A HISTORY OF HOLY ASCENSION ORTHODOX MISSION
Holy Ascension traces its inception from 1998 with the vision of an Orthodox clergyman Father Constantine Nasr, Pastor of Saint Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City. With a group of faithful Orthodox Christians, residing in the city of Norman, it was believed that a local community should be established where the worship of the Most Holy Trinity would serve the needs of Orthodox Christians and be a witness to our holy Faith. At that time Orthodox residents in Norman made the rather long commute to north Oklahoma City. Attempts were made to gather monthly in various local residences with Father Constantine or Father Basil McMurray in attendance. An opening prayer would be followed by a discussion of various topics of the faith, and the feasibility of founding a new mission. These more or less regular monthly meetings soon set in motion plans for worship and education sessions. The first meeting of about a dozen people was held in the home of Al and Marlene Mamary. The majority of those attending those early meetings were parishioners of the St. Elijah Church who reside in Norman.
On May 6, 1999 the first Orthodox Service of Great Vespers was served by Father Constantine Nasr and Father Christopher Salamy of St. Elijah in the Norman Public Library. The faithful, who were instrumental in the founding of the parish, demonstrated their commitment by establishing a bank account on June 22, 1999. Planning meetings continued in the homes of the faithful, with the location often being the home of Edward and Sumya Adwon. During the balance of 1999 and all of 2000 meetings and Vespers services were held at various locations in the City, generally served by the clergy of Saint Elijah. From the Library a move was made to the Chamber of Commerce building at 115 E. Gray. Another move led to a stay at Saint Thomas Moore Catholic Church where a public lecture series was held. “The Church That Jesus Built”, classes began with an opening lecture by Father Gordon Walker; the remainder of the classes were taught by Deacon Ezra Hamm (then Subdeacon) of Saint Elijah Church.
With the blessing of Bishop ANTOUN, in January of 2001, the unnamed local group was officially declared to be a Mission Station, and a lease was signed for the present location at 230 E. Main Street. The good people of Saint Elijah loaned this new Mission a portable iconostas and altar, and gifted the Mission with necessary liturgical items for the altar, including tabernacle, chalice & discos, candelabra and baptistery. The first service celebrated at the new location was the Akathist and Small Compline on the first Friday of the Great Fast. In September of 2001, Bishop BASIL gave his blessing for the group to begin regular services with Vespers on Saturday evening served by various priests, including Father Constantine, Father Basil and Father Raphael Moore from Saint Mary Ukrainian Church in Jones, Oklahoma. On three Sunday mornings each month members of the new Mission Station would serve a lay Typika Service, and on the remaining Sunday, Mission members would travel to Saint Elijah to attend the Divine Liturgy. Father Constantine appointed the Mission Advisory Board with Michael Powers as Chairman and Edward Adwon, Melissa Ashley, Larry Jefferson, Noel Spoonemore and Lee Webb as members. Later that year Greg Waters was added to the Council. The Council began regular monthly meetings to conduct the on-going business of the Mission.
On the eve of the Feast of the Holy Ascension His Grace Bishop BASIL made an official visit to the Mission. Joining His Grace in the altar were the clergy of Saint Elijah, other Antiochian priests, as well as, priests from various Orthodox jurisdictions. This was by far the largest group to attend any service at the Mission. Bishop BASIL spoke to the assembly on the meaning of the Ascension of Jesus Christ as “the Feast Day of all humanity”. As the Resurrection was bodily, Jesus Christ the God-Man, sits at the right hand of the Father in His glorified body, affirming that Humanity is in the Godhead. At the Bishop’s suggestion, it was decided to request of his Eminence Metropolitan PHILLIP that the Mission be granted the name of Holy Ascension.
In 2003 the Parish continued to flourish with continuing education, social action and outreach programs well established. During that year weekly worship, the celebration of feast days, cooking and serving meals at Food for Friends shelter in Norman, public education classes with guest speakers, choir development and Church School were integral to the life of the Mission. The Mission’s first baptism, chrismation and, unfortunately, first funeral were served that year. On the Feast of the Ascension Bishop BASIL again visited to celebrate a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy and tonsured Larry Jefferson as Subdeacon Lawrence. A major event in the life of the community was the Mission’s hosting of the annual national Missions and Evangelism Conference in September. This year also witnessed the decision of the Mission to undertake finding a permanent home. In November, Edward and Sumya Adwon pledged $250,000.00, in memory of their son Cole Adwon, as a foundation contribution toward that permanent home.
Work began on the drafting of a Parish Constitution. The completed Constitution was adopted on May 2, 2004, and with the blessing of Bishop BASIL, it was forwarded to His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP for his approval and blessing. On August 4, 2004 Metropolitan Phillip gave his approval and Holy Ascension became an official Mission, with an Antimension from His Eminence. On September 28, 2004 the Parish was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the State of Oklahoma with the name “Holy Ascension Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church Inc.” The Mission Council adopted By-laws on October 31, 2004. The community undertook many projects and building improvements, including the construction of an Iconostasis and Altar Table by Larry Jefferson.
A Building Committee consisting of Edward Adwon, Larry Jefferson, Mike Powers and Greg Waters was appointed who began searching for a permanent location for the Mission. Dozens of properties were investigated and some were seriously considered. One idea entertained was the possibility of finding an existing building to retrofit. All of these seemed to be either unsuitable or unattainable. It was decided that, rather than invest in a location that would only be suitable for a few years, the present location would be remodeled to increase the size of the Nave, and to acquire additional rental space, adjoining the Parish Hall, at 102 Crawford for the office and Church School. The majority of the remodeling work was accomplished by members of the Mission and coordinated by a friend of the Parish, Tricia Smith.
In November of 2004 the first official Annual Meeting was convened. Each of the Mission Committees reported their activities, and a Parish Council election was held. Edward Adwon, Catlyn Lester and Noel Spoonemore were elected to serve terms of three two and one year respectively. Three additional members were appointed: Jim Munkres, Michael Powers and Greg Waters for the corresponding terms of office. The Council was inducted on the first Sunday of January 2005. The Council elected Ed Adwon Chairman, Michael Powers Vice-Chairman, Greg Waters Treasurer and Jim Munkres Secretary.
Over the brief life of Holy Ascension Parish, valuable ministries have continued to be manifested. In 2005 Bishop BASIL made the Mission’s second Subdeacon, Matthew (Noel) Spoonemore. Another event in the life of the Parish was celebrated when, on Great and Holy Thursday, April 20, 2006, His Grace Bishop BASIL served the Divine Liturgy and elevated Fr. Justin to the dignity of Archpriest. Paul (Lee) Webb, who had served as the leader among the psalti, was tonsured a Reader in January of 2009 by the hand of Bishop BASIL. In addition the Mission was blessed by the arrival of Reader Leo (Leonard) Schommer transferring into the Parish from Memphis, Tennessee. At the 2010 Parish Life Conference for the Diocese, Shawn Ashely was Tonsured Reader Thomas by Bishop BASIL.
In the search for a permanent home, God intervened on behalf of the community. The parish council learned that the Christian Church Commission of the Greater Oklahoma City Area owned an unimproved 10-acre tract located at the corner of Porter and Tecumseh. The building committee contacted the Commission and on January 14, 2005 made an offer $150,000.00 for the property. While in negotiations, another property, located quite some distance from the developed areas of Norman, was generously offered by a devout Saint Elijah parishioner. Deeply appreciative for this magnanimous offer, it was decided to move forward with the Porter and Tecumseh property because of its desirable location and because the Christian Commission accepted the Holy Ascension’s formal offer. Holy Ascension entered into a purchase contract on March 25th, 2005 subject to the approval of the Parish and the Blessing of His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP. At a Special Parish Meeting on March 20th, 2005 the voting members unanimously approved the purchase the property. On March 29th Metropolitan PHILIP was asked for his blessing, which he immediately gave.
With a deep and abiding commitment to the success of Holy Ascension Mission, Father Constantine Nasr collected donations toward the establishment of a permanent home. On April 28th Harvey Homsey, Saint Elijah Parish Council Chairman, together with Fathers Constantine and Basil, and members of St. Elijah met with Father Justin, the Parish Council of Holy Ascension, and members of the Mission, at the site of the new property and presented a very generous check in excess of $40,000.00.
With the purchase contract in hand and the necessary approvals, it was necessary to locate a lender in order to undertake any possible construction. Norman resident and life-long member of Saint Elijah Joe Harroz provided an introduction to Valiance Bank. Anther financial institution was also approached, with Valiance Bank ultimately proving to be the better choice. The services of Cardinal Engineering and Architect Dave Boeck were employed. On April 29th the property sale was closed and the Building Committee began its work of preparing a plan for construction on the property. After several meetings with the engineers and the architect the preliminary plat was filed with the City during the week of July 18th, 2005.
In the first quarter of 2006, the City and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation notified the Mission of their intention to widen the intersection at Porter and Tecumseh. The Mission would be required to post $400,000.00 for the improvement. The ODOT could not provide any projection for the beginning, let alone, the completion of the project. Unwilling and unable to acquiesce, no construction of the proposed temple was undertaken. It was discovered that a very desirable property on Sooner Road (N.E.12th) near Tecumseh was possibly available. Negotiations for an exchange of properties were successful. On July 25, 2007 the Porter and Tecumseh property was transferred to Millwheel Investment Company, and Holy Ascension received title to the current Sooner Road Property. Holy Ascension successfully paid off the newly acquired land.
On September 21st an architectural contract was made with Three Level Design. On October 11th City Planning Commission gave approval. Valiance Bank granted a line of credit loan in November and on December 11th the Norman City Council granted approval for construction. With necessary engineering work undertaken, architectural plans were drafted and approved, and on April 24, 2008 Jack Daggs Construction Company was contracted for the construction of the Temple. In February 2009 a Ground Breaking Ceremony with the Planting of the Holy Cross was celebrated at the new location. His Grace Bishop BASIL presided assisted by Father Justin and other area Orthodox clergy, many of the faithful from Holy Ascension and from the Mother Church of Saint Elijah. Physical construction of the building began in the summer of 2009.
The essential construction of the Holy Ascension’s new Temple was completed with its first service of Great Vespers being served on Saturday, August 14, 2010. The Temple is over 7,000 square feet on two levels. The sanctuary occupies the upper level, and the lower level serves as the church hall, office and education space. The cruciform building is of traditional Byzantine style, topped by a dome and a five-foot Cross. The attractive architecture is unique in the Norman community. On
October 23, 2010 His Grace Bishop BASIL was the celebrant of the Thyranoixia (Opening the Doors of a Church Temple) with Great Vespers following immediately. A crowd of over 150 attended the blessing of the Church building. Later that evening a banquet was held at the Embassy Suites Hotel with attendees from throughout the Diocese and included many local guests. In his keynote address Bishop BASIL commended the members of the congregation for their faith, hard work and commitment to the realization of this holy endeavor. Orthros and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy were celebrated the next morning.
Carved into a hillside, near the intersection of Sooner Road (12th Avenue NE) and Tecumseh, there now stands a holy temple. It is a testimony to the commitment and determination of the Orthodox faithful of Norman, the holy prayers and support of our Bishop, and the assistance of the many friends and benefactors of Holy Ascension. This glorious new church will be a true home for Orthodox Christians for generations to come, a holy temple for the worship of the Most Holy Trinity, a beacon of hope, and faithful witness to Christ and His Holy Church “for the life of the world and its salvation”.