It seems surreal for me to write my last newsletter article for St. John the Baptist after nearly twenty years. I have almost always written theological articles to help us grow in our faith, but I think this last article should be different. I thought it might be meaningful to take everyone on a stroll down memory lane, from my perspective.
Twenty years ago, I remember sitting at a C.O.M.E. meeting, where we were discussing the need for a new parish in either Seattle or Portland. I was struck at how much my heart burned within me as I listened to this discussion. It was as if God was saying, “This is what I want you to do.” As these discussions developed further, I sought out a few priests I trusted for advice, as well as my spiritual father and a wise abbess. They all agreed that I should speak to the bishop about this opportunity. The initial response of Metropolitan Anthony, upon hearing I wanted to leave a really good parish to start a new one, was: “Are you crazy?” But, after hearing about my background and the burning of my heart to share Orthodox Christianity with people just like me, he readily agreed to send me to Portland.
When we arrived on the first day of August 1997, Christiana was only eight, Athanasia was five, and Fotini was just one. Anthony would not be born for another three years. My hair and beard were still black, and Pres. Stacey came not knowing how to read Byzantine notation. While Christiana and our other daughters were still living in Torrance, CA, waiting for Presvytera and me to find a place to live, she had a dream that we would find a two-story, pink house. Without our knowing of this dream until afterwards, that is exactly what happened. For our first year in Beaverton, we lived in a pink, two-story house. The first person we ever met was John Poulos. Patricia was in Greece with her two children. Who would have known that almost 20 years later Athanasia would be married to Niko and have a one-year old and another child on the way!
Many of you might not know that I served the monastery of St. John the Forerunner for over two years on a weekly basis. I didn’t stop this blessed service until Anthony was born and the parish started to need my full-time attention. I also did not take up fly-fishing until I moved to Portland. It became a great way for me to see the picturesque Northwest countryside, chase the sun during those cloudy, rainy winter months and balance my intense schedule with a little “alone time.”
The parish continued to grow each year. We went from a couple rooms in a small conference center to the cafeteria and a couple rooms at Catlin Gabel School. We would store our mobile church at the Ketrenos home and set up and take down the church space every Sunday morning. It wasn’t until we moved to the Cedar Hills basement that we were able to have a permanent church space. Gone was the “set up and take down” routine. We spent 7 years under a sports bar and across the street from a strip club, but despite this interesting setting, God blessed Orthodoxy to grow on Portland’s west side! Eleven years ago, we moved to our current Walker Road site. This was the second time we were able to work together with our hands and the sweat of our brow and remodel a space to fit our needs. There is nothing like working together side by side to get to know each other better and feel like a family. Again, this move allowed us to continue to grow the Orthodox Church by adding new members to the Body of Christ. It also allowed Agia Sophia Academy to continue operating by moving it from Holy Trinity to St. John the Baptist rent-free. This was a blessing for ASA, and it was a blessing for St. John. Also during this time, we were blessed to witness the ordination of Innocent Duchow-Pressley to the diaconate and eventually add Fr. Timothy Pavlatos to our clergy staff. Another great blessing during this time period was the four-year internship of Vasili Hillhouse. At the end of his internship, we were again able to experience his ordination to the diaconate and then to the priesthood. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the four parish administrators I worked with: Thomaida Hudanish, Eva Walters, Argero Anasis and now Barbara Coert. Each of them has been a blessing in my life and in the life of this wonderful parish.
As I look back on these past two decades, I feel like the time has flown by so quickly. Yet, at the same time, I see adults like Sister Theologia (Catherine Whitton) and Constantine Trumpower—just to name a couple—who were mere children when we started, and now have gone on to answer their own unique callings from God. So many children have been formed into beautiful adult Orthodox Christians at St. John the Baptist. These children, become adults, are now serving our parish and other parishes as leaders. They are now having their own children, offering God and St. John the Baptist a second generation of Orthodox Christians. I can’t count the number of inquirers who have become catechumen and then entered the Orthodox Church. It has been one of the greatest blessings of my life to see so many come to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and appreciate the ancient Church as a living and life-saving Faith.
And now, comes the time when God calls me and my family to the next chapter of our lives. In a very real way, the same burning in my heart that brought me to Portland and to St. John the Baptist is taking me to Denver. Instead of serving God to grow the Orthodox Church through the ministry of one parish, I will now be trying to help accomplish this growth through serving 50 parishes. Each local Eucharistic Community is the fullness of the Body of Christ. The healthier each community is the more the Orthodox Church will grow and the more potential there will be to be able to plant new parishes like we planted St. John, almost twenty years ago.
I ask you to continue to grow into the likeness of God. Do not become complacent or comfortable in your own walk with Christ or as a parish. St. John the Baptist does not exist just to feed us or satisfy our needs and wants. Every Orthodox parish exists to be a means of our salvation and to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of those around us. Toward this end, welcome your new priest, Fr. Matthew and his family. Work with him as you worked with me, and allow the Holy Spirit to work through him and you to complete this saving work He has begun in you and in this remarkable parish. Please continue to pray for the Dorrance family, as we will continue to pray for you. We hope to have many opportunities to see you again as you continue to live, grow and celebrate your lives in Christ.
In Christ’s service,
Fr. Theodore Dorrance