After more than 20 years, Beaufort County church seeks more permanent home

loberle@islandpacket.comJuly 26, 2013 

For more than 20 years, Holy Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church has been without a home on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton.

It's an outpost of Orthodoxy, and the only Orthodox church between Charleston and Savannah. Sunday services are currently being held in the St. Andrew Chapel, an annex of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton, the church's fourth temporary location.

Each week the iconostasis, a partition with paintings of religious icons on it, is rolled out of storage and set up in the front of the chapel. With that, the room takes on the look of a traditional Orthodox church.

The Rev. John Caparisos led a recent service. He was the church's original priest, and commutes from Savannah to serve when the Rev. Peter Telencio from Columbia cannot.

Holy Resurrection is now looking for a permanent home. But the heart of this church has never been in the pews or the altars or the iconostasis.

"The church is the people; the building is the building," Caparisos said. "In Greek, the word for church means gathering of people for a specific purpose. The gathering comes first."

UNORTHODOX BEGINNINGS

Hilton Head resident Rick Haight was among the founding members of Holy Resurrection. He and his wife commuted to Savannah to attend St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church, the closest Orthodox church. But they wanted a church closer to home.

They knew Hilton Head needed an Orthodox church of its own.

Haight and other local Orthodox families established Holy Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church in 1990, with Caparisos traveling from Savannah each week to lead services.

While a Greek Orthodox Church, Holy Resurrection serves a pan-Orthodox community with a diverse congregation including Armenians, Syrians, Russians and Bulgarians.

Ironically, the Orthodox church has operated in a rather unorthodox manner. The first services were held in living rooms, then expanded to a conference room in Shoney's Inn, now the Quality Inn on Hilton Head. Caparisos baptized Haight's son at Shoney's in a chili pot given to Caparisos during his active duty in the U.S. Air Force.

From the hotel conference rooms, the church moved to a second floor room in Heritage Plaza dubbed "The Upper Room," where they found semi-permanence for the next 11 years.

But elderly parishioners had difficulty climbing the steep and narrow staircase, and the church again began its search for a new home.

"There's always been a struggle to find places," Haight said.

Since 2007, Holy Resurrection has held services in St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church's St. Andrew Chapel. A typical Sunday sees anywhere from 30 to 60 attendees, from infants to elderly, residents and vacationing families.

St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church has allowed Holy Resurrection to use their chapel as a temporary home. It's an interfaith cooperation; the Catholics supporting the Orthodox. It's the sort of cooperation that was once unimaginable, since the East-West Schism in 1054 signifying the split of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

But Jack Shaheen, who is on the committee to find Holy Resurrection a permenent location, says that Holy Resurrection has been deeply touched by the hospitality and generosity of St. Gregory.

"They have enabled us to be able to grow," Shaheen said.

Shaheen says that while there is sometimes a focus on how the Catholic and Orthdox churches are different, he wants to focus on how they are the same. They are churches with different doctrines, traditions and flavors, but they are all Christians and hold true to the core beliefs of Christianity.

"It's really about spreading the word of the Gospel, when you come right down to it," Shaheen said. "And in that respect, we're on the same team."

But as St. Gregory continues to grow, they are needing the chapel's space back. Holy Resurrection will hold services there through the end of the year, and is looking for a permanent location, they hope the next move will be the last.

AN INHERITED FAITH

Shaheen and his wife, Bernice, began attended Holy Resurrection while vacationing in the early 1990s, before moving to Hilton Head in 1995, and Shaheen is now leading the committee in search of a permanent location.

Shaheen grew up a Greek Orthodox with no Greek Othodox church to attend.

His mother and grandparents immigrated to America from Lebanon after World War I, settling in Clariton, a small steel town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania.

There were no Orthodox churches there either, so they attended the Episcopal church. His grandfather became good friends with the priest there, and even though they were Orthodox, the family bonded with the Episcopalians.

At a young age, Shaheen realized that those from different cultures and faiths are just different, not wrong.

"It was good to have that reality early on," Shaheen said. "It took away the myth that we are the only thing, we are the right ones."

Despite attending a church of a different denomination, the Shaheens remained grounded in their Greek Orthodox roots.

In the evenings, his grandfather would sit in his chair with his feet propped up on the radiator to the home's coal furnace, and he'd take out his Bible, which was written in Arabic.

Shaheen's mother had an altar in her room, with a cross and two candles. Each night before bed she'd kneel at it, light the candles and say her prayers.

"I inherited that faith," Shaheen said. "That faith was there for me to do with what I saw fit. We were never told that this religion was 'the' religion. We just gravitated in one direction."

The Shaheens were among the founding members of St. George's Church, a Greek Orthodox church in Pittsburgh, when it was build in the 1950s. Shaheen was then enrolled at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, and the priest came to bless his dorm room. St. George's Church is now St. George's Cathedral.

Shaheen met his wife, Bernice, at church.

"The church has always been part of our lives," he said. "The church is part of me."

Having a permanent building provides the stability needed for the church to really grow. With a permanent building comes a permanent priest, Sunday school, a stability lacking in their transient existence.

"The church is not temporary. The church is permanent," Shaheen said. "The purpose is not just to have a building, but to grow."

Other congregants have also had experience starting an Orthodox church in their communities.

Sperry Kaler, the parish council president, joined Holy Resurrection when he moved to Hilton Head in 2007. He grew up in Houston where he attended Holy Annunciation Cathedral, but in Northern Virginia he helped build an Orthodox Church in Loudoun County.

"It takes a commitment from the community both financially and with sweat labor," Kaler said. "We have that here. We just need a little time to do it right."

Shaheen knows he could be a member at another church, one with permanence and stability. One where he doesn't have to wonder where services will be held and if a priest will be there. One with regular Sunday school, a church office, maybe even a gymnasium.

He's attended Episcopal, Presbyterian, Catholic churches to name a few. He's comfortable there. But he knows he wouldn't be home.

"It doesn't bother me at all because I'm in a place of worship," Shaheen said. "But the Orthodox church is home."

RELATED CONTENT

Holy Resurrection Greek Orthodox Chruch website

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