Stronger campus presence

CHAMPAIGN – Four years ago, the Rev. George Pyle began the search for an available building on the University of Illinois campus.

His mission was to eventually house students of the same faith together. The task hasn't been easy.

"The houses were too big or we couldn't imagine raising the money to buy the property," said Pyle, who heads the Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church in Champaign. Other obstacles included buildings too far away from campus. "We saw a lot of buildings that were not up to code."

The search ended three weeks ago in the form of an 18-bedroom house at 112 E. John St. The housing center will be the first of its kind in the United States for the Orthodox Church, Pyle said.

"That is a big step and I am sure there will be many to follow," he continued. "It is very important that a building like this exist to promote and enhance the Orthodox Christian lifestyle. Students have a house where they can relate to one another. It will be very powerful."

The property was leased from Roland Realty Inc. with the intent to buy in 2004. The church has raised 20 percent of the $1.5 million price tag, Pyle said.

The four-floor house has large living room and dining room areas, as well as a television lounge, sauna, kitchen and bathrooms on each floor. No major renovations are planned.

"It had to be big enough to house our needs but not overwhelming," he said. "It was the right size and a great location. It suits our needs well."

The church has 350 members on campus. Many are already lining up to move into the house for the first year, starting next fall. The future residents will be selected on a first-come first-served basis.

The Orthodox Church credits three historical bishops – St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Chrysostom – as important teachers of the faith, who contributed to its development and spiritual growth. The religion, which has 17 million members nationwide, traces itself back to the apostles at Pentecost, Pyle said.

Some of the beliefs include abstaining from meat and dairy on all Wednesdays and Fridays along with fasting from all food and drink on Sunday mornings. Student worshippers at the church have an international flavor, hailing from countries such as Albania, Cyprus, Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Jordan, India, Lebanon, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Rev. James Ellison, of St. Nicolas Antiochian Orthodox Mission Church in Urbana, said the new building will allow for a permanent facility for weekly meetings. He also views the facility as serving many more purposes.

"One of the main advantages for us is a physical presence on campus. It will give us some strong identity," he said. "We are very excited for this opportunity."

Meals would also be served at the house in accord with Orthodox fasting seasons, which wasn't the case at university residence halls, Ellison added.

Eventually, church officials plan to add a chapel for private devotional prayer and meditation. Ellison hopes the UI house creates a ripple effect among other university campuses.

"We hope it sets the tone for several housing and devotional houses on other campuses across the country," he said.

You can reach Ernst Lamothe Jr. at (217) 351-5223 or via e-mail at elamothe@news-gazette.com.

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