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Orthodox parish: No place to worship

A building and permanent priest were long-awaited dreams for many members of Fargo's Orthodox Christian community. But the small congregation divided shortly after that priest arrived. Some members didn't want to be under the Antiochian Archdioce...

A building and permanent priest were long-awaited dreams for many members of Fargo's Orthodox Christian community.

But the small congregation divided shortly after that priest arrived. Some members didn't want to be under the Antiochian Archdiocese anymore. Now the Orthodox congregation and its priest are in search of a new church home.

Some parishioners have stayed with the parish and its new priest, while others are still gathering for prayers in the church building that had held the mission's services.

These parishioners hope to get under another Orthodox archdiocese, said Cristina Mitrovici, a member since 2002. Mitrovici said she feels the Antiochian Church was putting too much pressure on the congregants regarding materialistic matters rather than spiritual issues.

"We just disagreed. It's just our conscience, between us and God," Mitrovici said. "We may be completely wrong, but we're not used to being pushed."

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All Saints Orthodox Mission was founded in 1988 by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, an Eastern church rooted in Antioch, Syria. Many of the local mission's members are immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia.

Since 2005, the mission, with around 50 worshippers, has been holdings services in a church building on north Broadway.

Visiting priests were serving the congregation until the archdiocese assigned it a permanent priest.

The Rev. Oliver Herbel began Aug. 1.

"I thought when I came here everyone had the same vision," Herbel said.

One of those matters was thinking the building at 2415 N. Broadway would be donated to the diocese. The building, a former Seventh-day Adventist Church, is owned by a private nonprofit foundation, which could not be reached for comment.

After Herbel arrived, he said the owners made it clear they did not want to donate the building to the archdiocese.

"My understanding is it is a severe mistrust of the diocese that could not be overcome," Herbel said. "They were fairly upset with a few things that frankly I think were misunderstandings."

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Mitrovici said some members were not comfortable adopting the constitution of the Antiochian Archdiocese.

They were worried the diocese could decide to dissolve the congregation and take the building.

Some parishioners felt pressured to give money and financially support the new priest and his family, she said.

Mitrovici said the disagreement is a matter of differing worldviews.

"We didn't see love," she said. "They were very legalistic and trying to impose on us."

A vote was held to see if members of the mission congregation wanted to continue with the Antiochian Archdiocese. A slight majority voted against continuing with the archdiocese, said lay member Tony Ocana.

"People for whatever reason didn't feel comfortable under the archdiocese or with the way services were being performed," Ocana said.

After the Oct. 28 worship service, the Antiochian mission vacated the church building, Herbel said.

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The mission is still meeting, now in people's homes, Herbel said. It is looking for a new church space to rent. He will remain the full-time priest to the smaller congregation.

"I'm here unless told to go elsewhere, and Bishop Mark (Maymon, of the Antiochian Church's Midwest diocese) has given no indications of going elsewhere," Herbel said.

Orthodox facts

Several Christian churches are referred to as Orthodox. The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese is one of these Eastern Christian churches, along with the Greek, Russian and Armenian Orthodox churches.

Rooted in the Middle East or Eastern Europe, Orthodox churches split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054, and adhere to original apostolic traditions, teachings and style of worship.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525 Orthodox parish: No place to worship Sherri Richards 20071112

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