The Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross in Medford NJ celebrated its 40th Anniversary over the weekend of 9-10 November 2013. Joining Bishop Michael at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday were: Father John Shimchick (Rector), Father Sergius Gerken (the community's "son"), Father Sergius Kuharsky, Father John Jillions, Protodeacon Eric Wheeler, and Deacon Timothy Skuby.
During the Anniversary Banquet, a commemorative video was shown. View it here:
The Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross was founded in 1973 with the conviction that Orthodoxy was a gift that did not require the acquisition of certain language skills or the love of any particular ethnic cuisine or culture. All these could and indeed would be celebrated in their own time and way but they would not be the central organizing principles. In taking the name of the Holy Cross the parish leaders sought to bring together under this universal Christian "symbol" the deepest yearnings of all people to "know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent." (John 17:3)
The first concrete step came with a letter written by Alexander Leon and Dennis Siry on 9 May 1973 asking the late Metropolitan Ireney for permission to start an Orthodox Church in southern New Jersey. After a number of organizational meetings and the participation of the dean, Father John Nehrebecki, the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated on 16 September 1973, at a school in Cherry Hill NJ. Shortly after that, Father Anthony Pluth was ordained to the Priesthood and assigned as pastor, a position he held until 1986. From 1975 until 1984, when it purchased its present facility, the community utilized space within the hall of a local Roman Catholic Church.
The parish membership of approximately 100 adults represents many different backgrounds: Arabic, Carpatho-Russian, Greek, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian, as well as many converts to the Orthodox Faith. As such, it draws people from nearly an hour radius of its location in southern New Jersey (outside of Philadelphia).
Over the years many creative and supportive people have given of their talents and resources. Of particular importance has been the work and generosity of its women's organization, St Helena's Guild. Alexander Leon has added greatly to the aesthetical beauty of the community's worship with his craftsmanship in designing and carving the altar, iconostas, center table, processional cross, and icon stands. The parish has also been blessed with one of its own sons, Alexander Gerken, attending Saint Vladimir's Seminary, becoming an Orthodox Monastic, and being ordained to the Priesthood. Father Sergius (as he is now known) has served, among other places, as the pastor of Three Saints Church in Old Harbor, Alaska, and presently at Holy Resurrection Church, Berlin NH.
In 1986, Father John Shimchick was assigned as the church's pastor. Since that time the parish has continued to develop and be challenged by the gift of the Orthodox Faith. It has sought to develop ways, both educational and social, that allow for this Faith to shape its own community life and to be shared with the greater community.