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Bishop travels from New York City to visit Orthodox Christian mission for the first time

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POTSDAM — The recently established Orthodox Christian Mission of Potsdam, the only Orthodox Christian mission in the area, has a special guest this weekend.

Bishop Michael Dahulich of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey is spending the weekend in the north country to visit the mission of about 40 to 50 people established in February 2012.

“When I was in school I studied all these places, but I’ve never seen them before now,” Bishop Dahulich said. “It’s my first visit and I’m excited.”

A public Vespers, evening prayer service, at 6:30 Saturday was followed by lecture about the ancient Eastern Orthodox Christian approach to salvation at 7:30. He will also lead the liturgy Sunday at a private chapel.

“I’m here to meet the people and pray with them,” he said.

Jessica R. Suchy-Pilalis has been a member of the mission since its beginning. She organizes meeting times for the congregation and contributed to organizing the bishop’s visit.

“To have a bishop come is very important because he’s coming all the way from New York City, so this is a major, major event for us,” said Jessica R. Suchy-Pilalis, member of the church who organizes meeting times. “Right now we’re just a little mission, but we have to figure out how to grow and stabilize.”

Ms. Suchy-Pilalis said the mission began following a meeting in the summer of 2011 when a few Orthodox Christians sent word out and gathered in her living room.

Since then, the mission received a blessing from Bishop Dahulich to have a priest from Canada, Father David Edwards of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite, run their services.

Ms. Suchy-Pilalis said the mission meets on the first and third Sundays of the month for liturgy either at the Knowles Conference Center at SUNY Potsdam or in the new addition of her home.

Father Edwards crosses the border for the services, and on the second and fourth Sundays of the month, the congregation crosses the Ogdensburg International Bridge to attend service at his monastery.

“It’s really amazing that a group of people would travel across the border to go to services,” Bishop Dahulich said. “I’m looking forward to meeting people with so much dedication and zeal.”

Ms. Suchy-Pilalis said besides this mission, the nearest Orthodox Christian church is the Greek Orthodox Church in Watertown.

Although still unnamed, Ms. Suchy-Pilalis said the church has grown in numbers and dedication.

Ms. Suchy-Pilalis recently renovated her Potsdam home, putting on an addition for a worship space for the mission to worship.

“I put the largest addition to my house I could by code,” she said. “So the back part of my house is a full chapel. It’s our temporary solution.”

Ms. Suchy-Pilalis said that although SUNY Potsdam allows them to use the Knowles Center for some of their regular services, it is not an ideal space for an Orthodox service because they light candles and use incense.

“It’s very different to worship as an Orthodox Christian, so we can’t very well drop into other churches and necessarily feel the same thing,” she said. “The way we worship and express things musically, liturgically and sacramentally is very ancient and it’s important to us to worship in that way.”

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