St. Demetrius Orthodox Church History

In the Beginning, 1952...

The history of any Orthodox parish is a history of God's many blessings and graces upon it and upon its people. It is a record of sacrifices, labors, difficulties overcome, success and growth. It is with profound gratitude to God that this parish looks back upon its earliest days, the time of its small beginnings and to the vision of hope and apostolic courage which marked its birth and earliest years.

St. Demetrius Orthodox Catholic parish began within the bosom of St. Andrew Orthodox parish of East Lansing, Michigan. Conscious of the need for a parochial mission to serve the spiritual needs of the many Orthodox families of Jackson, Archpriest Photius Donahue, pastor of the East Lansing parish, determined to establish a missionary work in this city. St. Andrew parish was in its own infancy, having been founded in 1952, yet it was from this church that attention was first given to organizing the Orthodox families in Jackson into a mission parish.

From 1952 until 1959, Father Photius, with the assistance of the priests and people of St. Andrew parish worked among our people in Jackson, visiting them in the hospitals, in their homes, and inviting them to participate in the parish activities and services in East Lansing. The St. Andrew parish bulletin during these years carried the names of Jacksonites who attended Liturgy and received the Sacraments with regularity in East Lansing: Mr. & Mrs. Peter James, Mr. & Mrs. Ted Ykimoff, Mr. & Mrs. Nick Tannis, Mr. & Mrs. Don Lazaroff, Mr. & Mrs. Angelo Lambo, Mr. & Mrs. George Evanoff, Mr. & Mrs. Alex Perlos, Mr. & Mrs. John Demos, and Mr. & Mrs. Andrew Lazaroff, among others. In observance of traditional Orthodox custom of blessing homes at Theophany, Fr. Photius regularly visited Jackson during those early years.

A Move to Jackson, 1956...

It soon became apparent that there was the very real possibility and the definite need for a mission parish in Jackson so that those who could not travel regularly to East Lansing might have the blessings of the Orthodox Faith in their own midst. Therefore, Fr. Photius celebrated the first Holy Liturgy in Jackson on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, July, 1956, in rented quarters in the Moose Hall. A general Panikhida for the souls of the departed loved ones of the Orthodox in Jackson was sung at the conclusion of that Liturgy. The first religious education classes began October 5,1957, when a group of dedicated Orthodox students from the Pan-Orthodox Student Association of Michigan State University was sent regularly to Jackson: Robert Fadel (who later served the parish as Deacon) Marianne Tkach, Marie Subotich and Sarah Tallon. Twenty-eight youngsters were brought together for these classes. It became apparent that the mission needed a regular and more permanent place where the Holy Liturgy could be celebrated and meetings of the catechetical classes might be conducted, so arrangements were made to continue to use the third floor of the Moose Lodge. On December 7,1957, sixty-five people attended the Liturgy there and again on Christmas day when many of the people made their Confession and received Holy Communion.

A series of religious discussion seminars for adults in Jackson was decided upon and Fr. Photius, assisted by Boris Zabrodsky, conducted these meetings in various homes in the evening, bringing the history, liturgics, and theology of Orthodoxy to those who participated. Boris Zabrodsky went on from St. Andrew’s Parish to seminary and became an orthodox priest. After discussing the matter with Bishop Bogdan of the Russian Orthodox Church, under which the East Lansing Parish had its canonical existence, and after further discussion of the matter with the leaders of the mission in Jackson, the mission was given canonical status as a Mission Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church and placed under the patronal protection of the great Martyr, St. Demetrius of Salonica. In 1956, Fr. Donahue had spent a year in Greece and had celebrated Liturgy in the ancient basilica built over the tomb of St. Demetrius in Salonica. Realizing the devotion which many of the people of Jackson, who had come from the Salonica area, had to St. Demetrius, it seemed most appropriate that this great Saint be the patron of the new parish.

Blessing of the Temporary Chapel, 1958...

A major advance and historic event for the new mission parish came when, on October 5, 1958, Bishop Bogdan visited Jackson to bless the new quarters which the parish had secured as a temporary chapel and classroom center at 1216 Cooper Street. Fr. Photius and Bishop Bogdon concelebrated the Vespers at which His Grace spoke with encouragement to the faithful who attended, and praised them for their dedication to Orthodoxy in working for the firmer establishment of the parish.

Since Fr. Photius' parish in East Lansing was requiring more and more of his time and energy because of its own growth and process, he requested Bishop Bogdan to permit Fr. John W. Ball, who was an assistant priest at St. Andrew Parish, to work and serve in St. Demetrius Mission Parish on an intermittent schedule. Fr. John was also doing a missionary work in the Orthodox parishes of Saginaw and Flint at that time. On the Feast of St. Demetrius in 1958, Fr. Photius celebrated the Patronal Feast Day Liturgy at the Cooper Street mission.

In December of the same year, a group of dedicated parishioners spearheaded the holding of a fund-raising dance at the American Legion Post in Jackson, looking to the day when the parish would be able to purchase a permanent Temple of its own. The Last Liturgy celebrated by Fr. Photius, the founder of St. Demetrius Parish, was on January 7, 1959, on old-calendar Christmas.

The Purchase of Our Temple, I960...

On March 1, 1959, Fr. John Ball was appointed the first permanent pastor for St. Demetrius Parish. During the months which followed, Fr. John came to Jackson once each month to celebrate Liturgy and guide the religious education program. On August 28, 1960, the first parish bulletin was issued by Fr. John and distributed by mail to a list of Orthodox families in the city, both those who were the founding members and to other Orthodox living in the city, in the hope that they would affiliate themselves with the new parish. So well did the parish grow and so sincere were the spiritual appeals of the people in the parish that Fr. John began to celebrate Liturgy three times each month instead of only once monthly. Under his self-sacrificing labors, the people were encouraged finally to purchase the present permanent Temple at 3043 Seymour Road.

Meanwhile, Fr. John was asked to assist in a parish in Michigan City, Indiana where there was no priest and Fr. Clement Palmer, one of the assistant priests at St. Andrew Parish in East Lansing was assigned to assist Fr. John in serving the needs of St. Demetrius Parish. By this time, the Mission had become firmly established and was granted full parish status. New families began to participate in the Liturgies and to send their children to the catechetical classes. Through the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the protection of St. Demetrius, the future of the parish was assured through the untiring labors of the Orthodox Christians of Jackson.

Church Building Additions, 1966...

In 1966, the church building was enlarged to the present structure. The next year, the church kitchen was completed and the grounds were landscaped. Fr. Paul Karas was appointed the second pastor. The church was consecrated by Archbishop Jonathan on October 26, 1968. The Tenth Year Jubilee was celebrated with a Pontifical Divine Liturgy at the church and a banquet and dance at the Policy National Alliance Hall.

In 1969, Fr. Clement Palmer was appointed the third pastor. During his pastorate, John Demos was ordained Deacon in 1974 to serve in St. Demetrius Parish by Bishop Makary, while at the same time, his son Theodore became the first tonsured Reader at St. Demetrius

In 1976, the bell donated in memory of Peter James was blessed by Bishop Job and installed.

Fr. Alexis Keppeler was appointed as the fourth pastor by Bishop Job on April 11, 1976. The choir sang all of the Holy Week responses for the first time this year, and the church school was reactivated. In 1978, the Twentieth Anniversary of the parish was celebrated with a Divine Liturgy and a Panikhida for all of our departed members. A dinner followed at the Brown Hut with Bishop Ireney of the Russian Patriarchate as a surprise guest of honor.

Application into the OCA, 1979...

In 1979, St. Demetrius Parish, by unanimous action of the Rector, the Parish Council, and the membership, applied for the first time to be received in the Orthodox Church in America. This is a process which requires consecutive parish votes and a final vote in the presence of a Russian Bishop. Deacon John Demos retired from active service at our Altar in 1981. The next year, the parish again unanimously voted to be transferred to the Orthodox Church in America.

In 1983, the parish voted a third time, in the presence of Bishop Clement of the Russian Patriarchate, to be transferred to the Orthodox Church in America. This completed the process and St. Demetrius Parish was transferred from the Patriarchate of Moscow to the Orthodox Church in America on July 10th. The first annual Church School Picnic was organized. Bishop Boris, OCA Bishop of Chicago, assisted by Archpriest Daniel Hubiak, the OCA Chancellor and representative of Metropolitan Theodosius, placed the new Antimens on the Altar on September 17th. The parish celebrated its Twenty-fifth Anniversary with Liturgy and a Dinner Dance at the Country Club of Jackson. The Mitred Archpriest Photius Donahue, our founding priest, fell asleep in the Lord on October 31st.

Parish Reorganization, 1984...

In 1984, the parish structure was reorganized to fit the requirements of the Orthodox Church in America. The first annual meeting was held to elect the Parish Council.

A Summer Camp Program for adults and children of St. Demetrius was held at Camp McGregor in August of 1987. The same year, Timothy Dennerll was tonsured a Reader for service at St. Demetrius Church.

In 1988, a small group of Orthodox nuns from Romania settled in Rives Junction, a few miles north of Jackson, and frequently attended services at St. Demetrius. Our Thirtieth Anniversary was celebrated with Metropolitan Theodosius, Bishop Boris and Protodeacon Basil Hubiak. A Dinner Dance at Jackson Community College followed.

In 1992, Florence Lambo was honored with a dinner on her retirement after more than 30 years as our Choir Director. Our first seminarian, Patrick Heckenlively, entered St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood, New York. Mitred Archpriest John Ball, our first pastor, fell asleep in the Lord on November 10th.

Celebrating 35 years, 1993...

Deacon John Demos fell asleep in the Lord on July 10, 1993 at 100 years of age. Bishop Job made his first visit to St. Demetrius for the Thirty-fifth Anniversary celebration in October of the same year. Andre Nemoianu was tonsured Reader for service at St. Demetrius. A Dinner Dance followed at the Country Club of Jackson.

In March of 1994, Fr. Alexis Keppeler took a leave of absence from his pastorate and eventually asked to be freed from pastoral responsibilities.

In May, Deacon Michael Butler, who was living in Lansing at the time, was asked to come to St. Demetrius to conduct services in the absence of a priest. During this time, the members of the parish recognized the need for a full-time priest. At the request of the parish, Deacon Michael petitioned Bishop Job for ordination to the priesthood to serve St. Demetrius Church full-time. Deacon Michael was ordained priest by Bishop Job on Lazarus Saturday, April 15, 1995, and became the fifth pastor.

Celebrating 40 years, 1998...

In the next few years, St. Demetrius Church enjoyed God's blessings on many fronts. The cycle of services which were offered in our church were expanded. Our relationship with Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction prospered. Several new families made St. Demetrius their parish home.

During Holy Week, we Baptized five persons and Chrismated a sixth. Fr. Michael accepted many opportunities each year to teach at area colleges and churches. Several classes from Spring Arbor College, a local Protestant school, visited our church during the year, thus giving dozens of young people their first exposure to Orthodoxy. A weekly Bible Study was held in parishioner's homes.

The Parish Council continued to look for avenues to make St. Demetrius better known in the Jackson area. The Sisterhood of the Parish continued its invaluable support of the church and maintained its reputation for quality baked goods. All in all, St. Demetrius continued to build a vibrant, open Orthodox community in the greater Jackson area.

Celebration of 45 years, 2003...and beyond

The year 1999 proved to be a difficult one for St. Demetrius Parish. In February of 2000, Fr. Michael asked to be transferred to another parish, and his request was granted. There was a shortage of available priests, but with the help of the Diocese, we were able to have Liturgy most of the time. We were given permission to conduct interviews for the purpose of hiring a new priest.

The Parish Council decided that before we began those interviews, we had to have a plan. We all worked very hard in composing a "Parish Council Vision." That Vision, which is contained on these pages, was a determining factor as our interviews began.

By the grace of God, Father Dusan Koprivica and the Council came to an agreement in September, where he would become a "commuter priest." Father Dusan, who lived in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, agreed to serve three Sundays each month, plus six Liturgical Holy Days, including Holy Week.

His Grace Bishop Job gave His blessing, and on December 1, 2000, Fr. Dusan was named "Priest in Charge" of St. Demetrius. The contract was renewed during the following two years.

During Father Dusan's tenure as Priest in Charge, we began to grow once again. In the first year alone, membership increased by nearly 25%! It continued to increase despite the fact that one of our founding fathers, Don Lazaroff, along with four other members fell asleep in the Lord the next year.

Father Dusan led us on a pilgrimage to Livonia where we prayed to the weeping icon of the Holy Theotokos. A special blessing was given to those couples who expressed a desire to have children.

In October of 2002, during His Grace Bishop Job’s visit to celebrate St. Demetrius Day, Fr. Dusan was presented the Gold Cross By His Grace. This is the highest award a Bishop can bestow upon a Priest.

In May of 2003, Fr. Dusan expressed his desire to become a full time priest at St. Demetrius. The parish membership overwhelmingly approved of his request and with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Job, on December 1, 2003, Fr. Dusan became the sixth pastor of St. Demetrius. On August 1, 2003, Father, his wife Patty, and their children Jovanka, Milena and Angelo, moved into their new home in Jackson.

Over the past two years, our spirituality has continued to flourish. We have once again resumed a “full time” church schedule including Saturday Vesper services and adult religious education classes. Our Sunday Liturgy has been attended by Spring Arbor University students as part of their religion class. We continue with community outreach projects such as active participation in the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life.”

During 2006, we had started a major renovation and beautification of our Temple and are in the process of replacing our iconostasis with an all hand-carved structure with Byzantine style iconography.

On Saturday, May 19, 2007, the major renovation and beautification of our Temple was blessed by Archbishop Job. The hand-carved structure with Byzantine style iconography is complete and frescoes of Christ the Pantocrator, the four evangelists and the Theotokos are in process as well. A joyful Thanksgiving Service was served followed by an open house for the entire community. After Vespers, a festive dinner was served to complete a beautiful, blessed celebration!

On October 26, 2008 St Demetrius Church celebrated its 50th Anniversary. May God grant our parish community many years in His Grace and may we be a beacon of His Light to all.

St. Demetrius Expansion

On May 20, 2011 St. Demetrius celebrated the grand opening of a new parish hall.