While the number of worshipers at the new St. Athanasius Russian Orthodox Parish in Davenport may be small, they pray in communion with millions of others throughout the world who share their beliefs.
The parish at 228 W. 15th St., in the Hilltop Campus Village, is a Western Rite parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Though the worship traditions date back many centuries, St. Athanasius looks anything but traditional from the outside. The low brick building gives no clue to the sacred feel inside. Icons of saints, including the patron, St. Athanasius, line the yellow walls that were painted by parishioners. The altar is the focal point of the worship space. The gold censor that Father Thomas Janikowski uses to bless the altar with incense hangs nearby.
The parish celebrated its first Divine Liturgy on Sunday, Feb. 11, only weeks after getting the keys to what was a former tattoo parlor. The space has been transformed into a place of worship.
“For us, it’s very much a returning home,” said Janikowski, the rector at St. Athanasius, who was ordained as an Orthodox priest on Feb. 7 in the Church of Our Lady “Unexpected Joy” on Staten Island, New York. The former Anglican priest, who was rector of Trinity Church in Rock Island for six years, says he began to be drawn to Orthodoxy about 15 years ago. The pull was strengthened during a pilgrimage he and his wife, Shelly, took to Russia. And after that experience, he began his studies to become an Orthodox priest, in the St. Stephen’s course of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese.
Last Sunday, representatives of other Orthodox churches in the Quad-Cities attended services at St. Athanasius, which heartened the small congregation of about 15 people.
“We’re all unified,” said Lorren Beneke of Davenport, a parishioner and parish council clerk. “It’s really special. The Orthodox Church hasn’t changed. That’s kind of important to me.”
Earlier this week, Father Janikowski officiated Vespers, the second from last in a series of daily prayers. He sang in what he called “traditional English plainsong” (similar to Gregorian chant), as a small group of parishioners followed the service in their books, praying Psalms and listening to readings from the Holy Scriptures.
Congregants stand, as there are no pews in the church. Shelly Janikowski noted that at services she and her husband attended in Russia, worshipers stood the entire time in churches that were crowded from wall to wall.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has both an Eastern Rite and a Western Rite.
“The term rite only refers to the liturgy, or the rite of worship,” Father Janikowski said. “We have the same faith, the same canons. Only the words we use when we pray are different.”
Asked how he plans to grow the church, he said, “God does that.”
But as word has gotten out about the new church, “We’ve had people call from far afield – Cedar Rapids and Dubuque -- wanting to come here,” he said. The closest other Western Rite Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia churches are in Des Moines and in Charleston, Illinois. There is an Eastern Rite Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia parish in Peoria.
As Janikowski is interviewed, Ian Gamache, 17, of Geneseo, Illinois, walks into the church to continue his catechesis, or studies, which will lead to his full entrance into the Orthodox Church. He said he feels drawn to the Orthodox faith.
Randy Lincoln, the parish warden, said of the new church, “This is home to me.”
Janikowski said the support from other Q-C Orthodox churches “has been tremendous. The clergy have been supportive.”
In the Hilltop neighborhood, he said, people have stopped in to talk to him over coffee.
“We’re trying to make connections in the Hilltop,” he said.
In the short weeks it has been established, the parish has also reached out to help the Humility of Mary emergency shelter for the homeless. On Sunday, parishioners are asked to donate items like ramen noodles and other microwaveable food products for shelter residents.
While Janikowski tends to his flock locally, he also operates Western Rite Radio, an internet ministry of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Currently, he produces three episodes weekly. Some shows feature interviews with church officials; others offer spiritual reflections and short meditations.
“The following is growing rapidly,” he said, estimating there are currently around 1,000 listeners a week.
Western Rite Radio is on iTunes and other similar services, and also can be accessed at www.wroradio.com.
Through the many ways the Orthodox Church is reaching people, he said, “We really believe the church is meant to be a window into heaven and a fountain of grace.”