Parishioners and friends of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church carried lighted candles in an outdoor procession and saw the bones of martyrs placed in the church altar as the Cub Hill church's long-awaited consecration took place among ritual and pageantry yesterday.
Longtime members who had nourished St. Demetrios since its founding 25 years ago said they were proud and honored to attend the nearly three-hour ceremony formally dedicating the church building, which has been open since 1984.
"It's such a joyous occasion. It's like being the proud parent watching the child you've nurtured being christened," said Manuel Antonakas of Columbia, a member of the church since its inception. "A church is only consecrated once, and for many people it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The consecration capped decades spent building a scattered suburban community of Orthodox Greeks into a thriving parish of 500 people, its members say.
St. Demetrios was chartered as the Suburban Greek Orthodox Church in 1970, and services were held in Parkville High School until 1975, when a small chapel -- now an educational building -- was built on the Cub Hill site. In 1984, the large, domed neo-Byzantine church that is the signature of St. Demetrios was completed.
Services have been held in the church since then, even as members began the lengthy process of preparing for the formal dedication that took place yesterday.
The other Greek Orthodox churches in the Baltimore area are the Church of the Annunciation -- the "mother church" in downtown Baltimore -- and St. Nicholas in Highlandtown.
Yesterday's ceremony honoring the church, conducted by His Excellency Metropolitan Silas, the second-highest ranking official in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, was steeped in symbolism.
Parishioners carried lighted candles, symbolizing eternal light, in a solemn procession that circled the outside of the church three times. At the altar, the metropolitan placed the relics of three saints into a cavity of the altar and sealed them in place.
The bones symbolize the blood of martyrs on which the church was founded, said the Rev. Demetrios J. Constantelos, a former interim priest at St. Demetrios Church.
The altar was washed with water as a sign of its baptism, and sprinkled with confirmation oil as a sign of its initiation. The altar then was vested with a new cloth and the entire interior of the church was anointed by the metropolitan.
At the end of the ceremony, each parishioner was invited to add a few drops of oil to a vigil light that will be kept burning at all times at the altar of the newly consecrated church.
For Gus Economakis of Perry Hall it was a moving experience.
"I feel wonderful," said Mr. Economakis, a former parish council president. "This is perhaps the first time in my life I have seen a consecration -- and probably the last. It was a lifelong dream we saw to fruition."
Charlotte Vouris of Parkville couldn't help but reflect on the church's beginnings.
She remembers when a small group of people met regularly in one another's homes to discuss the need for another Greek Orthodox church to serve the growing suburban population. That was in 1969, when the 30 acres on which the church sits today were "just a little horse farm" in northeastern Baltimore County, she said.
"We worked so hard for this to come about," she said of yesterday's ceremony, which has its roots in the fourth century.
Preparing for the consecration meant more than building a church, said Margo Lambro, an Ellicott City parishioner. It also meant furnishing it with icons and other pieces that are integral to the Orthodox liturgy.
"It can take years once you get the building," she said, because "the physical as well as the spiritual church has to be in place."