wayside Chapel, used the basement of Sacred Heart, and then parked a mobile unit on the side lawn of the church to house our classes. Better yet, we are now seeing the construction of our new parish center, which will have new classrooms for our Church School. These wonderful changes have benefited us all, especially past, present, and future Church School students.

Esther Poulos: Looking back, I remember Aristea picking me up to attend a meeting with the other founding members. My elderly mother, who was not well at the time, suddenly came alive and screamed at both of us. She insisted we were crazy to embark upon such a mission. I didn't know at that time that God had a Master plan and we were only his instruments. He laid the foundation and drafted the blueprints. All we had to do was follow His Divine leadership.

God made sure that within the founding members of St. Luke parish we had a choir director, a Church School director, Church School teachers, altar boys, and carpenters. He also provided Fr. John Matusiak, a pastor with foresight and a mission background, to help cultivate and lead us. Last but not least, He provided an understanding and very wise bishop, Bishop Boris, to help guide us. Whenever we deviated from God's plan, He would set us straight. When one door closed, another opened.

Maria Vrame: To me one of the most significant changes at St. Luke involves the iconography in the sanctuary. This majestically enhanced area added color and warmth to our little church on the hill. It enabled the old Sacred Heart Catholic Church to be transformed into an authentic Orthodox Church.

When we organized St. Luke Mission, I was afraid we'd become a storefront church. Then Cheryl Pituch, another founding member of St. Luke parish, discovered Sacred Heart Church and made the first phone call to inquire about renting it. What a miracle it was to find a church available to us! When Bishop Boris and Fr. John first saw Sacred Heart Church, they remarked that the architecture was perfect for an Orthodox Church. They both envisioned iconography covering the arched ceilings. What foresight they had!

What is even more remarkable is that Fr. John uncovered a hidden talent in Cheryl Pituch. He invited her to help with some iconography he was writing. This started Cheryl on a journey to become an iconographer. (God must have had a special plan for her as well as the rest of us). She learned many of the basics from Fr. John.

When Cheryl and her husband Gene moved to Pennsylvania, she continued to study iconography. She is now writing icons for churches. She was ultimately selected to write the iconography for our sanctuary. Not only is her wonderful God-given talent exhibited in this work, but her heart and soul are reflected in it as well.

Peter Zekios: One of the big changes I've appreciated over the past 18 years is the remodeling of the church basement. A basement may not seem important, but because of our church's cramped quarters, the basement became very functional for Church School, the bookstore, coffee hours, fellowship activities, meetings, and other gatherings.

The original basement had moldy drywall, poor lighting, and water seepage, and the place smelled like mildew. We jokingly called it "The Catacombs." Like it or not, this area had to be prepared for use by our Church School. Parishioner and carpenter Andy Chakonas came to the rescue. With some of us founders as apprentices, he directed the assault. We ripped out and replaced the drywall, tossed out moldy clutter, and installed better lighting. There were a lot of aching bodies after this feat, not to mention blistered hands.

Over the years the basement has been redone through the efforts of many newer parishioners who have devoted hours of work to polish it off to its present level. In the Bible, John 4:37 states, "One sows and another reaps..." So to all future generations of Saint Luke, enjoy the harvest!

Pat: It is hard to believe that 18 years have passed since our beloved parish was founded. There have been so many changes through the years, both in us founders and in the St. Luke parish. By the grace of God we've moved forward to and successfully met many new challenges. The current construction of the new building and bell tower and the expansion of our area of worship are truly dreams being fulfilled in front of our eyes.

Esther: As I recall, we just plunged forward with faith and love. Many considered Saint Luke the impossible dream, but our community today bears witness to the words of Christ, "…with God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26). My prayer today is, and always will be, that God will continue to lead and guide us in all our endeavors.

Paul: God in His mysterious way has used all of us to bring about this unique church in America. The founding of the Saint Luke parish has been an experience that has enriched my life. My involvement with this community has deepened my understanding of the beautiful Faith into which I was born.

Aristea: These past 18 years have been filled with changes. Just recently Fr. Andrew asked me how I felt as a founder as I see the new building emerging. Actually, the wonder of it all hit me this past April at the groundbreaking. As the shovel broke through the soil, I was pleased to see in the crowd many parishioners who joined Saint Luke parish after its inception. So many souls have been reached; so many lives have been touched! I feel so blessed that God allowed me to be part of His plan. I am humbled by His goodness, His mercy, and His love. Thank you, Lord, for Saint Luke the Evangelist Parish!

Pat: We have so much for which to be thankful. I glorify God for all of His blessings. May we continue to grow and do whatever is pleasing to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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