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Just Folks: Lebanon church celebrates 100th anniversary

On October 3, 2016,

Lebanon Daily News published an article about our 100th Anniversary Celebration on October 7th, 8th and 9th. We would like to thank Mr. John Latimer for his time and the opportunity to share this special event with the respected readers of the Lebanon Daily News.

John Latimer, johnlatimer@ldnews.com1:56 p.m. EDT October 2, 2016

Members of Holy Resurrection of Christ Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church at 120 E. Weidman St. in Lebanon will celebrate their church’s 100th anniversary Oct. 7-9..

Church, social hall and parish house were built by Serbian community that emigrated to Lebanon in 1900s


(Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily News)

Prayers, parties and pastries will all be part of the celebration next weekend when the congregation of one of Lebanon County’s most historic and beautiful churches commemorates their church’s 100th anniversary.

Members of Holy Resurrection of Christ Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church at 120 E. Weidman St. in Lebanon will be holding three days of worship and festivities from Oct. 7-9 to celebrate its centennial year.

Although there are older congregations, Lebanon’s temple is the Serbian Orthodox Church’s second oldest in the United States. It was consecrated on Oct. 19, 1916 after being built by the local Serbian community that emigrated here from their Slavic European country in the early 1900s in hopes of finding a better life, said Don Maransky, vice president of the church board and chairman of the Centennial Celebration Committee.

They were attracted to Lebanon and other central Pennsylvania towns at the turn of the 20th Century, explained Maransky, not only because of the jobs in the steel and coal industry but because the rolling hills and rivers reminded them of their homeland. The ones who came to Lebanon settled in the same neighborhood, on the eastern end of town just north of the railroad tracks.

“All these homes that were on this street (East Weidman), East Lehman Street and East Mifflin Street were all Serbian homes. It was like a little village, a ‘Selo Moje Veselo’, or my happy village,” said Maransky, using a Serbian phrase contained in a history of the church written by a parishioner.

“For my generation, this was the place to go. We had youth groups, dancing, Serbian lessons. Everything was centered around the church. It’s where the youth came.”

Dan Maransky, chairman of the Centennial Celebration Committee

With religion playing a central role in their lives, the congregation decided in the spring of 1915 to build a place of worship, and 18 months later, the close-knit community had its own church, social hall and parish house, said Maransky.

“A lot of families had to take out mortgages on their homes, so all three buildings could be built at the same time,” he said.

The tiny church – renovated with a red brick facade in 1954 – may look ordinary from the outside, but inside it is literally a priceless work of art. Its’ walls and ceiling are adorned with frescoes of religious icons painted in 1918 by Serbian artist Svetozar Popovic, whose works hang in the Louvre in Paris and other museums, said Maransky.

Adding to the stunning atmosphere is the large gold-colored chandelier that hangs from the painted ceiling. It, like much of the church’s ornate interior and exterior, including the gold-leaf crosses on top of the chapel, have been restored in preparation for the centennial.

A retired bakery manager for Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill, the 68-year-old Maransky remembers the church being the center of his world growing up.

“For my generation, this was the place to go,” he reminisced inside the social hall last week. “We had youth groups, dancing, Serbian lessons. Everything was centered around the church. It’s where the youth came.”

Joe Rahalewich, president of the church council and a retired Northern Lebanon High School social studies teacher, is hopeful the church will be that way again.

The congregation is enjoying a rebirth, he said, after its numbers dropped following a regrettable incident in 2002 when a dispute between older American-born members of the church and a new faction of younger European immigrants led to tensions that exploded.

The dispute ended in violence, with aggravated assault charges being filed against the church’s longtime priest who was convicted and excommunicated, leaving the parish under scrutiny of the church and without a full-time priest for nearly a decade.

But that episode is a small part of the church’s history and the wounds have healed, said Rahalewich, beginning with the appointment of Father Christopher Rocknage in 2011, and now under his successor, Father Borjan (pronounced Bor-ee-yan) Vitanov, who arrived two years ago.

“From the downturn to now, we hadn’t had children to any large degree being part of the parish,” Rahalewich said. “Since Father Borjan and his wife and two kids came, we’ve brought in two other families that have kids. We now have Sunday School again, which his wife (Elena) teaches. That is the future of the church and it’s a new beginning.”

Buy PhotoA stone commemorates the renovations done in 1954 to the Holy Resurrection of Christ Serbian Orthodox Church on East Weidman Street in Lebanon, which is celebrating its centennial year. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily News)

Vitanov understands about living with conflict. For 10 years, he served as priest of a church in his homeland of Macedonia, where for years members of the Eastern Orthodox church have been at odds with the country’s political leaders and the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

When offered the opportunity to come to the United States, he was happy to take it, even though it meant a 15-month absence from his wife and two young children.

“I would say, as a fresh immigrant, America is a beautiful country because it gives you the freedom to feel like home,” Vitanov said. “Especially the religious freedom, to exercise your religious beliefs … I can be in my church here and feel even more freedom than back home.”

Vitanov was especially pleased to land in Lebanon after meeting the congregation of Holy Resurrection of Christ church.

“Since the first day I came here, my impression of the people is very important,” he said. “They are very warm, welcoming and they work very hard to keep up the parish and take care of the church itself. And for me that’s the most important thing. And, of course, the service. They like to come to the services and participate in Holy Communion.”

Vitanov shares Rahalewich’s optimism about the small but growing congregation as it enters its second century.

“In this case, it was amazing how this small parish community of Serbian people here, even with all the tribulation they had, they still survived,” he said. “Glory to God, things are great now and things are going forward. The best thing we can say is we are looking toward the future. The Orthodox Church will never stop existing just because there was some small gap in time. Yes, those years I would say are a desert for us. But we are continuing. We are moving on.”

His focus of late has been the centennial celebration, which will be a mix of worship and socializing, said Vitanov. Among the honored guests next weekend will be new Bishop Irenej Dobrijevic, whose was enthroned Saturday in Pittsburgh as bishop of the Eastern American Diocese, which covers Serbian Orthodox churches from the border of Canada to Florida.

“He is going to serve one of his first Liturgies with us on Oct. 7, 8 and 9 when he comes here,” Vitanov said.

Dobrijevic’s predecessor, Bishop Mitrophan Kodic, who now serves as bishop of the Canada Diocese, may also be in attendance, as will Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello and leaders from local churches who have been invited, Vitanov said. They will join more than 200 present and past members of the parish in celebrating the anniversary of the church.

While the weekend will honor construction of its church, Vitanov said, it is the dedicated congregation which built it 100 years ago and their spiritual descendants who maintain it today that are to be celebrated most.

“The Orthodox Church is part of the one Holy Apostolic Church, and what holds us together for all these years is the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Liturgy,” he said. “The continuation of the execution of the Holy Liturgy and taking of the Holy Communion. That’s what constitutes the Church around the Bishop. The church is the people, not just the building.”


The celebration of the Holy Resurrection of Christ Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church’s 100th anniversary will begin Friday evening at 5 p.m. when Bishop Irenej of the Eastern American Diocese is met by children dressed in traditional Serbian garb who will present to him traditional gifts of salt and bread. Next will come a Vespers service at 6 p.m. followed by a buffet dinner and dance with live music in the social hall.

On Saturday, a Heirarchical Liturgy will be held at 10 a.m. at the church. Following that service, the festivities will move to the Holiday Inn in Grantville where another dinner and dance celebration will be held.

The celebration will conclude on Sunday with a Divine Liturgy Service in the church, followed by a luncheon banquet and dinner buffet held in the church’s social hall.

Father Borjan Vitanov points out the Byzantine-style paintings of religious figures at the front of the Holy Resurrection of Christ Serbian Orthodox Church on East Weidman Street in Lebanon, which is celebrating its centennial year. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily News)

Joe Rahalewich (from left), the president of the board
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