Prior to the establishment of the Church of St. Elia, the Macedono-Bulgarian Orthodox faithful would avail themselves of the services of other Orthodox communities. One parish, in particular, became an important contributor to the beginnings of what we know today as St. Elia the Prophet Orthodox Church. That parish was popularly known as “St. Mary’s”.
The official title of the Church was The Patronage of the Holy Virgin. In 1918, the American Orthodox Messenger (Amerikanski Pravoslavnyj Vistnik) listed this parish as belonging to the Orthodox Diocese of North America and Canada of the Russian Orthodox Church (now known as the Orthodox Church in America), under the jurisdiction of His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon, who was later canonized as Saint Tikhon, Enlightener of North America.
Saint Mary’s was located at 74 West South Street in Akron, Ohio. Many Macedono-Bulgarian people were baptized and married at St. Mary’s. In St. Mary’s Church hall, a Bulgarian School was held once a week, and the local Macedonian Political Organization also held their meetings there.
The Macedono-Bulgarian community of the greater Akron area, Canton, Massillon and Mansfield began to organize themselves under the auspices of the local Macedonian Political Organization (MPO). In 1939, the building located on West Wilbeth Road in Akron, was dedicated as the Macedonian Home with the Charter of the local MPO “Pelister” stating that the purpose of their organizational home was to provide a place for a Church and to meet the social needs of the community.
On October 10, 1946, the Church was officially incorporated in the State of Ohio as St. Ilia Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church. Along with Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Akron would have a priest come periodically for Divine Services. The upstairs hall was converted to serve as a Church on these occasions. When the upstairs of St. Elia’s present building was converted permanently into a Church, the Iconostasis that was installed came from St. Mary’s.
The Iconostasis from St. Mary’s was sized to fit in what once was a stage opening. The floor of the stage was lowered, but the stage framing remained the same. Metal screening was placed above the Iconostasis and more Icons were mounted on it. The Holy Table was installed and a Proskomede shelf was built. A sink had been installed and a closet for vestments was constructed.
On July 2, 1950 Father George Nedelkoff was ordained to the Holy Priesthood at Presentation of Our Lord Church in Akron by Bishop Andrey Velichky and served the community of St. Elia on a part-time basis, followed by Father Litchko from 1953-19565. In 1957, the community then made arrangements to bring Father Christo B. Christoff from Canada. Father Christoff served the Parish until 1959 when, along with a number of people, he left St. Elia and formed St. Thomas Eastern Orthodox Church.
Through a decision that was made at a special meeting of the Church Trustees on July 7, 1958, the property on 19 East Ralston Avenue, Akron, was purchased on July 25, 1958 for a Rectory for the price of $16,500.00. A mortgage loan of $10,000.00 was taken from the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Akron, Ohio.
From 1959-1962, the Parish was served by Fathers Babenko, Dziama (+1969), and Ephimenko. During the years of 1950-1964 while His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill, was Priestmonk and Rector of St. George Parish in Toledo, Ohio, he would come to Akron on many occasions to serve the needs of the faithful.
In 1962 Father Borislav Kraeff arrived from Istanbul and served the parish until his death on November 8, 1981. During this time, parts of the interior of the Church and Hall were remodeled. The exterior of the Church was structured in its present brick form with arched windows, a bell tower with an electrified tape bell system and a dome. For this purpose, a loan was procured and was completely paid off in September of 1993. The mortgage on the Parish House was paid in full on March 30, 1978.
After the death of Father Kraeff, the parish was without a permanent Rector over a year and a half. Father Stefan Mitov served the Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings. Also, His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill and Father Myron Zuder of St. Mary’s Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Akron came to serve the needs of the Parish.
On May 30, 1983, Father Don Anthony Freude arrived as Rector and from the time of his arrival there was expressed a great desire among the people to build up the Church and to have a normal Church life. By July, Great Vespers were being served every Saturday evening and the Vesperal Divine Liturgies celebrated for the Holydays during the week.
A Church Sisterhood was formed on November 16, 1983. A St. Nicholas Day celebration was held for the first time on December 11, 1983. The Parish Choir began to learn the hymns of the Divine Liturgy in English and was beginning to sing all the other Services of the Church. A new square Holy Table for the Altar was constructed. Covers for the Holy Table and robes for the Altar Serves were made. Choir stands were constructed. Seven new sets of priestly vestments were donated and purchased. A new gold metal bound Gospel book in English was donated and acquired. Banners, a sick call Communion set, Holy Water receptacle, new Festal Icons and and Icon of St. Elia was donated and placed in the Church for the veneration of the faithful.
In 1990, a celebration for Father Freude’s twenty-fifth anniversary of priestly ministry was to be held. The ambon in front of the iconostasis was extended from wall to wall, the floor was leveled, and the entire Church was carpeted.
On October 20, 1991, the 45th Anniversary of the founding of St. Elia, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America awarded the Faithful of St. Elia a Gramata in recognition of their steadfast commitment to the Church.
In 1993, a decision was made to remodel the Altar area. By the Grace of God, the planning, labor, and generous support of our parishioners and friends, the remodeling began in October of 1993. It was soon completed with a new arched ceiling, sacristies, closets and sink counter.
A new Iconostasis, along with Icon Shrines on the side walls, were constructed and installed in 1995. The carvings of the Royal Doors of the original Iconostasis from Saint Mary’s have been placed into new frames and now serve as the Royal Doors of our new Iconostasis. New Icons of Christ, the Theotokos, St. John the Baptist, Saint Elia the Prophet, Saint Juliana Lazarevo, the Merciful, Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel were placed on the new Iconostasis in 1996.
Saint Elia’s ushered the new Century in with additional beautification in the Church sanctuary. A fresco of the Communion of the Saints was written on the wall behind the Altar, and Icons of the Ascent of St. Elia, the Transfiguration of our Lord, and the Annunciation were written on the walls over the Iconostasis.
In 2006, the Parish Community renovated the Church Hall. Paneled walls were covered in drywall, new ceiling tiles were installed, the beautiful maple flooring was refinished, a storage room was created, and the kitchen area was painted and modified to improve traffic flow. The result was a wonderful improvement that the entire community enjoys every Sunday at the Social Hour that follows Divine Liturgy, and for Parish events. The renovation was blessed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Parish.
As we all know, new history is written with every passing day. The parish family of St. Elia’s continues to labor in God’s vineyard for the building up of His Holy Church.