CROWN POINT | Macedonian religious and cultural traditions became the focal point of Thursday’s start of the three-day 50th anniversary celebration at Sts. Peter and Paul Macedonian Orthodox Church.
The jubilee for the first Macedonian Orthodox Church founded in North America began with the 6:30 p.m. arrival of His Beatitude, Archbishop G.G. Stefan of Ohrid and all of Macedonia, His Eminence Metropolitan of the American-Canadian Diocese.
A multigenerational group of members and religious leaders greeted the archbishop outside the church, 9700 Broadway, with traditions and symbols that date back centuries.
Board Chairman Thomas Traycoff, of Valparaiso, presented Archbishop G.G. Stefan with a loaf of bread called pogacha that is baked in the shape of the Macedonian flag sunburst. Children dressed in authentic Macedonian attire welcomed the religious leader with bouquets of flowers.
As he walked down the sidewalk and up the steps into the church, Archbishop G.G. Stefan stopped to bless and greet the church members, who kissed his hand and the gold cross he held.
The Very Rev. Tome Stamatov, of Sts. Peter and Paul Macedonian Orthodox Church, joined the archbishop in a religious service prior to a reception held in his honor in the adjoining hall.
Construction of the original church at 5100 Virginia St., Gary, began in 1962, and it was consecrated July 14, 1963, with church officials from around the world attending the service, said Nick Nochevich, of Crown Point, church member and chairman of the anniversary celebration committee.
The current Sts. Peter and Paul Macedonian Orthodox Church was built beginning in 1988 with the first service Oct. 8, 1989.
Passing on the traditions brought to Northwest Indiana by immigrants from the Republic of Macedonia is vital to this 50th anniversary celebration, said Jasmina Bishop, of Schererville, church secretary.
“This will probably be the most important event for our church that was the first Macedonian Orthodox Church on the continent,” Bishop said. “It is a privilege.”
Menka Trajkovski, of Valparaiso, agreed.
“This is a big celebration. We’re all excited,” she said.
The church remains a vital part of life for many of the region’s estimated 5,000 residents of Macedonian descent, Nochevich said.
The anniversary celebration continues through Sunday.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, members will gather at the church grounds for a picnic including barbecue, traditional foods, music and drinks. The public is welcome, Nochevich said.
On Sunday, a gala banquet begins with cocktails at 6 p.m. in the church hall. In addition to Archbishop G.G. Stefan, other dignitaries in attendance will include Crown Point Mayor David Uran.