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North Country Gets Its First Resident Orthodox Priest

 

(July 21, 2018) The North Country gets its first resident Orthodox priest. Inaugural public event: blessing of vehicles, including the emergency vehicles of the Potsdam Police and Fire Departments and the Rescue Squad. Date: August 5th at noon, Potsdam Civic Center Parking Lot (Market St.). All types of vehicles and their drivers are welcome!

Many people might be surprised to learn that there is a thriving Orthodox Christian population in the North Country. Now, for the first time, there is a public face to this group of worshippers as St. Olympia Orthodox Church of Potsdam receives its first resident minister, Fr. Peter Irfan.

Father Peter's first love is outreach. On very his first visit to the North Country, he went to hospitals and nursing homes to comfort anyone of any faith. On August 5th at noon, there will be a public blessing of all vehicles, but especially our emergency fleet of police cruisers and other emergency vehicles. Everyone is welcome to bring their cars, bicycles, ATVs, etc., to the public parking area of the Potsdam Civic Center for this very short service of blessing for the safety of all who travel, and especially those who do so while risking their lives to protect our community.

Fr. Peter was born into a Roman Catholic family in Pakistan and attended Catholic seminaries in preparation for the priesthood. After graduation, he worked at major hospital in Pakistan where he met Mary, a young nurse from a Protestant family. They fell in love and married. No longer eligible for the Catholic priesthood, he taught music, led seminars, youth rallies and youth camps, and founded the Christian Youth Alliance through the Catholic Diocese in Pakistan. He later founded the Christian-based Council of Youth Advisors, eventually becoming its CEO. The mission of this organization, which still exists today, is to save youth from drug use and addiction through education, sports activities, seminars and varied social activities. He continued to feel that God was still calling him to active ministry. One day, a friend from his seminary days gave him a pamphlet on Orthodox Christianity. Encourage by their inclusion of married clergy, he inquired further and eventually was sponsored to come to the U.S. for further study. The Irfans immigrated to this country in 2001, first living New York City. He was ordained as an Orthodox priest and later was attached to St. George Orthodox Church in Buffalo.

St. Olympia Orthodox Church held its first worship service in 2012 on the SUNY-Potsdam campus. Twice a month, a priest would travel from Canada just in time for Sunday worship and return afterwards. In larger cities, it is common to have Orthodox churches for various ethnic groups (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.) Although some customs may vary, the faith is the same among all Orthodox. Here in Potsdam, the community is a mix of people from many ethnic backgrounds including converts and the service is in English. The church also attracts those interested in early Christian worship since the Orthodox Church has an unbroken lineage back to the Apostles. The parish has expanded and now has two services every weekend, making it much more difficult for a non-resident priest.

Fr. Peter first came to Potsdam this past March on an emergency basis when the travelling priest became unable to make the weekly journey and for health reasons retired from active ministry. Fr. Peter feels that his specific calling is missionary work, to spread the love of Christ through the Gospels. Because he saw that there were no other Orthodox churches for seventy miles, he worked with the Orthodox Church of America, Diocese of New York and New Jersey, and the local parishioners to find a way to move to the North Country, even though it meant that both Fr. Peter and his wife would also need "secular" jobs in addition to ministry (they are currently job hunting).

 

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