Cherry Hill, NJ – On the Feast Day of St. Thomas, Father Christoforos was greeted and surprised by his parishioners outside the steps of St. Thomas Greek Orthodox Church. Hundreds had gathered in their cars, honking their horns and showing off their blue and white flags. “We love you, father,” yelled one parishioner as Father Christoforos waved and maintained social distancing.
The COVID-19 pandemic had kept the public away from their beloved parish these past few months. However, on this rainy Sunday, these parishioners found a way to commemorate the Feast Day and their church and even managed to surprise their parish priest, who had no idea what awaited him beyond the church doors.
The Divine Liturgy started as it always did, but for the last seven weeks, the church had been empty. With rain falling outside, and just a few necessary members to run the service, cars began to arrive. Parishioners gathered in the church parking lot and sat patiently listening to the live broadcast of the Feast Day service by Cosmos Philly.
The somber atmosphere had taken its toll on the parishioners who had only recently gotten back into their new church. It had gone under a series of renovations the past year both inside and out, and services were suspended from being held in the church for many months and had been moved to the church gymnasium. With a brand new facade, bell tower, and the Feast Day coming together, this would be the first time the parishioners would celebrate this new milestone.
The liturgy concluded with a speech from Father Christoforos. He talked about the long history and future of the church. “St. Thomas Greek Orthodox church is the only Greek Orthodox church in North America named after St. Thomas,” said Father Christoforos. Christoforos went on to thank all those responsible for helping out during this crisis, especially those on the front line.
Following the service. Father Christoforos was escorted outside by the president of the St. Thomas, Charlie Sandilos. As the doors opened at church, a vibrant crowd of vehicles was circling the church. Posters waving from parishioner cars read, Christos Anesti! We Miss you, Father! We Love St. Thomas! Father Christoforos looked on. Overwhelmed, he waved, thanked the crowd, and yelled, “Christos Anesti, Christos Anesti.”
With the pandemic hopefully ending in the near future, the parishioners of St. Thomas, and all of the faithful Greek Orthodox Christians around the world, will once again attend services at their church. Although social distancing is the norm today, the display of love and support by the parishioners of St. Thomas shows us that even in crisis, we are still one community that will overcome any obstacle.