Our beloved Archbishop DMITRI (1923 + 2011)
The Building up of the Body of Christ in the Deep South:
the Founding of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Mission in McComb, Mississippi
As ironic as it may sound, the very first step toward the founding of an Orthodox Church in McComb, Mississippi was the assignment of the Rev. Norval Yerger as the Episcopal priest there in 1970. After much prayer and study, he resigned his position as an Episcopal priest in June of 1977 and was chrismated into the Orthodox Church the very same month. After directed study with faculty members of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in September of 1977, taking the name Fr. Paul.
Here, the founding of another Orthodox Church in Mississippi must be briefly explained in order to move Fr. Paul from New York back to Mississippi in the fall of 1977. Archpriest George Gladky was the founder and pastor of Christ the Saviour Church (now Cathedral) in Miami, and, with Archbishop DMITRI, co-founder of the Diocese of the South. A tireless missionary, Fr. George founded more than a dozen Churches in the South which are still in operation. In 1977 he made several trips to Jackson, MS and served services in hotel meeting rooms and homes to see who would come. (Jackson is the capitol of Mississippi, and is about 80 miles North of McComb.) The fruit of Fr. George’s efforts in Jackson was Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, to which Fr. Paul was assigned as their first priest upon his ordination and return to Mississippi.
Returning to the story of the Church in McComb, one of Fr. Paul’s former Episcopal parishioners, David Varnado, made the move to Orthodoxy with him. David helped to recruit other converts in the area, notably Subdeacon Jonah Ford, who converted in 1981 and has been a mainstay of the Church ever since. David was married to Edie in 1995, and their home became the nucleus of the Church in the McComb area. This began what was to be better than 20 years of commuting from McComb to Jackson (and later to Clinton, a town just outside of Jackson where Holy Resurrection Church is today).
Founding and the Future
In 1999, the members of Holy Resurrection who lived in McComb heard that there might be some local interest in the Orthodox Church. Fr. Paul traveled down to hold a service at the hall of the Presbyterian church in the next town (Magnolia, MS) to gauge what the level of interest might be.
The group of Orthodox Christians in McComb was slowly enlarging to several families, and the hope for a Church to eventually be planted nearer their home began to grow. In 2000, Fr. Paul blessed the McComb group to begin meeting together in members’ homes weekly to read Vespers. Soon after they were also blessed to begin reading Typica together occasionally on Sunday. The members always shared a community meal together after the services. This time for fellowship was very important for “cementing” the core group that was soon to be the founders of Christ the Saviour Mission.
One day in 2002, some of the members “chanced” to drive by a building (formerly a Christian Science “church”) that had just been put up for sale. They had noticed this building for months and had always thought what a great spot for an Orthodox Church it would be. By the grace of God, a way was made available for this small group of dedicated Christians to purchase the building in April of 2002. The Church was named Christ the Saviour Mission Station, and the Transfiguration of our Lord and Saviour was chosen as its patronal feast. (The Church was initially considered a mission station of Holy Resurrection, a status which was upgraded to mission in 2005.) It is located right in town, near many of the other churches in McComb and in a very visible location. Almost immediately Reader’s Vespers began to be served every Wednesday and Saturday night, and Fr. Paul began to come down one Saturday a month to serve the Divine Liturgy and check up on the progress of his small group of missionaries.
In January of 2003, just nine short months after the purchase of a Church building, the group in McComb was able to purchase the house next door to the Church to serve as a parish hall. The hall was dedicated to St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow and Enlightener of Alaska. St. Innocent was chosen because he was a missionary priest, and also because he was very good at fixing and building things (two qualities that seem very important at the mission). The temple and the hall were beautified—both were painted and had minor repairs done, and a local carpenter was brought in to build an iconostasis and to install some benches around the walls.
The time has flown since the purchase of buildings and the semi-regularization of services. In 2004, two seekers were made catechumens. They were chrismated in 2005. Several other important events happened in 2005, including the purchase of a set of bells from Russia in memory of the repose of a member’s father. Archbishop DMITRI of Dallas and the South also visited in June 2005, when he made the announcement that Fr. Matthew Jackson would be assigned as the first parish priest upon his graduation from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in May 2006. In November 2005 a three-bedroom home only 2 blocks from the Temple was purchased as a rectory for Fr. Matthew and his family. It was dedicated to St. John of Kronstadt, who knew St. Innocent of Alaska, and was an incredible missionary and man of God in his own right. On graduating from seminary, Fr. Matthew was able to come to McComb to serve as our first priest.
Christ the Saviour Mission draws regular members in from as far as 75 miles away. Through the generosity of benefactors and the truly selfless giving of the members, both the temple and St. Innocent Hall are completely paid for, and only a small amount is still owed on St. John’s rectory. With God's help, our mission continues to grow.
In 2010, the parish welcomed its second priest, Fr. Benedict Crawford, along with his family. In August 2016, Fr. Benedict was transferred to a parish in Houston. Our current priest is Fr. Alexis Baldwin. He and Matushka Veronika (his wife) have six young boys. Fr. Alexis also serves two other Missions: Holy Cross Orthodox Mission in Petal (Hattiesburg area) and Saint Catherine Orthodox Church in Columbus, MS. Consequently, Vespers and Divine Liturgy are served at Christ the Saviour once a month. On all other Sundays, Reader's Service (Typica) occurs at 10 am.
There is an enormous amount of work to be done down South in spreading the Truth of our Faith. Christ the Saviour Mission marks only the 6th active Orthodox Church in Mississippi today. We ask for your prayers for the missionary efforts of all those spreading the Faith throughout the world today.
Glory to God for all things!