From August 6-8, a number of historic events took place on the island of Puerto Rico for the future of Holy Orthodoxy – the arrival of the wonderworking Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God and the blessing of the cross & land of the future Church of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Eastern American Diocesan vicar Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan arrived on the evening of August 6, greeted by the rector of San Juan Clímaco Mission in San Germán, Archpriest Gregorio Justiniano. On Saturday, August 7, Bishop Nicholas and those traveling with him: Archpriest Peter Jackson (dean of the Spanish Language Missions) and Protodeacon Serge Arlievsky (cleric of Holy Dormition Convent “Novo-Diveevo” in Nanuet, NY), were greeted by the peal of bells, and the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora was placed in the church. The clergy were then given a tour of the parish complex. In the evening, the Communion Rule, Great Vespers, and an Akathist to the Kursk Root Icon were served.
On Sunday morning, Bishop Nicholas was greeted at the main doors of the church with the traditional bread and salt. After the reading of the Hours, His Grace celebrated Divine Liturgy, co-served by Fr. Gregorio, Fr. Peter, Fr. Serge, and parish Deacon Seraphim Justiniano. Praying in the church was Archpriest George Eldahr (rector of St. George Antiochian Church in Carolina, PR).
Leading the parish choir was Hierodeacon Daniel (Justiniano; mission cleric). Divine Liturgy was celebrated in Spanish, English, and Church Slavonic. The church was filled with parishioners, pilgrims, and guests, many of whom received Christ’s Holy Mysteries.
Upon conclusion of Liturgy, Bishop Nicholas addressed the faithful with a sermon, in which he reminded those gathered to always be thankful for the many blessings that God bestows on us daily, as well as the blessing of having the Most Holy Theotokos present on the island for the divine services.
Afterward, a procession was held to the site of the future church, dedicated to the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, where Bishop Nicholas blessed the foundation cross constructed by parishioners themselves. A festal reception was held on the parish grounds with traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. The engineer and architect contracted by the parish gave a presentation on the various stages and design concepts for the future church.
Fr. Gregorio delivered remarks relating to the history and future of the mission, in which he said, in part: “The first Divine Liturgy celebrated in the southwesterly town of San Germán, Puerto Rico, took place on Sunday, August 9, 2009. Since that time, the Orthodox Mission of Saint John Climacus (San Juan Clímaco) has had the desire to do its missionary work not only in this single town but, with God’s help, throughout the entire island.
“A work of this scope would necessarily require a home base, which, if established with firm foundations, would offer consistency and maturity to the missionary work. The Orthodox Mission of Saint John Climacus is our home base, where we hope to prepare future leaders, such as translators, choir directors, catechists, and local clergy well grounded in the ecclesiology and tradition of the Church.
“To this end, the new temple we seek to build will be dedicated to Our Lady the Theotokos, specifically to the feast of her Annunciation. The mission’s current chapel is a small room that has served us very well for 12 years. But it is becoming smaller every Sunday. The new temple will be the first architecturally Orthodox temple built in Puerto Rico.
“My Puerto Rican people do not know the Orthodox Church. This is why I asked the bishop to bless us by visiting us here in San Germán, my hometown, to bring to them the Faith of the Apostles. Today, 12 years to the day since the celebration of the first Divine Liturgy in San Germán, the Precious Cross is placed on this land, blessed by our Bishop, and dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos.”
Bishop Nicholas and the Kursk Root Icon returned to New York City on Monday, August 9.