Holy Cross Parish is a part of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts, of the Patriarchate of Antioch His Beatitude, Gregory III, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of Alexandria and Jerusalem
- His Excellency, the Most Reverend Nicholas James Samra, Eparch
- Father François Beyrouti, Pastor
- Deacon Elias Kashou, Pastoral Associate
Holy Cross Church is a parish of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of Newton, MA, a church sui iuris under the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated in Rome in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. The Diocese of Newton consists of the entire continental United States, with 34 parishes and 8 missions. The Diocese is divided into 5 geographical regions, each with a priest serving as dean. The Western Region consists of 5 parishes and 5 missions. Each of these communities carries on or is developing the normal activities associated with a parish church:
- the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Sundays as well as 2 daily services;
- outreach and evangelization
- pastoral care
- service to the community and charitable works
- education of youth, young adults, and adults in the Bible and Teaching of the Melkite Catholic Church
- social and cultural events.
Holy Cross Church serves all of the Melkite Catholics in Orange County. There are also members from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Recent and continued immigration of Melkite Catholics from the Middle East to Southern California places a serious emphasis on evangelization with little or no resources and a shortage of clergy.
The Eparchy of Newton has attempted to supply for the needs of these newly settled Melkite Catholics through the erection of the many missions in the region, matching the number of fully established parishes. Other Eparchial resources include:
- An Office of Religious Education
- A Seminary
- Organizations for Youth, Young Adults, and Adults
- A Diocesan Pastoral Council in which members of individual parish councils meet periodically to form one large council, bridging the gap between parishes and sharing resources
- A yearly convention, hosted by a different parish, which features seminars and materials arranged toward a particular theme
- Web sites hosted by several of our parishes and organizations
We, the parishioners of Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church are dedicated:
- to preserve the tradition of the Great Church of Antioch, founded by Saints Peter and Paul, where the followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ were first called Christians
- to worship the Lord according to the Byzantine tradition in its fullness, striving to live a life of Orthodox Christian faith, pleasing to Christ in the midst of the modern culture of America
- to provide a haven for Middle Eastern and American youth and young adults to be able to practice their Orthodox faith, reinforcing their cultures, languages and traditions
- to be a focal point of peace, understanding and education of the cultural and spiritual traditions of the people of the Middle East
- to be a center of Christian and Middle Eastern hospitality and to pass on our heritage to future generations
- to bridge the values of the Christian Middle East and mainstream America into the next millennia and to share the Good News of the Risen Christ with all whom we encounter.
Holy Cross Parish, Orange County, California Part 1 - The beginning... The Early Years
Melkite Growth in California Prior to New Missions
When Walt Disney decided to build his amusement park, Disneyland, amid the orange groves in Anaheim, CA, the orange groves of Orange County in this sleepy county southeast of Los Angeles blossomed, not with orange blossoms, but with new homes. The groves quickly disappeared, and new blossoms came forth - new homes for the growing population. Many families began to exit the older Los Angeles area and relocate in the new growth area; of course this also meant Melkite families were among those who moved.
The mother Melkite Church of Los Angeles, St. Anne, begun in 1909 was quite a unique community. Its early days had around 100 families who were situated in a Middle Eastern community in Los Angeles. However in the late 1940's and 1950's many Melkites from the east coast and mid-west USA, from older communities began to follow the sun. Locating work, they moved into all the areas of Los Angeles County. No longer was the church building in the near vicinity of the people. A new building began in the 1960's in the San Fernando Valley, in North Hollywood at the junction of two major freeways, practically in the east-west center of the county. By the 1970's, the parishioners were scattered throughout the county from the Pacific Ocean and south bay, Los Angeles, the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, Pasadena area and cities east of it: Duarte, Monrovia, Arcadia, etc. Families had also moved into Downey, just south of Los Angeles. With the freeway system it was not a long ride to go to the church for services or meetings in those days, but eventually the traffic would increase abundantly, making travel to the church a chore and nightmare for many.
In 1970, a newly ordained priest, Fr. Nicholas Samra, was sent to Los Angeles to work with Archimandrites Michel Bardaouil and Maximos Mardelli, to serve the growing parish. After checking with both priests he created an actual list of the Melkites in the greater area - well over 800 families. After the retirement of Fr. Bardaouil, he began discussion with Fr. Mardelli about mission expansion of the parish. As newly married couples and younger families began the movement away from the established areas, they scattered throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
The priests began looking at the possibility of mission extensions of St. Anne Church into several areas. After a full census was made, they looked at future extensions in the San Gabriel Valley and Pasadena area, west side of Los Angeles from Santa Monica to south bay area, and Orange County. Each of these areas could eventually develop other outreach missions in their areas with the growing number of Melkite families.
The west side of Los Angeles and Orange County looked the most promising in 1973. There were families on the west side coming to St. Anne Church, however many new immigrants were settling there and approximately 100 families were not active at the mother Church. About 30-35 families on St. Anne's list lived in Orange County which meant there were most certainly more. So in 1973 two missions were born: St. Paul on the west side of Los Angeles served by Fr. Mardelli and Holy Cross in Orange County served by Fr. Samra.
The writer of this early history of Holy Cross Community must admit that the clergy that followed Frs. Mardelli and Samra did not have the same focus for mission extension and the St. Paul center on the west side was allowed to arrive to near death, believing that the people should come to the mother church. No other missions in the greater Los Angeles area were started, until very recently in the San Gabriel Valley. On the other hand, with persistence, the Orange County extension grew into a full time parish.
The Birth of the Holy Cross Community
Of the 30-35 families on St. Anne's list living in Orange County, most were not regular participants at St. Anne Church; some came back for baptisms or weddings or major feast days such as Christmas and Palm Sunday. Another 30-35 families lived in Los Angeles County areas bordering Orange County. After going through the Los Angeles Catholic Directory, Fr. Maximos and Fr. Nicholas began searching for a place to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. They attempted to stay away from parishes because most parishes had a full schedule of weekend Liturgies, including Sunday evening which the priests felt would be the best time for the celebrations. They searched for high schools with chapels and even hospitals. They addressed letters asking for use of the facilities and paid visits to some of these places; at some they were welcomed, at others they were not.
After a few trips to Orange County they were welcomed by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus who staffed Cornelia Connelly girls' high school on Broadway, just west of Brookhurst in Anaheim. The sisters' convent chapel could accommodate around 60 people and was not used on Sunday afternoon. The sisters welcomed us and even refused to accept a weekly financial stipend for the use of the chapel. A temporary home was located, so, now it was time to meet with the people.
The clergy sent a letter to those Melkites living in Orange County and set a date for an evening meeting at the Cornelia Connelly School Library. Both Archimandrite Maximos Mardelli, who would lead the west Los Angeles mission, and Fr. Nicholas Samra who would serve the Orange County Mission, were present at the meeting attended by about 45 people. They presented the plan of establishing the mission and were excited to inform those gathered that the convent chapel of Cornelia Connelly would be available for regular Sunday worship. Details were finalized and other family names were added to the list by way of those present who knew other interested Melkite or Maronite families in their area. Many years later the Maronites would found their own Church in Orange County. In the early days the Melkites were the majority at Holy Cross with a few Maronite families who chose to worship with us.
Rather than just call the community the Orange County Mission, Fr. Nicholas Samra scanned the listing of Latin parishes in the Orange County area and the Melkite Eparchy and saw that none were named after the Holy Crass of the Lord. He proposed to Archbishop Tawil of placing the new community under the protection of the Lord's cross, with the name of Holy Cross Melkite Community of Orange County. The archbishop approved the name and the parish feast was September 14, the Exaltation of the Holy and Life- Giving Cross. A secondary feast was the third Sunday of the Great Fast on which the Holy Cross is commemorated. Each year a parish dinner was held on September 14 or the Sunday closest to it and a Lenten dinner of the third Sunday of the Great Fast.
The date was set for the inaugural Divine Liturgy (I believe it was in May 1973); 5:00 p.m. was chosen for the time and almost 60 people participated. The average attendance for the first year was around 30-40 people, less of course in the summer months when 5 p.m. was not such a convenient time because of the great California weather providing recreation for many. Within less than 3 months the entire congregation was beautifully singing all the responses of the Divine Liturgy, something that has yet to happen in St. Anne Church in North Hollywood. The chapel was transformed with icons to accommodate the Byzantine Liturgy; the sisters even gave us an unused confessional as a storage area. Servers and readers were trained quickly, even several of the sisters participated weekly in the Liturgy, particularly Sr. Rosemary McCarthy and Sr. Mary St. Andrew, a Maltese nun whose nephew, Ken Mortimer, had become a Melkite when he got married in Lebanon. Because the sisters refused a financial gift for use of the chapel, the families brought weekly gifts of food and produce for them.
On his round-trip drive from North Hollywood to Anaheim every Sunday, Fr. Samra tried to visit at least one family before the Liturgy and one or two after. This helped tremendously with community building. The families gathered very often for pot-luck dinners after the Liturgies and for socials on feast days. On occasion Fr. Nicholas was accompanied by Carl Heinemeyer who later was ordained a deacon for St. Anne Church in 1974. On numerous occasions Jim Owens, one time music director from St. Anne also hopped in the car for the ride to Anaheim and helped very much with leading the congregational singing.
The Rapid Growth of Holy Cross
On the great feasts of Christmas, Palm Sunday and Pascha, Liturgies were celebrated in the school auditorium because of the larger crowd; family dinners and socials followed. Attempts were made for Liturgies on the twelve great feasts of our church year. After Theophany, Fr. Nicholas Samra would spend a week at the convent guest room and go visit the families for the blessing of homes. He would take a different area of Orange County each day and the families were notified well in advance to expect a short visit. Most baptisms were incorporated with the celebration of the Sunday Divine Liturgy so that the families would meet each other and welcome into the community the newly christened and his/her family. The family of the newly baptized would host a community dinner for those present.
In July 1977, Archbishop Joseph Tawil granted Fr. Nicholas a leave of absence so he could assist his family in caring for his dying mother. Fr. George Pruys filled in for him at St. Anne Church and handled the mission Liturgy in Anaheim along with Archimandrite Maximos Mardelli. Soon after Elizabeth Samra's death in December 1977, Fr. Nicholas returned to California to resume his work. Fr. Nicholas had been telling the archbishop that it was time for a full time priest to be assigned for Holy Cross, even though it had no church building of its own. The archbishop wanted proof that the community could support a priest, so Fr. Samra asked that Fr. Pruys remain in North Hollywood for a while, and he himself rented an apartment next to the convent and school on the corner of Broadway and Brookhurst.
From January 1978 until July he continued to build up the community with education classes. Divine Liturgy was now celebrated in the morning and the attendance tripled and then some. The celebrations were moved into the school lecture hall and the auditorium when necessary. Sunday school began for the children and some adult religious education programs were offered for the parents. Missions/retreats were held in Great Lent. Over 100 families were now registered and new families began arriving weekly from among the more recent immigrants from the Middle East.
Fr. Nicholas sent a full report to Archbishop Joseph and by way of telephone the archbishop told him he would receive a letter within a week announcing that he was now "pastor," even without its own church. He asked him not to divulge the information until the letter arrived. Instead of a letter, in another phone call, Archbishop Tawil instructed Fr. Nicholas to go to Chicago, where he was now named pastor. The Church of St. John the Baptist was without a priest from April 1978, and had a lay administrator who received assistance for Liturgies from a Ukrainian Catholic priest. The Holy Cross plan was put on hold.
From its inception in 1973 until Fr. Nicholas Samra left in 1978, there were 60 baptisms, 12 marriages and only 2 deaths. Visibly the numbers proved that Holy Cross was a vibrantly growing parish. Many of our older Melkite communities in the United States don't see 60 baptisms in ten years, and 17 marriages in twenty or more years. Funerals abound.
In early 1978, Fr. Nicholas Samra began making a plan for a mission in southern Orange County. Anaheim was in the northern section of the county and there was now more growth taking place south in communities like Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Irvine, Laguna and Newport Beach, and a large concentration in the Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa areas. These communities would eventually explode with new places to live such as Rancho Santa Margarita, Lake Forest, San Juan Capistrano and Aliso Viejo.
Rather than just develop the mission for Melkites, he was in touch with Fr. George Kuzma, pastor of Annunciation Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church also in Anaheim. Fr. George also had some parishioners in the south area who didn't regularly participate in the parish in Anaheim. Since Melkite and Ruthenians share the same Byzantine tradition with just a few minor changes like music, both priests saw an opportunity for a combined mission and future pan -Byzantine parish. They would alternate going south on Sundays, use both musical traditions and bring the people together for a stronger non-ethnic community.
The plan never was put in action because soon after the plans were made, Fr. George became Ruthenian Auxiliary Bishop of Passaic NJ, and Fr. Nicholas Samra was moved to Chicago. This was an ideal place to try a combined or pan -Byzantine parish.
Parish History, Part 2,
The interim years 1979 -1983
After Fr. Nichols departed for his new assignment as Pastor of St. John the Baptist Melkite Parish in Chicago, Holy Cross was served intermittently by Archimandrite Maximos Mardelli, pastor of St. Anne Church in North Hollywood and by various priests assigned there to assist him. Most notable among them was Fr. George Pruys and Fr. George Gallaro. Soon an interim priest arrived. Father Joseph Dagher, a member of the Basilian Salvatorian Community, was provided with an apartment. Fr. Joseph became known for his avant-garde homilies. A year later, Archimandrite Basilios Genadry was named administrator of the parish by Archbishop Joseph Tawil. it was during his tenure that the parish purchased a home on Monument Avenue in Anaheim, just a block away from Cornelia Connelly High School where the community was still worshiping on Sundays. This house served as a rectory and the Patio was transformed into a small chapel furnished by the good will of the people. There they celebrated Feast Days and evening Akathistos during Great Lent and Praklisis during the first weeks of August.
Fr. Basilios was a kindly man but suffered from an inner-ear disability which prohibited him from driving a car. In Southern California this was a severe handicap as the families were spread out over twenty-five square miles and beyond. Although many good parishioners offered to provide him with rides it still proved a difficulty. Linguistics also became somewhat of an issue, for Fr. Basilios was fluent in Arabic but not in English. Those who could not understand Arabic began to drift away from the community. The Parish Advisory Council notified Archbishop Joseph of the situation and in due course a solution was found.
The History of Holy Cross Parish from November, 1983 - November 1989
Father Philip Raczka is Assigned
Archbishop Joseph Tawil assigned Father Philip Raczka to Holy Cross Mission effective November 14, 1983. When the Archbishop spoke with Father Philip he told him that he was very disappointed with the community. It had been in existence for 10 years and still did not have its own church and there was constant fighting. He told Father Philip to work for six months and if there was no improvement the Mission would be closed. Father began his assignment with this in mind. At that time Sunday attendance was 50-75 people with possibly 100 for a memorial. Father insisted that the service be 50% in English for the young people to understand. The first sign that something good would happen in the Mission came on March 25, 1984 when Archbishop Tawil visited in the evening for the Sunday of the Cross; over 200 people were present. Then in April about 500 people came for Palm Sunday and Good Friday and half that number for Pascha.
The fighting in the parish was twofold; the American born parishioners, who had mostly left the community, versus the immigrants and among the immigrants themselves each nationality with the other. This latter conflict was so severe that when the liturgy was being offered as a memorial for a member of one nationality the other nationalities would not attend. Because of this situation Father Philip stopped announcing the liturgy intentions one week in advance. Ultimately the problem was solved by the grace of God and the fact that the parishioners saw their priest as neutral and not favoring one group over the other.
A New Temporary Home
Since its beginning in 1973 the Mission had worshiped at Cornelia Connolly Catholic High School in Anaheim. Father Nicholas 5amra had a portable iconostasis and altar made and these were used in a plain lecture hall that looked very "churchy" when set up. Over the years however the school had furnished the room with pictures, trophy cases and chalk boards so that it no longer looked "churchy." Also, the room was only available on Sunday mornings and there was no room for coffee. All weekday activities had to be held at the priest's house.
Given that the room at Cornelia Connolly High School no longer adequately served the needs of the community Father Raczka went to see the Roman Catholic Bishop of Orange County to find another place to worship. Bishop William Johnson graciously offered any one of the three Spanish Missions ofthe diocese to be used. Father decided on St. Isidore in Los Alamitos because it was used for only one Spanish Mass at 9 AM and had in addition to the church a patio, small hall, small parking lot and small rectory used as offices. Holy Cross began celebrating its liturgies there in June of 1984. The parish attendance immediately increased; that Summer the average attendance went to 90 whereas in previous Summers it had been only 25 and in the fall it jumped to 125-150. The parishioners were happy to be praying in a real church. Holy Cross worshipped in this facility until it acquired a church on Lemon Street in Fullerton. It should be noted that Bishop Johnson wanted Holy Cross to stay at St. Isidore's permanently. The priest and Parish Council decided against this because of scheduling problems with the Spanish congregation, the building did not have a byzantine atmosphere and the geographic location was not central to the community.
The Purchase of the Lemon Street Church in Fullerton
During Father Basil Genadry's term (1980-1983) two properties were purchased in the hopes of having a home for the Mission. The first was a white single family house near Cornelia Connolly High School in Anaheim. At that time interest rates were high and the mortgage was at 13%. Later, a property in Cypress was purchased for 5295,000 with the help of the Orange County Diocese. It contained two houses and an RV storage lot. Permission was obtained to turn one of the houses into a chapel but this was never done and the permission expired. Also, the first house was to be sold and used as a down payment on the Cypress property which was not accomplished until 1985.
In 1984 Father Raczka visited Bishop William Johnson of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange to see if he would further assist the community in obtaining a church building. His answer was a firm "No;" but auxiliary Bishop John Steinbock persuaded him to help the community if certain conditions were met. Bishop Johnson gave the community a detailed list of 90 conditions! These were worked on gradually so that when the Lemon Street church in Fullerton was found, he indeed helped the Mission.
The Friendship Baptist Church on Lemon Street in Fullerton was first viewed by Archbishop Tawil as a possible future home for Holy Cross during Lent of 1985. The building had a church, hall, offices, classrooms and 44 parking spaces. The Archbishop became very excited when he saw an Antiochian Cross on the exterior of the building and learned that it was oriented east-west. That night at the Akathist Hymn in Los Alamitos, he announced to the community that a church building had been found at long last.
Many of the parishioners were skeptical about buying a church due to the finances. At that time, the parish had $47,000 in the bank and the purchase price of the church was 5500,000; although, later it was lowered to $375,000. Shortly thereafter the original parish house was sold and the equity of $29,000 was deposited in the parish account. A Hafleh was held that raised $9,000. The parish now had $85,000 in the bank and people began to think that the project was possible. Work began to collect money aided by the fact that the escrow lasted one year while the Baptists built their new church. When the escrow closed on April 30, 1986, Holy Cross had over $150,000 in the bank. $125,000 was paid as a down payment on the building and the Diocese of Orange provided a mortgage of $250,000. $25,000 was then spent to create an apartment for the priest out of some of the second floor classrooms.
Holy Cross now had its own home. The building, though, needed a lot of work to turn it from a run-down Baptist Church into a well-kept Melkite Church. The building was gradually cleaned and painted and in October 1986 (after the Annual Clergy Conference) Archbishop Tawil visited with over a dozen priests and told an over-flowing crowed that the Mission was now a parish and Father Philip was the first pastor. He also told the parish to continue renovating the building so that it would be a proper Melkite Church with permanent liturgical furnishings, as at that time the temporary ones were still being used.
Over the next two years the building was made more attractive by painting the exterior white and stuccoing the cement block property wall and also painting it white. The property was also gradually landscaped and a beautiful sign was built. In January of 1988 the Parish Council insisted that it was time to renovate the interior of the church. Father Philip was against the project until the mortgage was lower but the Council appealed to Archbishop Tawil who agreed to the work. Father Philip insisted that the work be paid for in cash because one mortgage was enough and two were not needed. The parishioners donated $55,000 for the project during Great Lent of that year and all bills were paid when they arrived.
The work began on the First Monday of Great Lent. The interior of the church was stripped of drywall and new doors and windows were installed. A platform was built in the east side of the church switching the altar from the west to the east. New wiring was installed and the flat ceiling removed to make a cathedral ceiling. The building was dry-walled in time for Holy Week and painted after Pascha. The pews were stripped and refinished to match the new iconostasis. On the outside, the porch on the north side of the church was extended along the whole wall to give the building a more California mission look and new exterior lights were installed. Parishioners donated 14 crystal chandeliers for the renovated church as well as the icons for the new iconostasis. A short time later a large grape arbor was built opposite the north wall of the church on the other side of the parking lot so as to create a courtyard like appearance. It also became a place to gather in addition to the hall. Archbishop Tawil blessed the building that fall and said that it looked like a small cathedral. The parishioners were very proud of their newly renovated church and insisted that it could now seat 50 more people than before even though the same pews and chairs were in place. It was just that with a cathedral ceiling the building was more airy. This also improved the acoustics in the church tremendously and the higher ceiling made it easier to cool the building.
Growth on Lemon Street
When the parish moved to Lemon Street on the first Sunday of May in 1986 it began to grow immediately. Sunday attendance went from 125-150 to over 200 in six months. The finances drastically improved with collections increasing from $300 per week to $900 in 6 months. They kept growing and by 1989 they were over $2,000 per week. The number of baptisms also went up to over 40 per year. The Sunday school also increased in number.
The typical Sunday saw the Liturgy with an overflowing attendance (people standing outside and looking in through the doors and windows) followed by a lunch and then a baptism or engagement or wedding anniversary. On Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Pascha, two liturgies were filled to overflowing. Whenever there was a 40 Day Memorial an additional liturgy was celebrated at 1 PM because the normal 11 AM Sunday Liturgy was so overcrowded. The great number of people for Holy Communion and the expanded liturgical schedule led to the need for clergy help. The Diocese of Orange graciously provided Deacon Lou Merandi to assist the parish and later on Father Bishara, a Coptic Catholic priest helped the parish until he moved to North Hollywood. At the same time, the Cedars Dance Troup, consisting mostly of parishioners, practiced at the church on Sundays and provided entertainment for the parish Haflaat. In 1987, the Chaldean Catholic community also began to use the church on Sunday evenings at 5 PM.
Holy Cross parishioners had always participated well in the liturgy and in order to encourage people of all ages to sing a series of bi-lingual books were produced for all the services of the year. The Arabic Choir led by Elias Kashou sang with gusto and Father Philip taught the young people how to sing in English. Eventually, most of the parishioners learned to sing both the English and Arabic hymns, making each Sunday a fervent celebration especially during the Paschal Season.
The Lemon Street church served the community well until the present church was purchased in 1998. Once the parish had its own building many of the problems that afflicted it earlier melted away due to God's blessings coming from the people more fervent liturgical participation and prayer.
The Role of the Laity
Holy Cross had always been blessed with hard working lay people. Each extended family produced at least one or two people who worked for the parish with great dedication. The Haflaat and fund raising was always handled by the parishioners with little input from Father Philip. Whenever there was insufficient money for the bills, he would announce it in church and the following Sunday the money was there, raised by the Council Members. The most important job that the Parish Council did was keeping peace in the community. Whenever anyone complained, a Council member would talk with them; if the complaint was unfounded, then asked the person to be quiet. If the complaint was legitimate it was brought to the Council and the person was told to be patient until the matter was discussed in the Council. Also, whenever national feelings became extreme, the parishioners would tell each other that we are all God's children and welcome in the church. The Council with God's blessing was able to forge a community consisting of many nationalities into one united parish.
To mention those who worked at this time is difficult because they are so many. Michel Kashou, Elias Kashou, Nadia Bettendorf, Bill Samawi, Tony Shubat, Fuad Rayyan and Jamil Semaan are just a few of the many people who worked. Sara Hallak and Josephine Saba always worked in the socials and Coffee Hours. Whole extended families such as the Lutfis and Semaans always supported all of the church activities and attended every Sunday. But there are so many others who should be mentioned also like the Azzams, Haddadins and Gennaweys. God knows who worked to make Holy Cross the great parish that it is today and He will reward them in his mercy.
Father Philip Raczka left Holy Cross Church after six eventful years on November 15, 1989 to become the pastor of St. Ann in West Paterson, NJ. The parish then passed into the capable hands of Fr. James Babcock and new chapters of growth began.
Parish History 1989-2011, Part 3,
Father James arrives
In November of 1989, Father James Babcock arrived having been reassigned from Pastor of St. George Mel kite Parish in Sacramento to Holy Cross. Upon his arrival he was greeted by a large number of men who helped him unload his belongings from his rented U-Haul truck. (Gone were the days when the new priest would arrive on a streetcar with only one suitcase).
He quickly realized that this was an Arabic speaking community. He had learned Arabic in the seminary but had little opportunity to use the language in either of his previous assignments in Akron, Ohio or Sacramento. Eight years had passed and he realized that some remedial work was in order. He appealed to Georgette Azzam for help and she graciously responded.
The community was so proud of their newly renovated church. Still, Fr. James noticed that it was already too small and that people were lining up outside along the windows trying their best to participate in the liturgy being celebrated inside.
It was reasonably easy for Fr. James to adjust to Orange County inasmuch as he had grown up not far away in the San Gabriel Valley city of Monrovia. He knew where all the cities were and so driving around came quite natural to him. Liturgically, additional help came from Deacon Lou Mirandi who had retired from the Latin Church but still wanted to serve even past the age of 75.
After the first Sunday's liturgy and coffee hour, Father James headed off to San Bernardino where only months before a new mission had been established, entrusted to the care of the clergy of Holy Cross. Locating the Latin Church which Father Philip had arranged to use the celebrated liturgy there, and was invited to dinner at one of the parishioners home's and returned back to Fullerton around 10:30 at night totally exhausted. He quickly realized that this assignment was going to be much more difficult than caring for the 50 families in Sacramento had been.
On Monday, Father entered the parish office to find that there was only a typewriter and an ancient adding machine. No computer, no copy machine. This needed to be taken up with the Parish Advisory Council. He also discovered that there was no washing machine or dryer in the rectory which consisted of a small apartment located directly above the parish hall. The PAC was reluctant to spend money on office equipment but Father James held his ground and soon a computer and copy machine were installed. The washing machine was another matter. Here the PAC drew the line and said he could go to the Laundromat to wash his clothes like the priest before him did. Father informed the PAC that if every member of the council would sell their washing machines and dryers and give the money to the church, he would be willing to go without. Three days later a new washer and dryer arrived.
In due course, the situation in the parish office vastly improved with the arrival of a young mother of four who offered to serve as parish secretary. After getting adjusted to the routine of parish life, she set about reorganizing the office. This brought order to the chaos and tempered the impetus pastor, Fr. James, who had the bad habit of shouting, "I need this RIGHT NOW!" She has faithfully served our community now for 20 years. Her contribution has helped the parish grow and develop. She brought many fresh ideas to the life of the community for which every member, not to mention Fr. James, should be very grateful. May God grant her and her family many happy years as a reward for her service.
One additional complication Father James discovered was that the church was rented every Sunday to the Chaldean Catholics, whose priest would drive over from North Hollywood to celebrate the liturgy in Aramaic. There were lots of Chaldeans and the church overflowed again every Sunday evening. Often, Father James would arrive back from San Bernardino to find the parking lot full and hundreds of the Chaldean community members milling around. Since there was no place to park, not to mention even a modicum of privacy he would go up and rest on a bench at the nearby Fullerton Train Station until the crowd dissipated.
The parish continued to grow and develop. It had a strong council to guide Father and there was a reasonable Sunday school in place. A large group of Young Adults held various activities and were very helpful around the church.
Our Lady's Society
About a year later, Father received a phone call from Lucy Lutfi who suggested that a ladies group be started. She came up with the idea of holding a "Salad Night". It was a huge success and Lucy in her inimitable way persuaded/coerced the ladies into forming an organization that became known as Our Lady's Society being dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It seems that the Holy Virgin gave her blessings as Our Lady's Society quickly became the largest parish women's organization in the diocese. To this day, this wonderful organization has proved to be a huge source of support for the entire community. An annual Valentine Party was instituted, various post-liturgical luncheons were held for various charitable projects. Often the ladies would gather and polish and shine up the church. Whenever Father James needed assistance with hospitality they were there. Their cooking was so good that at a meeting of the Fullerton Interfaith Ministerial Association held at Holy Cross, even the local rabbi who was much reluctant to set foot in a "Palestinian" community, was persuaded to stay for lunch and you could see the change from apprehension to friendship on his face.
Parish continues to grow
As the parish continued to grow and develop the PAC decided to begin a search for a larger church. Little did they know that this would take seven years. One church after another was looked at but either they were too expensive, the location was bad or the cost was excessive. And, so, the growing parish remained at Lemon Street in Fullerton. In time a new Youth Group was started and the Sunday school burst at the seams with students.
One evening, the parish was blessed by a visit from His Beatitude, Maximos V, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. He was amazed at the beautiful icons Fr. Philip had commissioned and at the huge crowd that had gathered on a weeknight. Although the community was buoyed by his visit, there was still the problem of an inadequate facility. So strong was the community that they had outgrown the facility almost from the moment they moved in.
Over the years, Fr. James welcomed various students from St. Gregory Seminary; James Graham, now pastor of St. Elias Parish in San Jose; Fadi Aoufan, who became an Orthodox priest; the indomitable Sarni Baroody, former pastor of St. Ann Parish in New jersey and in 2011, and most recently, Deacon Musil Shihadeh all who interned at Holy Cross with Father James.
In 1990, along with the new Our Lady's Society, parishioners began receiving a small monthly newsletter called The Way of the Cross. As computers improved and along with them better programs, the parish added Microsoft Publisher to its computer and a new improved newsletter was born. Christened The Tree of Life it was printed on blue paper to make it a little more distinctive and recognizable. Now in its 18th year it has been published every month without ever missing a single issue. The newsletter consists of various spiritual and family life articles, photos of parish activities, news of the parish organizations, guidelines, calendars and a stewardship page. Recently a page for Our Lady's Society was introduced along with a page for the Adopt-A-Child program for St. George Melkite Parish in Zababdeh, Occupied Palestine.
A new church for Holy Cross
The search for a better facility continued through the years when in 1998, the parish revisited a church in Placentia that had originally been listed for $2,000,000. The price had been reduced to $1.5 million dollars. Negotiations were opened and an offer was made that was immediately rejected by the seller. The parish countered and after an entire evening of offers from each side a final price of $975,000 was agreed upon. The sale of the old church brought in $500,000 and a no interest bond drive was established which was well received by the parishioners which brought in another $300,000. A loan was arranged with Cedars Bank for the remaining amount and the church at 451 West Madison in Placentia was ours.
The first liturgy was on a hat one hundred degrees-plus September morning with no air-conditioning. Fr. James who is loath to cut parts of the liturgy for expediencies’ sake, speeded up the liturgy that Sunday for reasons of survival in the one hundred degree-plus weather. As quickly as possible the church was Byzantinized. The chandeliers from the old church were installed in the new church and the iconostasis was brought over and miraculously fit within one inch into the new church. In time new festal icons were painted and installed on the walls along with new icons across the top of the icon screen and a new set of royal gates were added with new icons. One year later, His Excellency, Bishop John Elya came and consecrated the new church.
Spiritual growth and development
Contributing greatly to the spiritual growth and development was the Theosis Weekend programs. Currently over 50 parishioners have attended the Theosis program which is an entire weekend of intense spiritual education and prayer. Currently, a small Theosis group meets regularly each Sunday after liturgy and monthly on Saturday evenings. Participants have written a number of spiritual articles which have been published in The Tree of Life.
With eight classrooms available, Fr. James trained a number of new catechists and eight grades of Eastern Christian Formation classes got underway as well as, new pre-school and kindergarten classes. Thanks be to God, our parish has been blessed with a number of very faithful well trained catechists. For many years Paula Mihalow has been serving as coordinator for the Eastern Christian Formation program, Sunday school enrollment has reached a peak of 80 students some years. More challenging has been ministry to our teens. For a number of years the youth would attend the annual National Association of Melkite Youth conferences which preceded the National Melkite Convention each year. Over the years, however, the lifestyle of teenagers has become more challenging. Our families live far from the church and it is inconvenient to drive through heavy freeway traffic to bring the teens to the church for activities. A number of ideas were implemented, none of which bore much fruit. Recently, however, Sarab and Mera Aranki have been meeting with moderate success in reviving a youth group. May God continue to prosper the work of their hands.
House Blessings and Road Trips
One of the great challenges is keeping contact with families spread out over such a vast area. There are over 90 zip codes in 53 cities located in 4 different counties (Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino & Riverside). Following the Feast of Theophany, lists are made according to zip codes and given to Father James so he can travel to every family to bless their home. This affords Father an opportunity to spend time at least once each year with every member at their home. Although the visits are brief, every family knows that their pastor knows where they live and what their circumstances are. There are no unknown families at Holy Cross. Father James knows everyone!
What about Holy Cross Parish's famous road trips? For many years a well filled bus along with a number of fully loaded cars, would head across the Mojave Desert to Holy Resurrection Monastery for a Pilgrimage, a day of prayer, fellowship and well, just a lot of fun. Later, this journey expanded to St. Anthony Coptic Orthodox Monastery about 20 miles away, down a long dirt road where the monks would give tours and the pilgrims would load up on Arabic cd's and dvd's. On another occasion, a pilgrimage was made to the Getty Center in West Los Angeles for the icon Exhibit from St. Catherine Monastery on Mount Sinai. This proved to be extremely popular. After the monks of Holy Resurrection Monastery relocated to St. Andrew Abbey in Valyermo, the pilgrimages were discontinued after one year at that location.
Another new priest and just in time
In 1997, an additional priest was assigned to Holy Cross to assist Fr. James. Fr. Justin Rose came from Emmaus House in Harlem to Orange County where a more stark a change in atmosphere could not be imagined. The timing was propitious as a crisis in staffing the missions in Temecula and San Diego was in progress. For many months, one of the priests would serve the liturgy in Temecula and then drive on to San Diego and celebrate a second liturgy there, while the other would serve Holy Cross and St. Philip mission in San Bernardino. After a year, Fr. James requested that Fr. Justin begin going weekly to San Bernardino and celebrate liturgy in the morning there. This proved to be a huge success and attendance increased exponentially. Shortly thereafter, Fr. Justin was assigned as administrator of St. Philip Mission where he serves faithfully to this day.
The Middle Eastern Food Festival
To help the parish grow and develop, the PAC developed a Middle-Eastern Food Festival which has expanded annually. Over the years a separate Festival Committee was formed and some of the profits were reinvested in equipment to make the festival to be an ever more attractive event. The remaining proceeds went to the Building Fund. Now people from the neighborhoods and throughout Orange County descend on the church grounds for a rousing two day festival. Only those who plan for and prepare for the festival know how much work it is to present this annual event every September. The parish owes each of them a great debt of thanks. The festival has even made the front page of the Sunday edition of the Orange County Register. May God reward all who work so hard to make this event happen each year.
The annual Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross brought an unexpected blessing to the parish. After the relocation to Placentia, Deacon Ed Faulk from St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church was so impressed with the celebration he approached Fr. James and offered to serve Holy Cross parish too. Father advised him that he would have to seek the permission of both bishops which was granted. He has been serving faithfully now for 11 years. The parish was also served by Deacon Tareq Nasrallah from St. Anne Parish in North Hollywood. As Deacon Ed could only serve twice a month (the other Sundays he continued to serve at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Parish) so Deacon Tareq would serve on the other Sundays using Arabic. Recently Holy Cross Parish experienced its first diaconal ordination. Elias Kashou completed his four years of training at St Gregory Seminary and was ordained a deacon at the hand of His Excellency Archbishop Cyril Bustros who, at the same time, blessed two new readers, Joseph Greenwood and Saad Tashman for the parish. These fine men are true servants of the Lord and enhance the quality of our parish life.
While serving as pastor, Fr. James cajoled the other Eastern Catholic priests and deacons to meet and soon was born the Eastern Catholic Pastoral Association of Southern California with members from the Byzantine-Ruthenian, Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Maronite, Chaldean, Coptic, Syriac and Malabar Catholic Churches. The organization has published the One Church and the Communion of Churches book which has sold tens of thousands of copies and is still in great demand. To make the Eastern Catholic Churches more visible the ECPA has hosted exhibits at the Los Angeles Archdiocese Catechechical Conference and St. Joseph Family Life Conference. The group meets bi-monthly at various parishes in Southern California and has representatives from the Roman Catholic Church as well.
The Society of St. John Chrysostom
After attending an Orientale Lumen Conference in San Diego, a number of Orthodox and Catholic clergy and laity agreed to form a chapter of the Society of 5t. John Chrysostom. Fr. James was elected Vice-President and has helped develop a variety of workshops to further educate our members. The workshops are held at various parishes throughout Southern California including here at Holy Cross. Additionally, Fr. James accepted to edit a newsletter, The Light of the East which is distributed in churches Catholic and Orthodox throughout the Southland.
In 1993, His Excellency, Bishop John Elya elevated Fr. James to the rank of Archimandrite for his work in obtaining the new church and his various other Ecumenical works.
Planning for the future
Several years ago, the PAC and the Building Committee developed a plan for a new parish complex. $25,000 was paid to Ralph Allen & Partners to design a new campus. When the work was completed, everyone was pleased to see a future new church, hall, office and classroom complex. Drawings, landscaping and parking were included in the plan. Part of the plan was contingent on the purchase of the house on the west side of the current property. So far the family dwelling there is unwilling to sell. The cost was an astonishing $12,000,000 not including furnishings. The parish was prepared knowing that any building would be done in phases. The infrastructure would have to go in first; electric, water, landscaping and parking. The Architect and Fr. James recommended that the Church be built first. The Committee and Archbishop Cyril wished to build the hall first. The architect noted that churches that built their hall first, did not build their church then for over 20 years, which is why they recommended against it. At the current time, a lack of funds has precluded the implementation of this project. $2,000,000.00 and a building loan would be required before construction can begin.
In 2009 PAC Chair, Steve Kent, the PAC and Father James discussed hosting the 2011 National Melkite Convention. They put in a bid at the Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting at the New Jersey Convention and a lively discussion ensued. There were objections of having two conventions in a row on the West Coast, Seattle in 2010 and Orange County in 2011. Many did not want to travel across country twice. When DPC Chair John Caven asked if any other parish would take the 2011 convention, none volunteered so the Convention went to Holy Cross Parish.
Over the years many other notable events marked the life of the parish among them, was a visit from Anna Baltzar author of Witness Palestine, who spoke to a jam packed audience in the parish hall. Anna, a young Jewish woman decided for herself to visit Occupied Palestine to find out what was really going on. She was shocked by the treatment of the Palestinians by the Jewish Defense Forces and the Ultra-rightwing settlers. Her presentation detailed the inequities faced by the Palestinians which have led to a mass exodus of Christians from the Holy Land resulting in the reduction of the Christian population to only a .08% presence at this time. On another occasion, Fr. Justin recently presented a program to a large crowd on the difficulties facing the church of ministering to youth in the postmodern era.
A Family Life Conference, a regional convention, was held in 1995 at the Radis-son Plaza Hotel in Irvine. The event proved to be very well received and was extremely successful. Regrettably no more regional conferences were ever scheduled as the DPC wanted to return to an annual National Convention. A Leadership Training Conference was also held in 1995 presented by His Excellency, Bishop Nicholas, Fr. Fred Saato, and others. Twice, a Theosis Weekend was presented. The Theosis Program is an intense program of Eastern Christian Spirituality. Both times this took place at the Center for Spiritual Development in Orange. These programs were attended by 40 members of the parish. Lenten Retreats were presented over the years by Archbishop Joseph Raya, Bishop Nicholas Samra, Bishop John Elya, Fathers. John Azar, Mark Malone, Yusef Yusef, Nasir Matta, Robert Rabbat, Saba Shofany, and Alexi Smith.
The Youth Group traveled several times to Wrightwood, Big Bear and the beach in San Diego for Teen Retreats where, in addition to finding God, they also found bears, snow and sunburns. Our teens have also participated in the annual Life Chain demonstration, witnessing to the sacredness of human life. In 1999 our Youth Group won the NAMY Volleyball tournament at the National Convention in Los Angeles.
In other parish life, Holy Cross hosted a Kan Zama concert in 1998 which was enjoyed by all. The parish celebrated two 25th Anniversaries, one of the parishes 1973/1998 and one for the ordination of Fr. James, 1981/2006. From time to time a New Year's Eve party was held in the parish hall. A St. Nicholas Day for the Children is held annually which includes a visit from St. Nicholas, stories, the singing of hymns, games, pizza, and a treasure hunt. On several is the advisory board to the Eparch. Projects in support of the Holy Land were shared with Placentia Presbyterian Church with the showing of the film, Salt of the Earth, a visit from Fr. Firas Diab, Pastor of St. George Melkite Church in Zababdeh, Occupied Palestine, and the sale of carved olive-wood items. Over the years two photo parish directories have been published. We all witnessed the solemn profession of vows of Brother Gabriel as a third order member of the Franciscans who lives a life of voluntary poverty. Thanks to the work of Deacon Elias, "Family Night" was introduced on Friday evenings, affording participants an opportunity to attend vespers, a scripture study, dinner and fellowship. St. John Chrysostom Workshops have drawn members of our community to learn more about their faith in conjunction with their Orthodox and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters at workshops throughout Southern California. Well, there is so much more, but by now you're probably tired reading, so...
Here's to a great future for Holy Cross Parish with God's blessings. Pray that He prosper the work of our hands for the glory of His Holy Church.