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Church holds Blessing of Lake Lanier
Orthodox Christians celebrate Feast of Theophany
Father Tom Alessandroni of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Mission in Gainesville celebrates the Epiphany during the Blessing of the Lake.

Not quite the Jordan River, Lake Lanier served as a blustery substitute Sunday to a group of Orthodox Christians celebrating the Feast of Theophany.

The day, also known as Epiphany, commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the start of Jesus’ public ministry.

According to Scripture, the scene also includes the heavens opening, a dovelike descent of the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Mission, a 3-year-old church that meets twice monthly at First Baptist Church in Gainesville, held the service at Thompson Bridge Park off Dunlap Landing Road in Gainesville.

“Thank you for your endurance. There are no short Orthodox services,” said Father Thomas Alessandroni to the 12 people gathered on the shoreline.

“We’re just blessed the Lord gave us a beautiful day. It just matched the words of the service so well,” he said. “May you be renewed and regenerated in the Holy Spirit this year, and let’s do it again next year.”

Alessandroni led the group in a 45-minute service, highlighted by the singing of Scripture and other sacred text, while facing Lanier at the end of a boat ramp.

Worshippers got to see a great swath of Lanier’s shoreline, thanks to receding waters from the region’s ongoing drought.

One of the group’s members, lay leader Ruth Purcell, of Dahlonega, said the service was held last year at Longwood Park.

“The people in the mission come from all kinds of Orthodox churches,” she said, explaining the membership. “All of us are converts, but two of us came from Greek churches.”

Purcell said when she and her husband moved in 2001 to Dahlonega, they and other Orthodox families tried to start a church in the area, “but we couldn’t get the clergy thing together ... it was just too remote.”

The Orthodox Church, which traces its history to the time of Christ, is the world’s second-largest Christian church, with some 225 million members but less than 6 million in the U.S. and Canada.

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