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Priest says honor is for parish

A Ukrainian Catholic Church leader receives a headdress and new title.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published October 27, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG

Monsignor John P. Stevensky held up the sparkling dome-shaped headdress that in a few days would signify his clerical elevation.

Properly called a mitre, the headpiece was being bestowed on Stevensky, pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church, during a special ceremony last weekend.

Now the priest holds the title of Mitered Archpriest, and will be addressed on formal occasions as the Rev. Monsignor Mitered Archpriest John Stevensky.

In his 44th year as a priest, Stevensky is pleased by the recognition, which came from Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who is based in Kiev, Ukraine.

"It's not so much for me. It's for our parishioners," he said, standing in the aisle of the colorful church after the Oct. 17 Divine Liturgy.

His parish, established in the 1960s, is made up of about 150 families of mostly Ukrainian origin.

"We have people that come faithfully from Clearwater, Dunedin, Tampa, Brandon and Largo," said Stevensky, 70, who was born in Pennsylvania.

He thinks there are many more Ukrainians in the area who can be served by the parish.

The priest explained that Ukraine's history as part of the Soviet Union, during which religion was forbidden and had to be practiced in secret, means many immigrants aren't grounded in their traditional faith.

Epiphany of Our Lord has been reacquainting them with the church and also helping them to find jobs. Additionally, the church owns several nearby duplexes that it rents to parishioners at a discount.

"The church is not only helping our Ukrainian people spiritually, but also so they can fit into the American way of life," Stevensky said.

Secular celebrations such as Autumnfest, with its Ukrainian dancers and food, and New Year or Malanka festivities on Jan. 14, help draw nonmembers to church.

The church off Fourth Street N also has non-Ukrainian members of other Eastern European backgrounds. Among the non-Ukrainian members is Chaplain Peter Bounacos, 61. A former member of the Greek Orthodox Church, Bounacos said he happened to be sitting in a nearby Wendy's when he looked up and saw the church's gold domes.

"I drove around the block and said, 'Where did this come from?' And one Sunday, I dropped by."

Bounacos now attends the English and Ukrainian language Masses and serves at the altar. It was an easy switch for him, he said, adding that the Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic rites are similar.

In fact, though the customs and traditions are different, the dogma of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is identical to that of the Roman Catholic Church, Stevensky said. The Ukrainian Catholic Church also recognizes the pope as its head. Epiphany of Our Lord is one of five Ukrainian Catholic churches in Florida.

Stevensky has been at the St. Petersburg church for more than five years. When he arrived, it had a half-million-dollar mortgage. Today it's down to $184,000 and money raised from the annual fall festival will go toward helping to pay it off, he said.

Built in 1996, the church, in recent years, has installed the colorful icons that are part of its tradition to its ceiling and sanctuary. In 2003, a 13-foot by 23-foot mosaic of Christ, the saints, angels and other biblical figures was installed on the exterior wall, above the main door.

As he showed a visitor his new silvery mitre last week, pointing to the icons inserted around it, he offered the official reason for his elevation to archpriest.

"For my love and dedication to our Ukrainian Catholic Church," he said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or 727 892-2283.

If you go

Autumnfest

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 3 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 4, Epiphany of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church, 434 90th Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Ukrainian dancers, food, beverages and vendors, games and rides. Church tours. Northern Sounds Band will entertain on Nov. 3 from 4 to 8 p.m. and Cathy's Lorelei Band on Nov. 4 from 2 to 6 p.m. Admission is $2.

[Last modified October 26, 2007, 21:27:29]


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