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Bright future plucked from a bowl

On Sunday the Hellenic Orthodox Mission of Hernando County took a significant step. It chose a new name. What was once St. Nicholas Chapel is now Christ the Savior Orthodox Church.

The renaming became necessary because the congregation wanted a more traditional Greek Orthodox name as it grew from a mission to a parish, church officials said.

The name change wasn't just about changing a sign out front. It was the culmination of a process began several months ago.

Certain rules had to be followed in choosing a new name: The entire congregation had to participate. The name had to be chosen after snowbirds had returned home to Hernando County. No other church would have the same name in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America or the Atlanta Metropolis Diocese, to which the mission belongs. The name should be of a saint or sacred event and must be pronounceable.

The Rev. Stanley Harakas, mission priest, mailed a list of 130 names to each church family, asking them to return a vote for three names.

Although Harakas was prepared to give weighted votes to the church stewards to produce a majority vote, that wasn't necessary. Three names stood out: Christ the Savior, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Basil the Great. St. Gregory and St. Basil were both leaders in the fourth century Greek Orthodox Church.

Once the top choices were made, the congregation could take the next step in the naming process and select a name by lot.

Harakas said the congregation asked for God's guidance in making the choice. He had traveled this road before during his 30 years as a faculty member of Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Mass., where there were many small orthodox missions in former factories and textile houses.

Harakas recalled the days when the wealthy would bid for the opportunity to build a church and the highest bidder would get to name it. In this case, Harakas wanted the congregation to be totally immersed in the event.

After Sunday's worship service, a table with icons of the three potential patron feasts and two silver bowls was placed in front of the altar. Three folded sheets of paper with the suggested church names were placed in the larger bowl, while the names of all the young people were placed in the smaller bowl.

Spiros Lemonedes, Mission Council treasurer, was charged with selecting one name from the small bowl. That person would pick the new parish name from the other bowl.

The person selected was 4-year-old William Hazibavasi, the youngest person whose name was placed in the bowl.

For Connie Mourgides, president of the parish council, this was a first-time event.

"I was too young when my mom went to her first (renaming)," she said.

When Mourgides announced the new name, Christ the Savior, the congregation exploded with an acclamation of joy.

"I guess it was what most of the people wanted," Mourgides said. "We prayed that God would guide the little boy to the name we wanted and that's the name he chose."

Mourgides was happy to see about 70 people at the ceremony.

"We're drawing younger families as they move in primarily because our liturgy is done in English," which is rare in the Greek Orthodox Church, she said. When Mourgides sang in church as a child, she didn't understand what she was singing.

"If the liturgy wasn't in English," she said, "children and grandchildren wouldn't understand the service."

Christine Thomas and Stephanie Pasvantis were two of the youths whose names were placed in the large bowl. Thomas, a 14-year-old Springstead High School ninth-grader, said she had been looking forward to the ceremony for a long time and had talked to her parents about it.

"I felt really good because I felt I was part of it," she said. "It was better than watching it."

Pasvantis, a 15-year-old Nature Coast High School ninth-grader, didn't know what to expect but found the ceremony interesting. However, she was confused and didn't understand why the name had to be changed until the reason was explained to her.

The church became more active when Harakas took over the leadership in January 2002. Since then, the congregation has grown from 37 families to 67, including a sizable number of children and teenagers.

With its new name, the congregation now looks toward the future. The property where Christ the Savior sits is the defunct Olympic Village Orthodox Youth Camp. Recently, the 21 acres and 22 buildings were donated to the church.

The congregation will have to decide whether to keep the property or sell it and move into a new church in a less remote location. The congregation will vote on that issue when the general assembly convenes Sunday for its annual vote on parish council members.

"We're asking the Lord's guidance," said Harakas, who is assisted by his wife, Emily.

If the property is put up for sale and the congregation gets its asking price, it's a message to move, the priest said. If the offer is low, it's a message to stay.

If you go

Christ the Savior Orthodox Church is at 13460 Olympic Village Lane, Brooksville. Orthros is at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, followed by Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m. Call 688-2382 for directions.

The Rev. Stanley Harakas, left, and others leave a funeral in June 2002 for a homeless man, Dino Adamis, whose bike was struck along U.S. 19. On a brighter note, the parish, now Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, is celebrating growth and the donation of 21 acres and 22 buildings. It may sell the property or stay.

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