Twenty-Fife Years of Service
THE CHURCH OF VIRGIN MARY & ST. ATHANASIUS
MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO, CANADA
Father Athanasius was received by the small Coptic congregation of Mississauga on May 14, 1981 (the eve of the feast of Saint Athanasius). In the beginning, services were held in rented school gymnasia, but efforts to find a permanent place of worship started diligently almost from the beginning. In October 1982, less than one and a half years after the commencement of Father Athanasius’ service, the grace of God presented the congregation with a four-acre parcel of land in central Mississauga. An old school on the land (7,200 sq. ft.) adequately accommodated all the church’s regular services as well as hosting a day care facility.
Plans to build a church on the land started almost immediately. An architect was hired and a design concept was agreed on. His Grace Bishop Reweis, who annually celebrated the feast of Saint Athanasius with the congregation, supported the project vigorously. On May 15, 1983 (feast day of Saint Athanasius), His Grace blessed the foundation stone of the new church. On May 15, 1984, His Grace celebrated with the congregation the ground breaking ceremony. On February 12, 1985, Father Athanasius visited His Holiness Pope Shenouda, and obtained his blessing for the building of the new church. By the end of February, 1985, through the grace of the Lord, the mortgage on the property was fully paid.
Mississauga, May 14, 1981: Reception of Father Athanasius by the congregation of Church of Virgin Mary and Saint Athanasius
May 15, 1983: Blessing of the foundation stone for the new church. First person on the left is Samir Matar (currently Fr. Moussa Matar).
May 15, 1984: Ground breaking ceremony for the new church. First person on the right is Mahfouz Awad (currently Fr. Reweis Awad).
BUILDING THE NEW CHURCH:
The architect estimated the cost of building the church to be in the neighbourhood of one million dollars. Accordingly, the Board of Deacons started approaching financial institutions for a loan. Most of them declined, based on the fact that there was no down payment (except for the paid-up land) and that a small congregation of seventy families could not possibly pay back such a huge loan! Again, the grace of the Lord did intervene, and by the end of March, 1985, The Royal Bank of Canada decided to extend the church a line of credit of one million dollars.
The next challenge was finding a contractor. Again, several were approached, but most of them quoted us figures in the neighbourhood of two million dollars. Frustration and discouragement reigned for a
little season. On his annual visit to the congregation in May 1985, His Grace Bishop Reweis inquired anxiously if there was any good news to celebrate on the feast day of Saint Athanasius that year, but the answer was no.
The feast of Saint Athanasius was celebrated quietly, and both His Grace Bishop Reweis and Father Athanasius went to visit Fr. Marcos Marcos. A short while later, the phone rang and Mr. Nashaat Iskandar, the chairman of the building committee, asked to speak to Fr. Athanasius. The news? A contractor had just submitted in writing an offer to build the church for one million and seventy thousand dollars! His Grace commented, “It seems Saint Athanasius will not allow us to do anything except on his feast day!” Three weeks later, on Monday, June 3, 1985 (first day of the Fast of the Apostles) the contract was finalized.
HAIL TO MIKHAIL!
t was June 19, 1985 (feast day of Archangel Michael). The Divine Liturgy has just ended at 10:00 a.m. and the worshippers were leaving the church, when everybody, including Father Athanasius was overcome by the surprise: Huge earth-moving machines were ripping up the parking lot! Tears were streaming down uncontrollably, and so back inside they went for another veneration (tamgeed) of the great Archangel Michael.
June 19, 1985 (feast day of Archangel Michael): The foundations of the new church were laid. To the left of the picture is the old building which was used for the services throughout the construction.
THE DAY THAT THE LORD HATH MADE:
It was Sunday, June 8, 1986, and, to everyone’s amazement, the new church, fully carpeted, with pews in place, a temporary iconostasis and walls adorned by icons of the saints, was finally ready for its first Divine Liturgy.
Bishop Reweis had been invited to attend but he apologized that he could not come. Then, he was summoned by His Holiness to go to Montreal on urgent business.
Upon learning that the church was almost ready for occupancy, His Grace worked very hard at his busy schedule, and, by the grace of God, he was able to travel to Mississauga in time to celebrate with the congregation of the Church of Virgin Mary and Saint Athanasius, the first Divine Liturgy in their new church. (June 8 is historically, the date on which the Nicene Creed was published by the Council of Nicea.)
June 8, 1986 The new church is finally ready for the celebration of the first Divinge Liturgy
PHASE II OF THE CONSTRUCTION:
It was agreed upon that, as soon as the church was completed, and services moved to the new building, the old building, which had served us well during the construction, would be renovated to match the new one.
The design process was started in September 1986, and was completed and approved by the Board of Deacons in March 1987. Consent to begin the construction was given by the General Assembly on May 10, 1987.
On July 1, 1987, renovation of the old building began. It was carried out in two stages in order to allow for use of part of the old building while the rest was being renovated.
By January 1988, the Sunday School section was completed and work started on the hall, which was completed by March 1988. Now we had a large hall with an adjoining fully equipped kitchen, eight Sunday School rooms, a library, storage spaces, offices, and a playground.
Not long after the completion of phase II of the construction, a member of the congregation of Saint Mark’s Church in Scarborough approached Father Athanasius proposing to cover half the cost of an iconostasis and icons if the congregation would pay the rest.
The proposal was conveyed to the congregation after a fundraising dinner. Fifty thousand dollars were collected on the spot and the work was ordered. The iconostasis and icons were shipped from Egypt in the summer of 1989. Work continued untill early September, just hours before the church was to be consecrated.
On Sunday, September 3, 1989, His Holiness Pope Shenouda blessed us by consecrating the three altars and the icons. The central altar was dedicated to Virgin Mary & St. Athanasius, the northern to St. Pishoy & St. Paul and the southern one to St. George & St. Maurice.
The total cost of the project, including the price of the land and the iconostasis with its icons now approached two million dollars. By the time of the consecration , more than half the cost of the new church had been paid off by the zealous Copts of Mississauga.
On Tuesday September 5, 1989, Father Athanasius was transferred to St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Kitchener.