St. Mark Orthodox welcomes community

EAST MANATEE — Manatee, meet St. Mark Orthodox Church.

The International Folk Fest this weekend at the church is about more than ethnic food, music and raffles for The Rev. John Chudik.

It’s a chance for the community to take a peek inside the fledgling building on Morgan Johnson Road, just south of State Road 64, and learn a little bit about the ancient roots of Orthodoxy.

It’s a special weekend, Chudik said.

“It’s the first time we’ve been able to invite people in,” he said.

The church building is still in its infancy.

The first services were held just before Christmas 2008.

Its stark white walls and ceilings will soon be graced completely with colorful iconography, and the concrete floor, now covered in spots by just a few throw rugs, will soon be covered with traditional wood.

A beautifully carved mahogany iconostasis (immovable icon screen) stands at the front of the alter area.

It’s the centerpiece of a building born from a rough blueprint Chudik sketched out on a napkin in 2002.

Then there’s the 48-candle chandelier. It weighs 1,500 pounds and is topped with the Byzantine double-headed eagle.

As for pews, there are none in traditional Orthodox churches, Chudik said. Most congregants stand for the usual one-and-a-half-hour service, although there are seats around the periphery for those unable to stand.

The road to this point has been a long, yet rewarding, one for the full-time congregation of about 100. Just ask Irene Zarnoski, the church’s lone surviving founding member.

She was at the church’s first service in 1979 at a home in Sarasota. “There’s no Orthodox church in the area,” she recalled saying then. “I want an Orthodox church.”

There she was Saturday, all smiles, welcoming the community and simply beaming about her church.

“I knew even the good Lord wouldn’t let me live without my Orthodox church,” she said. “I’m so thrilled.”

Meanwhile, humbled could best describe church member Nadya Golubov, an art teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School.

Inside the church, there is iconography of saints from across the globe: Serbia, Africa, Greece, Ethiopia and Alaska. Golubov holds dearest, however, the image of Saint Joasaph, the Bishop of Belgorod, Russia; and for good reason. She’s can trace her lineage on her mother’s side back to him.

“It’s an awesome responsibility,” she said, staring at his image sitting in a window frame. “

It’s like when you’re born into royalty.”

Golubov’s aunt goes to St. Mark’s, as does her daughter and her grandchildren.

“It’s a tradition that we’ll carry on.”

The fest continues from noon to 6 p.m. today at the church, 1517 Morgan Johnson Road, Bradenton.

Be sure to say hello to Nadya, Irene and Father John.