We began as an informal home fellowship. The founders of St Elizabeth’s had been members of two regional Orthodox churches, but with a desire to establish an Orthodox Christian presence in Murfreesboro. The new community was granted mission status in December 2004 by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated, still in a home, in January 2005 with five families.
Leasing property on West McKnight Drive began in February 2005; renovations started around the first of March. An equal measure of sweat and love produced an extraordinary worship and fellowship space. Indeed, the walls, icon screen, painting, artwork, kitchen – and much more – were completed entirely by members of the new mission. After the long but beloved labor, the first Divine Liturgy in the new church was celebrated on March 20, 2005.
New and Ancient
St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Orthodox Christian Church is new to Rutherford County, but part of the oldest Christian church in the world. From the vibrant descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s followers in Jerusalem—fifty days after Our Lord’s Resurrection—Christian faith and practice spread from Jerusalem to Antioch (“where the disciples were first called ‘Christians’” [Acts 11:26]), to Ephesus, Rome, northern Africa, Constantinople, and beyond. Over the centuries, the faith spread through Slavic lands and into Russia, where the patron saint of our parish—Elizabeth—would be so deeply transformed by it.
St Elizabeth the New Martyr
Our mission is named in honor of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, aunt of Nicholas II by marriage and grand-daughter of Queen Victoria of England. She had been Protestant, but converted to the Orthodox Christian faith in 1894 while in Russia, ten years after marrying Grand Duke Sergei, uncle of Tsar Nicholas II. Her conversion was neither forced nor required by marriage, but a voluntary response to the truth and beauty she encountered in the faith of her adopted homeland – the same truth and beauty that has inspired the founders and members of our parish, and, we pray, will inspire Rutherford County for generations to come.
Scripture Comes to Life…
For Orthodox Christians, worshipping the true and living God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is an experience, engaging both the mind and the body with all its senses. You might notice, therefore, many Scripture texts “come to life” during a visit to St Elizabeth’s. For example:
- The Altar, to provide for the offering of the Eucharist (Ex 20:24-26; Psalm 43:3-4; Heb 13:10; Rev 8:3)
- Candles, to remember that Christ is the “Light of the world” (Psalm 18:28; John 8:12; Eph 5:14)
- Holy Communion, to participate in the Body and Blood of Christ (Luke 22:19-20; John 6:51-58; I Cor 10:14; 11:17-29; Rev 19:9)
- Icons, to proclaim Christ’s Incarnation in flesh and blood and to reveal our own potential for transformation (Gen 1:27; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:3; II Peter 1:4)
- Incense, to facilitate prayer (Ex 40:26-27; Psalm 141:2; Eph 5:2; Rev 5:8-9)
- Liturgy, to carry on the tradition of the early Church and participate in Christ’s own priesthood (Acts 2:42; Heb 7:17; I Tim 2:5; Heb 8:1-2)
These and other liturgical practices, the book of Hebrews (chapter 9, for example) explains as, not substitutes for, but “copies of the true” worship in heaven (Isaiah 6:1-8; Daniel 7; Revelation 4,5).
…and Life is Transformed
The soul years to experience God not as we (or the culture) assume Him to be, but as He genuinely Is (Ex 3:14). Orthodox worship of God permeates the whole of one’s life, so that, gradually, what emerges is a transformation of the whole person. ”We shall see Him as He is…and purify ourselves even as He is pure” (I John 3:2-3). The Orthodox Christian strives toward a “sacramental vision” of life: to see all things in Christ and Christ in all things.
Here’s how one saint describes this two-thousand year old faith: ”What is the essence of Orthodoxy? It is Christ. Everything that is Orthodox has a divine-human character. In all creation, God occupies the first place; we, the second. God leads, we follow; God acts, we cooperate. God became man and lived within the categories of our human existence while appearing everywhere as absolute holiness, goodness, wisdom, justice, and truth.”