St. Athanasius was formally established as a mission of the Orthodox Church in America on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord (February 2), 2002. The history of our community, however, extends beyond this “official” and canonical beginning. When the 25 founding members (including men, women, and children) formed St. Athanasius in February 2002, they came not only as new members of a new mission, but also as newly-received Orthodox Christians.
Their broader journey into the Orthodox Christian Faith began in the 1990’s with the personal journey of David and Rozanne Rucker. The Ruckers—formed in the Wesleyan tradition—had been posted to Hong Kong as Protestant missionaries. While there, they had come to realize the limitations of their Protestant heritage in conveying the Gospel of Christ to people not steeped in Western culture. The Ruckers’ struggle to preach the Gospel in ways that would “translate” into the cultural idiom of the Chinese people led the missionaries to explore ancient forms of Christianity.
After returning to the United States, they began to delve into Orthodox theology and found that, not only was Orthodox teaching something they could offer non-Westerners in presenting Christ, but it was also something that nourished their own souls, hungry for a rich spirituality in continuity with the early Christian Church.
Through their explorations of “things Orthodox,” the Ruckers discovered Holy Trinity Cathedral in Indianapolis, a community of the Evangelical Orthodox Church (EOC). The EOC was founded in the late 1970’s by Protestant Evangelicals who were trying to “re-create” the early church. The EOC borrowed many forms from the Eastern Orthodox Church, while retaining a Protestant character.
In 1996, David and Rozanne Rucker formed a mission parish of the EOC in Nicholasville. As their journey continued, the members of the mission increasingly felt the spiritual call to become fully and authentically Orthodox. After years of discernment, the mission in Nicholasville decided to seek entry into the Orthodox Church of America (OCA.) And so it was that the faithful of Christ the Life-Giver EOC mission became the nucleus of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in February 2002. Several months later, David Rucker was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in Dallas at the hands of the ever-memorable Archbishop Dmitri, founding hierarch of the Diocese of the South and the first bishop having care for St. Athanasius Orthodox Church.
In 2003, St. Athanasius was awarded both a diocesan and an OCA church-planting grant. The planting grants allowed Fr. David to leave his secular employment and devote himself completely to the needs of parish ministry. In December 2006, Fr. Justin Patterson was assigned pastor of St. Athanasius. The same month that Fr. Justin arrived also marked St. Athanasius’ graduation from the church planting grants.
In the years that followed, St. Athanasius continued its steady growth: augmenting its liturgical worship, developing educational programs for both adults and children, keeping a focus on fellowship and outreach and youth, along the way. Recognizing that St. Athanasius had passed certain milestones with regard to liturgical life, ministry, attendance, and tithing, the metropolitan granted St. Athanasius “parish status” in 2009.
One of the major challenges the parish faced in its first decade of existence was the need to get out of its storefront space and into a proper church building and campus. In 2011, St. Athanasius launched a capital campaign to help meet this need. The capital campaign and property search were both successful. After a year of construction, in July 2014, the St. Athanasius community took up residence in its own free-standing church located at 100 Lime Lane. Today, the parish community enjoys a dedicated worship space (with proper altar, nave, and narthex), a large parish hall, classrooms, and offices for use in parish administration. Since moving into our new church, St. Athanasius has seen steady growth—not only by bringing in converts to our Orthodox Faith, but also by welcoming home scores of “cradle Orthodox” from Eastern Europe, Africa, and elsewhere into our parish community. At present, we have over 20 families with one or more immigrants in their household. These people have greatly enriched the life of the parish, even as English remains our common tongue.
In February 2015, in conjunction with the celebration of St. Athanasius’ 13th Anniversary, Archbishop Nikon (Liolin), locum tenens of the diocese, and Archbishop Mark (Maymon) led the Dedication of the new church. In addition, Archbishop Nikon ordained Deacon Simeon Siskar to serve the growing community of St. Athanasius. On Pentecost of 2016, the parish welcomed our newly-elected Bishop (now Archbishop) Alexander (Golitzin) for his first archpastoral visit. Vladyka Alexander continues to be a frequent and welcome presence in our community.
In fall of 2017, St. Athanasius was one of 14 Orthodox parishes selected nationwide as a pilot parish for the Telos Project, a Lily-Endowment-funded initiative supporting work among 23-29 year-olds. Over the course of four years (2017-2020,) St. Athanasius is receiving $25,000 for work among young adults—and is using the Telos Project as a springboard for reflection about our ministries as we transition from the “pastoral model” of leadership to one that utilizes more lay leaders in ministry.
Even with our growth and development over the past 15 years, St. Athanasius continues to be guided by five core commitments:
- Liturgical worship remains at the heart of all that St. Athanasius does. On average, we hold some kind of liturgical worship five days per week in our parish.
- We have also worked hard to maintain a real sense of parish community by hosting weekly lunches after Liturgy, as well as regular social events among our men, women, and children.
- Among the ministries that St. Athanasius Church has continued to develop is a program of total parish education, including Sunday School for children and adults, classes for inquirers, ongoing catechetical instruction, youth group, and work among college students and young adults. Our parish is committed to holding a Vacation Church School each summer and helping all the youth attend a church summer camp.
- St. Athanasius is also fully engaged in supporting outreach and service to those in need. First among our local labors with those in need is our weekly Bread Ministry. For almost a decade, we have served Panera and Kroger surplus bread to people from our church doorstep, sharing leftovers with a local adult resident home in downtown Nicholasville. In addition, our parishioners engage in regular jail and refugee ministry.
- Finally, a consistent thread in our work from the beginning of the parish is that, due to our proximity to so many colleges, universities, and Asbury Seminary, we are constantly sending people out—often to do church-related work. Over the years, we have supplied a half-dozen priests and clergy families to the broader Church, a number of missionaries, as well as pious laypeople who go on to other places and contribute liberally to the building up of the Church around the country. This can be difficult, but we have come to see “sending out” as one of our core commitments as a parish.
The faithful of St. Athanasius take seriously the call to bear witness to Christ in an Orthodox manner. We encourage anyone living in the Bluegrass and beyond who might be interested in learning more about Orthodox Christianity to contact us. We are here for only two reasons—to grow in Christ ourselves and, in serving others, to share this precious gift of our Faith with all those whom the Lord brings to us.