Interior of Holy Ghost Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Manville NJ. Fr Matthew Moriak is standing at the left
Pascha, today’s Easter celebration of the Eastern Church, is a big deal in Manville because the small river town has two churches rooted in Russian orthodoxy. Ss Peter & Paul Orthodox Church on Washington Avenue is Manville’s oldest church, built in 1915. Two blocks down Seventh Avenue is Holy Ghost Orthodox Church, whose founders broke from the older, larger church about 20 years after it was built.
Today, the parishes and their spiritual leaders remain close, united by a shared faith that differs only slightly. “We’ve done things together”, said the Rev Matthew Moriak, pastor of the 100-member Holy Ghost Church since 2005. “For instance, for our parish feast day, which is the day after Pentecost, Fr James has come to help with the service. He’s even brought me gifts on that day, like incense and a bottle of wine”. The Rev James Parsells, archpriest of Ss Peter & Paul since 1978, added, “He’s been here for services. I’ve been there for very good spaghetti dinners. Fr Matthew makes the sauce”. “I make a mean sauce”, Rev Moriak added.
Interior of Ss Peter and Paul Orthodox Church with Fr James Parsells
Like all Orthodox Christians upon greeting each other, the two priests kiss each other’s cheeks three times and then shake hands with both hands near each of their hearts. Although Fr James is old enough to be Fr Matthew’s father, they consider each other to be “brothers in Christ”. The split between the churches, they said, was mainly about the presentation of music during services. Russian priests came in who wanted to do away with the prostopinije, which means plainchant. But, the congregational sing meant so much to those in the church from the Carpatho-Russian Mountains (sic) that they formed a new church. “The plainchant is very much a part of what our people do”, Moriak said. “Everybody is going to be able to pick up the book and sing along. It’s something that we all grew up learning, and it was passed down from generation to generation.”
The churches’ calendars also differ, Parsells said. Like many Orthodox churches, Holy Ghost follows the Julian calendar, which is why Easter is later than on the Western church’s Gregorian calendar. In 1970, Ss Peter & Paul Orthodox Church switched to the Gregorian calendar, except for Pascha. All Orthodox churches throughout the world agree to celebrate their Easter on the same day.
Church service at Holy Ghost Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church Manville NJ
Outside of the calendar and the music, the two churches share the same Orthodox faith but within different dioceses. Ss Peter & Paul belongs to the Orthodox Church in America in Syosset NY and Holy Ghost to the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in Johnstown PA. Both congregations are 85 percent Slavic, but 98 percent of their services are in English. Most of the parishioners have roots in Manville but come from as far as 30 miles away. “Now that they have families of their own and because of their work, they live in different areas”, Rev Moriak said. “It’s not so much that there’s so many Orthodox right in Manville, but, in the surrounding area (there are many) that come to the Manville churches. It could be that they drive 20 or 30 miles to the Orthodox church and there could be one closer to their home, but, a lot of them do travel because of their roots”.
Church service at Ss Peter and Paul Orthodox Church Manville NJ
At the same time Ss Peter & Paul switched to the Gregorian calendar 38 years ago, it dropped the word “Russian” from its name in order to widen its appeal, Rev Parsells said. While St Patrick’s Day is not a big deal in the Orthodox Church, he said, it is at Ss Peter & Paul because of the number of Irish converts, many of whom are from mixed marriages. “We want everyone, not just Eastern Europeans, to feel at home in the Orthodox Church”, said Rev Parsells, who said he knew he wanted to be a priest when he was a third grader in Belleville. He said he was surprised when John, his second of four grown sons, chose the priesthood. His parish is in Delaware. “I never pushed him”, Parsells said. “I never spoke to him at all about priesthood. He went to college and majored in computers. He told me that summer that he would like to go seminary. I’m very proud of him, but I didn’t expect it”.
Raised in a Central Pennsylvania congregation named St Clair, Rev Moriak also is the torch-bearer of a priestly father. The Rev Matthias Moriak serves in an Orthodox parish in Seaford NY on Long Island. “I always wanted to be a sports anchor on ESPN, but, somewhere in between my junior and senior year at Syracuse University, I was pretty sure I wanted to go to seminary and see if it was for me”, Rev Moriak said. “When I was in college, my mother was ill with leukaemia and eventually passed away. Church wasn’t my No. 1 priority while I was in college. I consider myself very blessed that I found my way back. I think part of that was my mother’s faith during her illness. It was like a rap on the head”.
Rev Moriak has been married to his wife, Jodi, since 2005. They are expecting their first child in July. Rev Parsells has been married to his wife, Daria, for 32 years.
27 April 2008
Manville (NJ) Courier News