St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Sylvania is about to be the location for much activity — in religion, construction, and education.
First comes Easter, then builders will erect the structure for a new Montessori school. In September, students and teachers will start the school year.
At St. Elias and for Orthodox Christians, the Easter, or Pascha, holiday celebrating their belief in Jesus’ resurrection comes on Sunday, after other Christians have observed the feast.
Rev. Ayman Kfouf is the pastor for St Elias Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church.
For scheduling Easter, said the Very Rev. Archpriest Ayman Kfouf, known as Father Ayman, who served as interim pastor of St. Elias in 2011 and returned in November 2013 as permanent pastor, “The main thing for us is the Jewish Pascha [Passover], and take one week after the Jewish Pascha — but it has to be after the first day of spring and not before the third of April.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from inside St. Elias
In the future, Easter might end up on the same date as other churches. “There are very serious talks in high levels of the church, the Orthodox church and the Catholic church, with openness and serious thought to unify this feast,” Father Ayman said. Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth, is already unified for Dec. 25.
Easter is serious to most Christians, but for the Orthodox, Father Ayman said, “We believe that we relive that in a spiritual manner and we participate with Christ in his journey. If we don’t do that in this very particular way, we cannot enjoy his resurrection at the end. …
“We leave the church with one message that everybody has to take: ‘Let us all lay aside all hatred and disunity and differences, and forgive each other, embrace each other, and go and take the love of Christ to the world.’ That is really the purpose of the Orthodox church, is to take this peace and give it to the world.”
The Antioch Orthodox Church’s international headquarters is in Damascus, Syria, in a country where peace is under daily challenge from violence, especially from Islamic State actions on Christians, Muslims, and others who are not in line with ISIS.
Antiochian and other Christians "are fighting — fighting with, of course, a twig of an olive branch, not with real weapons, but they are fighting to preserve their existence in the Middle East," Father Ayman said.
Patriarch John X, the church's highest leader, is active in his ministry in Syria; he will visit Boston July 20-26 for the Antiochian North American archdiocesan convention. Father Ayman said that in a recent speech to world leaders, the patriarch "said that no pressure or persecution will make us leave our land."
Father Ayman is a Jordanian who studied in Lebanon. "Studying in Lebanon for seven years, it was almost living in Lebanon and Syria at the same time," he said.
St. Elias features extensive traditional iconography.
St. Elias is not "an ethnic church that is closed upon itself and that tries to alienate itself from the world," Father Ayman said. "Rather, our mission is to unify ourselves with the world and serve the world, because that is the mission of the Orthodox church, and the community. That's what we're doing in Toledo."
He said that St. Elias will "work with our sister churches from the Orthodox churches and the non-Orthodox churches to create some unified relations that can bring unity to our community, to our society."
As one example, the new building for St. Elias' Montessori school will include space for an emergency center, inspired by the water crisis of 2014, to store supples so "people from all faiths and races can come and get help from this church."
St. Elias, established in 1937, has not often called attention to its public service. In the past 10 years, Father Ayman said, "We have given over $150,000 to our community here, to the Toledo area, to charities. That money comes from the endowment fund of St. Elias. Any income that comes at the end of the year is distributed toward those communities."
The church's immediate focus is religious services, for the Orthodox Easter celebration.
Today St. Elias, at 4940 Harroun Rd., Sylvania, will have a Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil at 10 a.m.
Its Rush Service and Paschal Divine Liturgy, transitioning from Lent to Easter, begins at 8 p.m. outside the church.
Afterward, "in the church here in Toledo they have a tradition that I've never seen in any other church in the world," Father Ayman said. "They throw three eggs; the priest will throw them like he's throwing a baseball to people, and they have to catch it. It's good luck and blessings, catching that egg."
Easter baskets will be blessed, too, and then the congregants will share a lamb meal.
On Sunday at noon, a 30-minute Holy Pascha Agape Vespers will include a reading from the book of John in more than 10 languages; ordinarily, the services are 90 to 99 percent in English, Father Ayman said. Then a brunch will be served outdoors and kids can hunt Easter eggs.
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