MARS — St. Anthony Orthodox Church in Butler is extending a hand to Orthodox Christians and those without a church affiliation in southwestern Butler County through a new outreach mission.
Orthodox Cranberry is a mission by the small congregation of St. Anthony to spread Orthodoxy into Cranberry Township, Mars and surrounding areas. The group is hosting a number of services and events throughout Lent to introduce people to Orthodoxy and bring in those without a church.
The Rev. Bogdan Bucur, the church's priest, said the population in and around Cranberry is growing, mobile and looking for a spiritual and religious experience different from that of their parents and grandparents. There are also many Orthodox Christians with no church to call home in the Cranberry area, he said. Along with St. Anthony, there are two Orthodox churches in Butler.
“I think that we do have something to offer that is fit for pretty much any person, anyone thirsting for fullness, for truth, for beauty, for meaning,” Bucur said.
Orthodox Cranberry has found a semi-permanent home in the former St. Kilian Church on Clark Street in Mars, Bucur said.
It began by hosting Bible studies in the Cranberry Township Municipal Center in the fall of 2015. When interest grew, it began holding more services, eventually landing at St. Kilian.
Orthodox Cranberry hopes to continue to grow its community, Bucur said. Anywhere from 20 to 50 people attend bi-weekly Sunday liturgies and other weekly services.
“It's just the beginning,” said Bucur, who is also a theology professor at Duquesne University. “It's small, but we're hoping it is a small seed that will grow into a beautiful plant.”
The Orthodox Church is one of the oldest religious institutions in the world. Bucur said it is a church deeply steeped in tradition. Saint Anthony belongs to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
During a liturgy service attendees will smell incense and see candles burning. Priests wear ornate vestments and icons of Mary and Jesus Christ are displayed.
Liturgies are full of rituals that are repeated throughout with the intention of imprinting their meaning on congregants. The goal is for members to carry the meaning with them throughout everyday life.
“We don't just wear funny stuff for the sake of it,” Bucur said. “Ritual has a way of anchoring you to a much deeper reality and gradually reshaping you in ways that we don't control and don't understand. I think the Holy Spirit is at work within ritual. ... And when you practice it in church, you have a model to emulate.”
That's what drew Maureen Wolenski to the Orthodox Church years ago.
“When you go into an Orthodox Church, all of your senses are being used,” she said “You see the icons, you smell the incense, you hear the music. It involves your entire being when you pray in the Orthodox Church.”
Wolenski had been part of an Orthodox Church years ago, but rejoined in Cranberry after she and her husband moved to the area last spring. She converted to Orthodoxy about 20 years ago, but said she still learns something new from every service.
“We're welcoming everyone,” she said. “It really is a way to experience the fullness of faith.”
Orthodox Cranberry conducts liturgies, similar to a Mass, every other Sunday. Vespers, an evening prayer service, is held every Saturday night followed by an introduction to Orthodoxy, which mixes Scripture, liturgy, spirituality and their applications in everyday life.
Those interested in learning more about Orthodoxy are welcome to join at any service, Bucur said.
4 Saturday vespers and adult education — 6 p.m. every Saturday
4 Sunday Liturgy — 10 a.m. March 19 and April 9
4 Presanctified Liturgy — 6:30 p.m. March 29
4 Bridegroom Matins — 6:30 p.m. April 10 and 11
4 Holy Unction — 6:30 p.m. April 12
All services are at former St. Kilian Church, 205 Clark St., Mars