Orthodox America

  A Great Consecration - St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

      The cathedral parish of St. John the Baptist in Washington D.C. scheduled its celebration of the Millennium to coincide with its patronal feast. Highlighting the three day festivities, from September 9-11 (n.s.), was the Great Consecration of the temple. The combined services provided a memorable spiritual feast which came as the crowning achievement of many months of coordinated planning and self-sacrificing labors on the part of the parish community.

      With six hierarchs in attendance, headed by the Metropolitan, the solemnities were truly splendid. They were made even more special by the presence of the wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God and the Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon--the main sacred objects of the Church Abroad. The services drew numerous pilgrims as well as visitors whose appreciation of the proceedings was enhanced by the availability of a dual language pamphlet thoughtfully prepared for the occasion. Together with the use of some English in the services, this encouraging outreach appropriately reflected the missionary apostleship of both St. John the Baptist and Great Prince St. Vladimir.

       The parish was founded in 1949 through the initiative of a modern-day apostle, Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch. In 1958 a brick edifice was erected which served as a foundation for the 17th century muscovite style temple whose construction was but recently completed. While the interior frescoes remain to be finished, the overall effect--the magnificent tiered iconostas, the numerous hand-painted icons, all harmoniously executed in the ancient Russian style---already provides the worshipper a doorway to heaven.

       On Friday evening the All-night vigil combined the service for the Beheading of St. John the Baptist with the service of the Renewal of the Temple which is also celebrated every year on September 13 in commemoration of the founding of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. A marked feature of this vigil was that the clergy celebrated the service in front of the Royal Gates and did not enter the altar, which was to be consecrated the following morning.

       In its external aspect, the Orthodox temple serves as an image of the human body, which is, according to the Apostle Paul a temple of the living God (11 Cor. 6:16). And it is sanctified through sacred actions comparable to the mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and Ordination.

       The Great Consecration of a Temple consists of three parts. The first is the "building" of the Holy Table in the altar. To do this, the hierarchs, already vested, don white carpenters' aprons, reminiscent of the Old Testament builders of the Temple of Jerusalem. After the Holy Table has been "built," it is washed with rose-water and wine, anointed with Holy Chrism and vested. In the second part of the Great Consecration, the nave of the church is censed, sprinkled with Holy Water and anointed on each wall with Holy Chrism. The third part consists of a procession around the church with holy relics, which are subsequently placed under the Holy Table where they are secured in a mixture of wax and myrrh. During this procession, the exterior of the church is sprinkled with Holy Water. Meanwhile, a cloth symbolizing the veil of the temple is hung over the doorway, and this is rent asunder before the procession reenters the church. Relics of the following saints were placed under the Holy Table of the Washington cathedral: New-Hieromartyr Basil, Bishop of Kineshemsk (see notice of his Life, p. 22); Hieromartyr Charalampus, Bishop of Magnesia in Thessaly; and Great-martyr and Healer Panteleimon.

      At the end of the Hierarchical Liturgy which followed the rite of consecration, Bishop Daniel of Erie, who had just recently been consecrated to the epsicopate for the Old Rite, spoke on the significance of the temple, reminding those present that just as it is pleasing to God that we erect temples and adorn them in His honor, so, too, we must take care to adorn our souls with virtues that they might provide a fitting habitation for Him. Bishop Daniel had played an important part in the building of the Washington cathedral; it was his design that was used in the construction. He also provided the design for the iconostasis, the icons of which were painted by Priest Theodore Jurewicz.

      Following the lengthy services, the sisterhood provided a festive trapeza in the adjacent parish hall. Additional tables were set up on the sun-bathed terrace surrounding the church. The sunshine perfectly complemented the spiritual radiance of the celebrations.

      There was a brief rest before the next services began in honor of the newly-consecrated temple's patronal feast, the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. During Sunday's Divine Liturgy, the parish priests were recognized for their labors by the Metrepeliran, who awarded the parish rector, Archpriest Victor Potapov, the palitsa, and the assistant, Priest Vladimir Danielevich, the kamilavka. Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco and Western America gave a sermon on the significance of the feast, and then there followed a triumphant procession around the church with the icon of St. John the Baptist and the wonderworking icons of the Mother of God. All the services proceeded with great solemnity and exultation.

       A commemorative banquet was held later in the afternoon at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. President Reagan sent greetings to those gathered, in a special message which read in part:

       "...The indestructibility of the Christian faith for these many centuries offers true witness to the obedience of countless believers to the Lord Jesus Christ's divine commission to teach and baptize all nations. It confirms as well Christ's promise of lasting faithfulness in the Gospel of Matthew---lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world....This Millennium of faith promises great hope for the future of humanity and for the triumph of the spirit over materialism and tyranny."

      Speakers at the banquet included Metropolitan Vitaly, Librarian of Congress James Billington and religious thinker Victor Trostnikov, who was visiting the United States from the Soviet Union. The keynote speaker was the Reverend Michael Bordeaux, the Director of Keston College, which is renowned for its studies on religion in communist countries and for its efforts on behalf of those persecuted for their religious beliefs.

      The three days of festivities concluded most appropriately with an Akathist on Sunday evening to the Mother of God in honor of her two wonderworking Icons. In view of the number of visitors present, it was particularly fitting that the Akathist was sung a second time, in English, as the faithful came forward to venerate the icons and be anointed with myrrh from the Iveren Icon.

      The experience of these three days gave al more perfect understanding of the Lord's words: My grace is sufficient for thee.        

Daniel Olson

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