Worshipping Close to Home

Worshipping Close to Home

Loudoun's first Greek Orthodox parish is founded out of love and determination.

Early Sunday morning families began to gather in the lobby of The Holiday Inn Executive Conference and Training Center in Dulles. Women and men hugged and kissed hello. Children lay on the floor coloring and drawing. Each person who entered the building lit a candle and said a silent prayer. Many stopped to kiss the icons that were displayed next to the front table.

All the people present Oct. 22, were at the Dulles conference center for the fourth service of the Greek Orthodox Mission of Loudoun County, the only Greek Orthodox parish in the county.

The parish was officially established Sept. 22, after receiving the blessing and permission of Metropolitan Evangelos, the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey. The new Loudoun parish is the 56th parish in the Metropolis of New Jersey.

THE JOURNEY toward establishing the church began as the vision of one woman. Kathy Kendrat moved with her family from New York in the summer of 2004. Living in Leesburg, Kendrat was frustrated that there was no local Greek Orthodox church. She and her family became members of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Frederick, Md.

"I felt so lost," Kendrat said. "In New York our church was three miles away and in Leesburg we were traveling so far."

In the summer of 2005 Kendrat spoke to her priest about what it would take to start a new parish and so began the journey that led to the creation of first the county Greek Orthodox church.

When Kendrat began speaking to local priests and vicars about her wish to start a new parish, she was introduced to Father Patrick Viscuso, who lived in Chantilly. At the time Viscuso was serving as a fill-in priest in local parishes. Finding Viscuso was very important to establishing the parish, Michael Koutsourais, Kendrat's brother-in-law, said.

"Having a local priest who was available to us was really big," he said, "because it can be very difficult to find and support a full-time priest."

IN ORDER TO receive permission to establish a new parish, residents had to show the Metropolis of New Jersey that there was enough interest and money to justify the church.

To garner interest, Kendrat began to pick people out of the phone book. The initial requirement from the Metropolis was to create a list of 50 families who would be interested in joining the church.

"I started with the Leesburg, Ashburn and Purcellville phone books," she said. "After about six months I had 48 names."

While some new parishes have benefactors that can pledge large amounts of money, the creation of the Loudoun parish had to rely more on smaller pledges, Koutsourais said.

"This really was a grassroots campaign," he said. "We needed to really develop a base of support. That's when I took charge and continued developing the list [of names.]"

By summer 2006, Koutsourais' list had around 200 families on it.

"We really wanted to make an impression on the Metropolitan," he said. "We couldn't impress him with our money, but we could impress him with our organization and heart."

AT SUNDAY'S SERVICE, it was standing room only during the Divine Liturgy, the Orthodox Church's eucharistic service. Sixty-three students attended catechetical school, the church's religious classes for children from preschool through high school. Members of the church say the response they have gotten shows them how many families were not being served before.

"Everybody was thirsty in this area," Marina Blair, director of the catechetical school and member of the parish council, said. "They wanted a place to worship close to home."

Kendrat said that she was amazed at the response she got when she began calling families about the possible parish.

"Almost everybody [said] this was an answer to their prayers," she said. "Especially the young families."

"The community views the church as a place they can congregate during the week," Koutsourais said. "When you are living so far away from your church that's impossible."

While the parish is worshipping in a temporary facility, members hope they will soon be able to move to a rented location, where they can hold events during the week.

"We realized the first week that we already needed a bigger facility," Koutsourais said. "It is just a matter of finding the right facility."

The church's ultimate goal is to build its own facility within three to five years.

"Every week more families are coming to services," Koutsourais said. "We are continuing to grow."

Most of the members of Loudoun's newest church are families with young children, something members of the parish council are happy to see.

"It is nice to finally have a place to grow spiritually, but also where families can grow together," Susan Dorn said. "That's why we are so excited as a community."

"It is hard to believe that five or six month ago we didn't even know each other," Blair said. "Now we are a family."