The Orthodox Church of St. John the Theologian began in 1983 with the intent to provide an English-language Orthodox presence in the eastern end of Suffolk County, Long Island, an area containing over a half-million people.
The establishment of the mission was the dream of Father John and Matushka Marie Sochka of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Dix Hills, who envisioned the establishment of such a “daughter parish” back in the ‘70’s. After Fr. John’s untimely death in 1980, Matushka Marie and several other member of the Dix Hills parish who lived out in the Town of Brookhaven got together to organize the “Yaphank mission” and saw the first Divine Liturgy served on Sunday, December 11, 1983 at Yaphank Presbyterian Church. Choir responses were handled by the seminarians of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, New York, and Fr. Tom Hopko, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at St. Vladimir's, as guest homilist.
During this time, the community sponsored numerous spiritual and social events such as the Yale Russian Chorus and summer picnics to bring a geographically scattered community together for Orthodox worship and fellowship. Fr. Stavros Strikis was assigned as the first priest of the new mission and worked hard during the first year to establish as regular cycle of worship.
Following Archbishop Peter’s visit in September of 1984, the mission was officially established as the Orthodox Mission Church of St. John the Theologian, Yaphank, New York. A strong core of approximately twenty to thirty people led by Fr. Stavros proceeded to continue services at Yaphank Presbyterian Church. Fr. Stavros remained until 1986 and was succeeded by Fr. Raymond Courtney, for two years, Fr. Bogdan Djurdjulov, for one year, and Fr. Basil Prisacarou, who served until April of 1993.
Father Jonathan Ivanoff, a 1986 graduate of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, was subsequently assigned to the mission in May of 1993. Through consistent effort and focused outreach, a team of dedicated and talented lay leaders working with Fr. Jonathan in the area of education and teen youth work, evangelization and mission, and parish organization and administration were able to begin making a difference in the physical, spiritual and social life of the parish community. Within one year, membership had doubled to thirty-eight adult members. A church school was started in the fall of 1993 with six students and finished the year with eleven students; during the following church school year, enrollment began with fourteen children and ended with seventeen. A youth group was started with over a half-dozen teenagers enjoying monthly fellowship as well as spiritual and Christian social formation.
By the beginning of 1995, parish growth necessitated a move out of Yaphank Presbyterian, who had very kindly and gracioiusly served as our host since the Mission’s first service in December, 1983. A five-month term at the Mouse Hall in Miller Place was followed by a year at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Ridge, who invited the Mission to begin services, at no charge, in their facilities until St. John’s was able to find property of its own.
Beginning in 1995, the Mission undertook a concerted effort to finally identify and locate suitable property for its own use. By the beginning of 1996, parish adult membership had reached fifty and the church school program had nearly twenty children enrolled in the weekly educational program. During this time, a successful capital campaign raised over $60,000 to purchase, in April of 1996, the parish’s present facilities at 158 West End Avenue in Shirley.
St. John's is presently still the only English-language Orthodox Church serving the eastern end of Suffolk County. Our parish is a "pan-Orthodox" parish composed of families from numerous ethnic backgrounds, truly making our community "a house of prayer for all people." Parishioners come from all over the eastern end of Suffolk County with approximately two-thirds to three-fourths of our membership drawn from a ten-mile radius taking in the communities of Yaphank and Middle Island to the north, the Moriches and Mastic-Shirley to the south, and Farmingville and surrounding areas to the west.
Our parish has participated in raising money for foreign and domestic missions, in clothing and food drives for needy people both here and abroad, and our community has a strong and growing sense of outreach to others in the Lord’s service. Stewardship, including tithing, is strongly emphasized, and St. John’s itself has been a Parish Member of the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards of the Orthodox Church in America. An active social schedule, such as our Annual Blini Luncheon on Forgiveness Sunday, the Parish Christmas Yolka, Parish Picnic, JOY (church school) Pool Party, weekly community meals, trips to museums, seminaries, and monasteries, and annual events such as that begun by the ladies of the parish Sisterhood combining Christmas shopping and womens’ fellowship with a “Sisters Day Out” during the month of December, provide the community with joyous opportunities for building fellowship and strengthening parish family ties, so sorely needed in our times to fight the feelings of alienation, lonliness and isolation that so many people experience.
Parishioners are encouraged to seek out an area of ministry suitable to the gifts God has given them, and use those gifts for His glory and the upbuilding of His Church. Such broad participation of the laity ensures that a wide range of opinions and ideas will be brought into the process of formulating parish vision and mission, prioritizing parish objectives and laying the groundwork necessary to make effective, meaningful and life-changing ministry happen.
Plans are currently underway to establish a community based summer Vacation Bible School program and Scouting program (there are none in our area as of now). A "challenge grant" issued in 2006 made it possible for the parish to pay off its remaining mortgage, and plans are being submitted in early 2009 for comprehensive exterior site plan and interior building renovations work. St. John's is looking forward to our 25th Anniversary in the fall of 2009 and will be planning a year-long program of activities and events to celebrate this wonderful and historic milestone.