RED BANK — Faithful parishioners witnessed the fulfillment of a long-standing dream as Holy Theotokos Orthodox Christian Chapel opened on Shrewsbury Avenue for a first-ever service in the church’s temporary chapel.
Conducted by the Rev. Rafael Melendez, the three-hour long Greek Orthodox service included special prayers of thanks for the new worship space, an opportunity for public veneration of Melendez’s rare collection of relics, and refreshments to mark the offices’ grand opening and celebrate the addition of a new center of religious activity for the local community.
“You don’t have to be Greek Orthodox to come here,” said Connie Aparicio, 55, who attended the service and owns the building in which it was held. A lifelong Red Bank resident, she said that the groundbreaking new venture could represent “the first dedicated Latino church on the west side of Red Bank.”
“This is a new mission and a miracle,” agreed Melendez, 50, who grew up attending a Greek Orthodox church in his native Puerto Rico and became a priest 23 years ago.
While serving Greek communities throughout New York and New Jersey, including the 100-family Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church in Holmdel, for the past two decades, “my bishop encouraged and gave his blessings for me to open a brand new church,” he said.
Now, with official offices and a small temporary altar space, “all of the doors have been opened at once so I know this is meant to be,” said Melendez, of Little Silver.
Appointed with authentic religious artifacts and Byzantine artwork, the office and altar space within the 60-plus-year-old commercially-zoned residence, a former hair salon, has been well-kept and resembles a home church in Greece, Melendez said.
Serving the mixed group of inaugural worshippers in English, Spanish, and ancient Greek liturgy, Melendez’s opening day outreach included what he called “a Thanksgiving service to God for his beneficence in allowing us to have this place.”
The opening observance also included censing of his extensive collection of 125 relics with holy incense and the blessing of parishioners with those relics, which he said he’s been proud to “guard and share” throughout his career.