The Visits of Archbishop Demetrios of America
On March 30, 2001 and again on February 17, 2002 St. Paul’s was honored to host Archbishop Demetrios of America. In 2001, Archbishop Demetrios, Metropolitan Anthony and Bishop Tod Brown, the Roman Catholic bishop of Orange County, participated in an ecumenical Vespers service; and in 2002, Archbishop Demetrios celebrated Liturgy at St. Paul’s in conjunction with a national Leadership 100 conference held in Orange County. St. Paul’s now counts five families as members of this ministry providing financial support for our Church both in this country and around the world: Mr. & Mrs. George Argyros, Mr. & Mrs. Hugo Aviles, Mr. & Mrs. Tykye Camaras, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Kartsonis and Mr. & Mrs. Ron Matthews.
Following the tradition of the New Testament concerning the commissioning of Sts. Paul and Barnabas as missionaries by the Church in Antioch, as recorded in Acts 12:24-13:3, St. Paul’s commissioned Anthony and Lara Callas as our missionaries to Albania on Sunday, April 1, 2001 where they worked for 2 years with Archbishop Anastasios (Yiannoulatos) of Tirana in rebuilding a Church devastated by decades of communist persecution. Anthony was to serve as the director of the Albanian Orthodox Church’s Architectural Office, overseeing the construction of new churches as well as the restoration of centuries old churches and monasteries, properties returned to the Church by the Albanian government. Lara was to work for the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OCSE) initiating reforms to insure restitution to landowners for properties seized in the communist period prior to 1991 or compensation for those properties.
The Poinsettia Ball and Festival of Hearts
The first Poinsettia Ball, an annual fundraiser for St. Paul’s, was held at the Marriott Hotel in Newport Beach in 1978 and chaired by Ted and Jeri Konopisos. For more than two decades, this annual black-tie dinner/dance raised many thousands of dollars for the ministries and building programs of our growing community. But in 2002 it was decided that the Poinsettia Ball would be given a new name – the Festival of Hearts – and take a new direction that would include fundraising for charities outside of St. Paul’s. The first Festival of Hearts (see photos) was held on February 23, 2002 at the Hyatt-Newporter in Newport Beach and chaired by Lisa Chavos and Carolyn Kouracos. Attended by the Roman Catholic bishop of Orange, Tod Brown, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange was chosen to receive funds from this inaugural event. Over the years this event has also supported Kids N’ Cancer, a program of our Metropolis Philoptochos that provides summer camp experiences for children with cancer and their families; and St. Innocent’s Orphanage for boys, an Orthodox Christian ministry outside of Tijuana, Mexico.
Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of St. Paul’s
In 2003, St. Paul’s celebrated its 25th anniversary as a parish with a festive banquet on Saturday evening, June 7, 2003 at the Marriott Hotel in Irvine; and on Sunday morning, June 8th, with a hierarchical Liturgy presided over by Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco, together with Father Steven Tsichlis and all the previous assistant priests who had served at St. Paul’s: Fathers Jim Pappas, Martin Ritsi, Dean Kouldukis, John Konugres and Timothy Robinson. Saturday evening was a time for looking back, for reminiscing, as well as a time for renewing our sense of mission and looking ahead to all that still remains to be done as outlined in Vision 21. Three parishioners received the Archdiocesan medal of St. Paul for their devoted service to Christ and His Church: Dean Conzaman, Marina Kookootsedes and Bill Lekas. On Sunday, Eve Tibbs was tonsured as a reader/chantor by Metropolitan Anthony; Father Steve was prayed over by Metropolitan Anthony and given the honorary title of proto-presbyter as a senior priest; and Father Timothy was prayed over and blessed to be a confessor, i.e. a priest who can hear confessions. At Liturgy that morning Metropolitan Anthony announced Father Timothy’s new assignment as the pastor of the St. Nicholas Church in Temecula, CA.
Following Father Timothy’s departure for his new parish assignment, Father Simon Thomas was assigned by Metropolitan Anthony to be the new assistant priest, beginning his ministry at St. Paul’s on August 17, 2003.
Dorothea Love, Parish Office Administrator (1999-2004)
In March 2004 another transition in staff occurred when Dorothea officially “retired” as the parish office administrator and Marina Kookootsedes took her place on April 1st. Marina had been a very active member of St. Paul’s since 1983, having served as president of the parish Philoptochos, as well as serving on the diocesan and national boards of Philoptochos. Dorothea has continued to serve St. Paul’s in a variety of capacities: Sunday school teacher, coordinator of the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival for teens, Women’s Study Fellowship leader and as president of the parish Philoptochos.
The Falling Asleep of Metropolitan Anthony
St. Paul’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2003 was to prove to be the last time Metropolitan Anthony made a pastoral visitation to St. Paul’s. Metropolitan Anthony, who had served as the bishop of San Francisco for more than 25 years, died on Christmas Day, December 25, 2004 following a battle with cancer. Father Steve, Father Simon and a delegation of parishioners from St. Paul’s attended his funeral, held at the Ascension Cathedral in Oakland, CA. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) elected Bishop Gerasimos (Michaleas) of Krateia as the new Metropolitan of San Francisco on February 22, 2005 and he was enthroned on April 2, 2005 at the Ascension Cathedral in Oakland.
The Next Phase of Vision 21
For years, many of St. Paul’s programs had taken place in portables adjacent to the parish center. However, in 2002, the city of Irvine initiated conversations with St. Paul’s about the need to replace the portables with the education building that had long been part of the plans for the parish campus. At a general assembly held on May 23, 2002 the guidelines laid out in Vision 21 were modified: the decision was made to stop work on the completion of the Church’s iconography and begin further fundraising for the design and construction of the education building. A team comprised of Ted Konopisos (building chairman), Chris Koutures (fundraising chairman) and Steve Tibbs (serving as an overall project coordinator), began the “Honoring the Saints Fundraising Program” in the fall of 2004. (Read the Lives of the Saints whose Icons adorn the Education Center) Funds pledged and collected over the next two years enabled the completion of this $4,000,000 building project without debt to the parish.
Education Center Groundbreaking, Sep 19, 2004, (Left to Right): Chris Louis, Tyke Camaras, Ron Matthews, Fr. Steven Tsichlis, Fr. Simon Thomas, Steve Tibbs, Eve Tibbs, Ted Konopisos
Following the celebration of Liturgy on September 19, 2004 groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the construction of our education center with more than 400 people in attendance. The Hofman Finn Development Company of Costa Mesa, CA was hired as the contractor for this building project. Construction began in December, was slowed down as a result of unusually heavy rains that year, and continued throughout most of 2005. Iconographer Robert Andrews was chosen to create the four mosaic icons of St. Leonidas of Athens, St. Olga of Kiev, St. Hannah the Prophetess and St. Irene Chrysovalantou that adorn the exterior of the education building; they were installed by Mr. Andrews and his son, Tim, over a five day period in November, 2005. The 30,000 square foot education building that also houses the Father George Stephanides Library was officially opened and blessed for use following Liturgy on Sunday, January 8, 2006.
In the summer of 2006, Father Simon Thomas was reassigned to serve as the pastor of St. Barbara’s Church in Santa Barbara, CA by Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco. Father Stephen Karcher, an Orange County native and former evangelical Christian, who had studied theology at the University of Thessaloniki in Greece, was assigned as the new assistant priest at St. Paul’s, beginning on September 1, 2006.
Mission IS Possible
St Paul’s, Kobunswhi, Tanzania
In keeping with the missionary spirit of the parish, in September 2006 a project began that had first been announced by Father Steve at St. Paul’s 25th anniversary banquet several years before: the building of a St. Paul’s Church in Africa. In conversations with Father Martin Ritsi and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center it was decided to work with Bishop Jeronymos of Bukoba, Tanzania, who selected the village of Kobunshwi as the site of the new Church.
St. Paul’s, Kobunswhi, Tanzania
During the fall of 2006 and the winter of 2007 the necessary funds were raised and a check for $40,000 was presented to Bishop Jeronymos, who had traveled from Tanzania to Irvine, on March 7, 2007. Construction of the new Church began immediately. In July, 2007 a short term mission team consisting of Father Steve, Father Stephen Karcher and 13 parishioners journeyed to Tanzania to work briefly alongside local workers and the Orthodox Christian men and women of Kobunshwi. The following year, Father Steve and 14 parishioners returned for the consecration of the Church by Bishop Jeronymos on Sunday, July 6th, 2008. St. Paul’s established a formal missions committee called “Mission IS Possible” later that year that continues to work in Tanzania with Bishop Jeronymos, who has now been appointed the Metropolitan of Mwanza. Since 2008, Mission Is possible continues to send medical teams, medical supplies and well-digging equipment to Tanzania.
On Sunday, June 8, 2008 a special luncheon was held following Liturgy to honor Presvytera Elaine Stephanides on the occasion of her retirement as the choir director of St. Paul’s and celebrate her 30 years of music ministry in the Church. Presvytera Stephanides continues to serve St. Paul’s by offering a grief ministry program. Robert Paul Henning was appointed by Father Steve as the new director of St. Paul’s choir, officially beginning his ministry the following Sunday, June 15th.
Christian Education and Spiritual Formation
With a clear focus on the necessity of education and spiritual formation, the Church School program directed by Eve and Steve Tibbs has continued to grow, with more than 200 children enrolled and a volunteer staff of 30. The Good Friday children’s retreat in April attracts more than 125 young people. Pioneer Clubs, a children’s ministries program organized by Laura Leventis and Presvytera Katie Tsichlis, meeting for 8 consecutive weeks in the fall and winter, draws as many as 75 kids on Friday nights. Our GOYA program for teen-agers, organized by Georgia Theordorou, has monthly meetings and activities that culminates in Hunger Strike, a Lenten program that has raised funds for both the OCMC and IOCC. For adults, there are three Bible studies, an Orthodox Christianity 101 class that examines the basics of our faith, our catechumen program for new members and a book club on prayer and Christian spirituality that began in 2000 and is done ecumenically in conjunction with St. John Neumann’s Roman Catholic Church.
Our parish library was officially opened on Sunday, October 7, 2001 with a special service of blessing and prayer conducted by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, the longtime professor of Eastern Orthodox studies at Oxford who was at St. Paul’s to conduct a two-day seminar on the practice of the Jesus Prayer. The parish library, initially organized by Patricia Zioga and now managed by Jennifer Mitchell and a host of volunteers, has some 2,000 volumes. Our parish bookstore, organized by Joanne Lorton, has greatly expanded over the years and, for example, in 2001 did more than $23,000 in sales.
There is much to say about our dynamic and multi-faceted parish besides what has been written here. This is just a glimpse into the life of our community, past and present. Having now begun the 21st century, we at St. Paul’s are on a journey to build a vibrant, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled community of faith that serves as a witness to the love that God has for us all. Just as the Apostle Paul was called by a vision of the Risen Christ to become the Apostle to the Nations, so the vision of our parish is to share the Gospel of Christ with one and all. In order to make this vision a reality, each of us at St. Paul’s must make the words of the Apostle Paul our own: