St. Nicholas Orthodox Church began in June 1998 in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a mission effort of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of the USA. With the blessing of the UOC of USA’s Council of Bishops, Father Robert Holet and PaniMatka Christine rented a hotel space in Charlottesville and placed a small number of ads in the local newspapers. As residents of the area, Father and Pani felt that there was an opportunity to grow both understanding and support for Orthodox Christianity in Central Virginia. Father Robert was serving two parishes in Central Pennsylvania during this formative time; the Hierarchs blessed a plan to offer bi-weekly Divine Liturgies in Charlottesville until such time as the local interest level indicated a need to shift to something more permanent.
Early results of this effort were encouraging. Within a short time, bi-weekly services advanced to weekly Liturgies, and small groups of interested attendees from the surrounding area began to see St. Nicholas Mission as a place where they could discover and live their faith life, while participating in services and social activities in support of the needs of the local community. It was soon evident that the Mission needed a place of its own, to develop a more permanent presence and begin to grow the prayer life of the community that was beginning to call St. Nicholas Mission “home .”
Growth and Discernment
Within three months of the first service, the “regulars” were looking for a small rental location that would serve as worship and social space. They were successful; a 750-square foot location was secured as the Mission’s first home. Those who remember the early days remember that, from the very beginning, all trust was in the God who led His people through deserts and floods, to lead this group of His people in this big adventure.
Attendance grew, as did the activities of the Mission. Orthodox and non-Orthodox moving into the local University communities, and those who previously could only attend Orthodox services in distant locations, found St. Nicholas Mission and helped to determine the character and direction Father Robert pursued, to develop the community and move into the next stage of its development.
Knowing that if the Mission effort was to become a full-fledged Parish, it would be necessary to find a permanent home, the attendees with Father Robert followed a strategy of growing only as fast as the community dictated, while practicing a model of stewardship that recognized God’s hand in all that they had been given. To this end, it was soon (again) evident that a larger space was necessary. The community was not yet ready to determine a location for a permanent home, as members were coming from many different locales. While the community was still forming, they decided that another short-term location would be prudent, and so a 1500-square-foot location was discovered in an old warehouse on Ivy Road. The fundamentals were in place (including a raised platform that faced east!), and the location was suitable, so the next stage in the life of St. Nicholas Mission began.
It was during this time that the Mission experienced growth in its ministry offerings in the community. The local Universities began to offer OCF group gatherings; the Mission began to sponsor a speaker at the annual Festival of the Book, retreats and small group study efforts in regional areas began. The basic structures necessary for a successful Parish were outlined and developed, including a Parish Board and Religious Education structure for adults and children.
After four years in the warehouse, St. Nicholas Mission community began to feel the need to move forward, and so began to pray, talk and outline requirements for the next steps in its development. By a miracle of St. Nicholas, they were led to a property that was both central to most attendees and offered the space to include worship, social and education/library/bookstore space. Located on a main road that was once the only east-west road through the Commonwealth of Virginia (now US 250), the building and its land had been offered for sale for a few years, as if waiting for the Mission to be ready to come home! The Mission community prayed, discussed, prayed, deliberated, and then prayed again – and with the commitment of several determined members, moved forward with the acquisition of its current home. Closing on the property took place in December 2005.
Coming Home - Next Steps
With a great sigh of relief and a tear or two of gratitude, the Mission community settled into the development of its home. Renovations have resulted in a beautiful worship space, peaceful library/classroom space with large windows and a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an efficient kitchen space and social area. It was after the major renovations were completed that our Hierarchs determined St. Nicholas Mission had achieved its goals and was ready to move to the next stage of parish life. At the Seventeenth Sobor of the UOC of USA in November 2007, Metropolitan +Constantine (of blessed memory), Archbishop Antony, Bishop-elect Daniel, and the entire Church celebrated the reception of St. Nicholas Orthodox Parish as a full-fledged Parish of the UOC of USA.
Another major milestone was the Sacred Consecration of the parish facilities - after a sacrificial (and at times feverish!) volunteer effort by our parish members, friends and college students to finish an important phase of interior renovations. The Consecration service was one of great joy - celebrated by Archbishop Antony and Bishop Daniel on May 2, 2009, with numerous visiting clergy and guests joining the Parish family.
Stewardship and the Future
One extraordinary blessing received by the community has been the ordination of two "sons of the Parish" to the Holy Priesthood - Fr. Paisius McGrath and Fr. Anthony Perkins. Both serve Orthodox Christian communities in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island respectively, and they remain close to the Parish in spirit and in shared, common mission.
Maintaining its focus on good stewardship of what God has provided, and continuing to move forward in faith to serve the Lord - and in anticipation of His guidance in the future, the Parish completed a year-long Master Planning process in 2013. With the blessing of Metropolitan Antony, they explored the history and present state of the Church's life, and prayerfully tried to discern what additional work and sacred ministries could be undertaken to fulfill the 'next steps' in the Parish's history. Renovation of the website, an emphasis on outreach and evangelization, and a renewal of energy for the internal life of the Parish were all fruits of this process, which will bear additional fruit in the years to come.
From the beginning, the ongoing life of the Parish has focused on the practice of stewardship of all that God has provided, while looking for opportunities to serve His kingdom here on earth. The Service group model, its ministries and projects have allowed community members to participate fully in the life of the Parish, while encouraging visitors to learn more about the Faith that has led to this place, where God meets His people, in Central Virginia.
In February of 2020, founding pastor Fr. Robert retired and Fr. Charles Sanderson, a newly ordained priest from Maryland, was appointed to lead the parish into its next phase of physical and spiritual growth.