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Appleton Greek Orthodox church closes with a tribute to historyParishioners receive a flower from the Rev. Ted Trifon at the end of the Sunday of the Holy Cross service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Fond du Lac. The Greek Orthodox Church in Appleton recently merged with the Fond du Lac congregation. Credit: Corey Wilson / for the Journal Sentinel April 03, 2016 0 Comments SHARE Related Photos
By Meg Jones of the Journal SentinelApril 03, 2016 0
Fond du Lac— Holding an arrangement of bright yellow daffodils, candles and a golden cross above his head, the Rev. Ted Trifon walked slowly through his congregation Sunday morning as parishioners bowed their heads.
On the third Sunday of Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church, priests in parishes just like Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Fond du Lac performed the same rite — the adoration of the cross, marking the halfway point of the Lenten season with fresh flowers signifying Christ's resurrection.
Trifon solemnly circled the altar three times holding the cross above his head as he chanted prayers, then set it down on the altar and picked up a censer containing burning incense, which he swung in a rhythmic arc as bells jingled. Then he knelt and prostrated himself three times at the altar.
Among the faithful in the pews Sunday were members of the Greek Orthodox Church in Appleton, which officially closed earlier this year and merged with the Fond du Lac church, dropping the number of Greek Orthodox Churches in Wisconsin to six.
"It's always a sad moment to see a church close," Trifon, who served at SS Constantine and Helen Church in Wauwatosa for 29 years, said after the service. "We do not know why things happen. But sometimes God closes one door and opens another."
Fond du Lac's Greek Orthodox Church, which has around 90 members, draws parishioners from Oshkosh, Neenah, Beaver Dam and Campbellsport. And now Appleton.
"Over the years as our families grow, our children go away to school and they don't come back," said Holy Trinity parish president Dena Meyst. "We've sort of been in a holding pattern in terms of getting new members."
Some St. Nicholas Church members in Appleton began driving to Fond du Lac in the last few years as membership began to dwindle. Mark Schedler and his family live in Appleton but started coming to services in Fond du Lac because "the priest situation was in doubt. This was more stable."
When St. Nicholas members made the difficult decision to officially close after five decades and merge with Holy Trinity in Fond du Lac, they did not want to be forgotten. So the small congregation donated $100,000 to create a digital video history of the parish to be placed at a shrine commemorating a New York City church, also called St. Nicholas, destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Construction began last year on the $35 million St. Nicholas National Shrine, designed by Santiago Calatrava, which is expected to open in 2017. The tiny church was empty when planes crashed into the World Trade Center; landing gear and body parts were reportedly seen on and around the church before it was obliterated in the collapse of the South Tower. Relics of St. Nicholas, St. Catherine and St. Sava donated to the church by Nicholas II, the last Russian czar, locked in the church's safe were never recovered.
The Appleton church donated money to the shrine "in the spirit of the big hearts, hardworking parishioners and generous stewards that contributed to the founding, existence and the next chapter of St. Nicholas Appleton," Christopher Apostolou wrote in a letter to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Last month, Bishop Demetrios, the chancellor of the Metropolis of Chicago, traveled to New York to deliver the donation to the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
"With this contribution, the name of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of Appleton will forever be placed among the shrine's benefactors. St. Nicholas in Wisconsin will live on as a part of St. Nicholas in New York," Demetrios said.
George Vourvoulias, who lives in Green Lake and attends the Fond du Lac church, visited St. Nicholas in Manhattan once.
"You don't remember because it's just one of your churches and it doesn't stand out until something happens," said Vourvoulias, vice chairman of the Metropolis of Chicago council.
When the Appleton church closed its doors, the congregation donated its chalices and other religious equipment to the Fond du Lac church, where parishioners there are lamenting the loss of a Greek Orthodox parish.
When Meyst heard the news of the Appleton church's official closing, she felt "great sadness," she said. "I know if it was Holy Trinity that was closing I'd be in mourning, and I know they feel the same way."
After Sunday's service, which included prayers in Greek and English, parishioners gathered in the basement to talk, sip coffee, eat cookies and buy items in the church rummage sale. In the Greek Orthodox Church, which follows the Julian calendar, Easter is celebrated on May 1 this year.
Meyst grew up in Fond du Lac, where her family operated a Greek grocery store. She remembers when her neighborhood was filled with families of many ethnicities, the Greek Orthodox Church congregation was larger and mostly from Fond du Lac, and everyone walked to church.
"Our membership then was predominantly from Fond du Lac. Now we reach out to people in Appleton, Beaver Dam and other places," Meyst said. "But you know, that's a sign of the times."
About Meg Jones
Meg Jones is a general assignment reporter who specializes in military and veterans issues. Meg was part of a team that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2003, and is the author of “World War II Milwaukee.”0 Share Tweet Email Print News Watchdog Opinion Sports Business Entertainment Lifestyle Green Sheet
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