MERRILLVILLE | Parishioners of Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church are celebrating a century of faithful worship in the Eastern Orthodox tradition this weekend.
The church's legacy began in Eastern European countries including Russia and Ukraine. At the turn of the 20th century, immigrants from these countries settled in Northwest Indiana to work in the steel mills and brought along those traditions to their new homeland.
"Our first church was at 17th Avenue and Fillmore Street in Gary," said Nick Rozdelsky, a lifelong member and chairman of the 100th anniversary weekend celebration. "The congregation of 58 families formed the parish in 1911."
In 1959, a new Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church was built at 505 E. 45th Ave. in East Glen Park. The church's original priest from 1911, the Rev. Benjamin Kedrovsky, lived to see this new facility. After Kedrovsky's death in 1961, Rozdelsky's father, the Rev. Peter Rozdelsky, became the church's spiritual leader.
"Ironically, he lived to see the 75th anniversary of the church in 1986 and passed away shortly afterward," Nick Rozdelsky said.
As the church's congregation migrated to the southern and eastern parts of Lake County and into Porter County, church leaders sought a third location and found it at 8600 Grand Blvd. in Merrillville.
Three days of celebrations mark the centennial year for Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church.
On Friday, a fish fry kicked off the festivities at the parish hall, St. Mary's Orthodox Center. Great Vespers for the feast of the Protection of the Virgin Mary was followed by a Walk Down Memory Lane ice cream social.
Saturday, the Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at 10 a.m. following by brunch at 11 a.m. At 1 p.m. Bishop Mattias, the Rev. Ted Panchak and the Rev. Ken James Stavrevsky will present "Our Church - Past, Present & Future."
A 5 p.m. dinner will follow the 4 p.m. Great Vespers and memorial service. The entire day will be capped off with fireworks and a bonfire and s'mores with the bishop.
Bishop Mattias will greet parishioners at 9:30 a.m. Sunday and celebrate the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m. A grand banquet will follow immediately at St. Elijah Serbian American Hall, 8700 Taft St. in Merrillville.
The several hundred families who are members of Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church "are keeping the heritage of our ancestors alive, which is important especially in this fast-paced world," Nick Rozdelsky said. "We need to be connected with our heritage so we don't forget."