October 21, 2021

Holy Apostles draws Cortlandites

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

From left, Simeon, and his mom and dad Rebecca and Derek Witty, of Cortland, as Derek holds an image of patron saint Simeon, who the child was named after.

LANSING — The Rev. Joel Brady likes how the new people have arrived at his Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Lansing.

“Almost all of them have kind of showed up. It’s almost like they are ready and God sends them here,” said Braidy, whose church of 50 congregants will celebrate its 10th anniversary Sunday.

“We’re having our much-smaller-than-anticipated celebration on Sept. 13,” the Dryden man said.

“Our bishop is coming. He comes once a year.”

Brady, 31, of Dryden, has been serving as a priest at the Orthodox church, part of Orthodox Church of America, for 3 1/2 years. It got its start at the 345 Ridge Road chapel, renting from the Catholic church next door, in August 2010.

Its mission, from the apostle Matthew, is to go out and make disciples of all nations and see that they are baptized.

Brady said he wants people to know: “That we are here, is the big thing.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

The Rev. Joel Brady was particular about what can be photographed inside Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Lansing. This area was OK. But the altar, behind screens featuring Christian paintings nearby, was off limits. It’s a sacred area and Brady did not want to tamper with that.

“It’s a traditional church,” said congregant Derek Witty of Cortland. “We started coming here about two years ago. It’s typical for an Orthodox church. We use incense. We have religious paintings everywhere. You could say our worship is multi-sensory. You smell the incense, see the icons, there’s movement in worship. The clergy will come out of the altar and go in at certain points. There’s a lot of structure … and there’s lots of kids running around.”

He and his wife, Rebecca, and baby son, Simeon, drive past seven or eight churches to get to the Lansing church, the closest Orthodox church nearby.

“It’s important that we come to an Orthodox church. About seven years ago, we became Orthodox,” said Derek Witty, introduced to the church by Orthodox friends in Buffalo.

“We love everything about it. The worship is really beautiful. There’s lots of mystery. Orthodoxy doesn’t try to explain everything,” Derek Witty said. “Any place we have lived, we have gone to an Orthodox church: Buffalo, New Mexico, Northern Virginia.”

They moved back to Cortland and looked for a church here.

Rebecca Witty, an opera singer, sings in the choir.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Rebecca Witty of Cortland, an opera singer by training, sings Sept. 1 in the choir at Holy Apostles Orthodox Church.

“It’s a side of Christianity you probably have never seen before,” she said. “The closest thing you can equate it to is Catholicism, but at the same time, it’s a completely different animal. You have to come and experience it.”

She said there’s a strong sense of community.

“It’s a small church. Everyone gets to know everybody,” Derek said. “When we had Simeon a year ago, without having to ask, they brought a meal train while Rebecca was recovering from her pregnancy.”

“It’s like these layers. We have been here a couple of years. The church community has been here before that. Orthodoxy in the U.S. — hundreds of years before that,” he said.

And it goes back further to the time of the apostles and Christ.

“It’s so fantastic that this little parish has thrived for 10 years,” Derek Witty said.

“I’ve been going there since early 2012,” said Chazz Hamilton of Cortland. “It’s a wonderful place. I have been an Orthodox Christian for many, many years. I really like it. The Orthodox Christian Church is worldwide.”

“There’s a joke, ‘how many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light bulb.’ “Change? What is this change? ” Hamilton laughed. “The church doesn’t change to be socially or politically correct. We hold on to the original Christian Church … God doesn’t change. Society changes. God doesn’t.”

“It’s given me a degree of stability,” said Hamilton, who has lived on both coasts in the United States.

“When I first came to this area quite a few years ago, the first thing I did was look for an Orthodox church. It’s been my bulwark for many, many years.”

He lived in Marathon and didn’t have a car at one point. The former priest, the Rev. James Worthington, made sure he had a ride.

“This one’s very homey. Very nice. Down to earth, caring,” he said.

Witty sees quite a few Cornell and Ithaca College students there. Post doc students and researchers stay for several years and then move, Brady said.

“And then there are those who have been here since day one,” Witty said.

Eleven of the 50 parishioners are from the Cortland area, Brady said. On a typical Sunday, services see 30 to 40 people. It hosts a 9:10 Hours service and a 9:30 service.

It has a traditional Christian format with hymns, petitions, prayers, scripture readings, sermon and communion.

Parishioners work at feeding the hungry and thirsty and clothing those in need, Hamilton said.

“It’s not like you are baptized and you are done,” Brady said. “There’s this whole way of life. If you live it fully, it really impacts every aspect of your life. They blossom into who they are and who God intends them to be.”

“There are a lot of people that are looking for that,” he added. “They are looking for something that gives shape to their life.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

The Rev. Joel Brady of Dryden outside Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Sunday.

And what about that long ZZ Top beard Brady sports? Orthodox priests tend to have beards, he said.

“It’s not a requirement. But it’s more common than not. I had a beard like this before I was a priest … if I had a job where I could get away with it.”