Recounted by Dr. Russell Moores
What is now St. Ignatios of Antioch Melkite Greek Catholic church came into being early in 1980 through a chance encounter at Vespers at Hagios Trios Greek Orthodox church between Father Daniel M. Munn, an Episcopal priest, and Mary McDonald, a Carpatho-Russin Eastern Catholic. They both attended Hagios Trios on Occasion “in order to maintain their sanity.”
Mrs. McDonald contacted Fr. Nick (Olivio) Novarios, a bi-ritual Carpatho-Russin and Roman priest in Milledgeville, Georgia, who came to Augusta to offer the first Divine Liturgy at the chapel at Ft. Gordon on 16th March 1980.
Throughout 1980, Fr. Nick came to Augusta, offering Divine Liturgy at the Roman Catholic Church of the Most Holy Trinity on Sunday afternoons, through the good offices of Father William Simmons, pastor of the church.
Father Daniel Munn, an Episcopal priest, had been in contact with Patriarch Maximos V and Archbishop Joseph (Tawil), Eparch of Newton of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and Raymond Lessard, Roman Catholic Bishop of Savannah, requesting reception into the Melkite Catholic Church and ordination to Holy Priesthood. Through these contacts, Archimandrite Neilos (William Haddad), pastor of St. John Chrysostom Melkite Catholic Church in Atlanta came to Augusta to celebrate Divine Liturgy in October 1980. Father Neilos was accompanied by Father Joseph Peacock, a Roman Catholic priest who assisted him at St. John’s.
The name of St. Ignatius of Antioch was chosen in honor of our God-bearing Bishop, the 2nd successor of St. Peter in the See of Antioch and one of the most important writers of the early Church.
The announcement by Rome in August of 1980 of the proposed reception of married Episcopal priests into the Catholic priesthood and the meeting of several members of our parish with Archbishop Joseph during the Pastoral Council meeting in Atlanta in February of 1981 led us to hope that Father Daniel’s ordination soon would take place; however, such was not the case.
Archimandrite Charles Aboody, Rector of St. Gregory the Theologian Melkite Seminary in Boston, came to us in January 1981 for celebration of Divine Liturgy, Blessing of the Waters and blessing of the homes of parishioners on the Feast of Theophany. We were again able to offer Divine Liturgy throughout 1981 on a more or less regular monthly basis with Father Nick and Father Neilos sharing the pastoral responsibilities.
Through the efforts of Father Charles and Fr. Emanuel Pratsinakis (pastor of Hagios Trios Greek Orthodox Church), a Byzantine Catholic parish took shape. Our fans, processional cross and tabernacle all came from the Greek Orthodox church.
If we had to identify “founding priests” of our parish, other than Father Daniel, they would be Father Emanuel Pratsinakis and Archimandrite Charles Aboody.
Father Charles also obtained for us Mila Mina, the magnificent Carpathorusan iconographer from Southern California, who totally adorned our church “like no other” prior to the time of our current
Ukrainian monk-priest in residence and iconographer Fr. Damian (Higgins).
As time wore on and no answer was forthcoming to the question of whether a married Episcopal priest could become a Melkite priest rather than a Roman priest, it was finally decided amongst Bishop Lessard, Sayidna Joseph, and Father Daniel that Fr. Daniel would be ordained a Roman Catholic Priest by Bishop Lessard, and then immediately granted bi-ritual faculties by Sayidna Joseph. Such was indeed the case, in November of 1982.
Many fine priests have graced our altar, including, in particular, Fr. Matthew (now Chorepiscopus Matthew) of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India, pastor of St. Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church in India in Augusta.
Father Miguel Grave De Peralta (an Episcopal priest cum synodal Russian Orthodox priest) became a Melkite priest, coming to St. Ignatios in late 1997.
Father Damian, a Ukrainian priest-monk, came to us in late 2002. Father Damian is also an outstanding iconographer. He travels extensively for his bishop, teaching icon painting, tending to parishes, and painting icons in churches. Fortunately, Father Damian’s bishop has allowed him to have his one man monastery here in Augusta.
Archpriest Father Daniel died suddenly on 29 June 2006. At his funeral four days later, the church was packed to overflowing with bishops, priests, deacons, and a congregation “too numerous to count.” He was indeed a towering figure, looming larger than life.
Father Miguel directed the parish thereafter, with frequent assistance from Father Damian. However, Father Miguel left during the summer of 2011 to accept a hospital chaplain teaching position in Atlanta. We have been resident priestless since, but with Father Damian staying as long as possible between trips and Father Miguel coming back when Father Damian must be gone.
In addition to Father Daniel, we have had one other clergy death: Father Deacon Robert Pride died in September of 2011.
At present, we have two Melkite deacons: Father Deacon Dr. Kent Plowman and Father Deacon Dr. Michael Willoughby. One Roman deacon, Father Deacon Michael Marchek, is frequently present also.
Being priestless at present, Father Deacon Dr. Michael Willoughby is the parish administrator.