The trials and tribulations of the Church of St. George in Knoxville, TN continue, even during Pascha. On Easter Sunday, April 12, parishioners and neighbors were shocked to find that an early morning fire had gutted the church, further disturbing a parish that was recently shaken up by news of the parish treasurer’s alleged theft of Church funds.
Church leadership addressed a letter to parishioners on April 13 which TNH prints below.
The Knoxville Fire Department (KFD) was informed about the fire about 7 AM, a few hours after the congregation celebrated the Resurrection.
When the KFD arrived, flames were shooting out of the Church’s windows, but nobody was in the building. KFD declared the fire was under control by 8:30AM.
Initial shock gave way discussion and speculation about the parish’s latest tragedy. “Church members said there’d been talk of installing a smoke alarm system inside the church, but the treasurer had advised it would be too expensive,” WBIR-TV reported, adding “that same treasurer is suspected of taking several hundred thousand dollars but he has not been charged with any crime, according to church leaders.”
Father Anthony Stratis, the pastor, summed up the situation speaking to Channel 8, WVLT. “St. George isn’t just a church, it’s home.” Fr. Anthony Stratis told the TV station “Traditionally it’s been a center point for the whole community…Our houses may change but the church is our home,” he said.
Parish member Chris Paris reflected the indomitable spirit of his fellow parishioners when he told the TV station, “The devil will test you in many ways. So, this is just another one here. Sometimes you have to go all the way to the bottom before you go back to the top,” says Paris.
Supernatural dimension aside, WBIR reported that “three teams have been looking at the fire damage – from the Knoxville Fire Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and insurance investigators…Investigators are looking at two possible causes for Sunday’s fire…”
WBIR noted “it’s possible a candle could have started the blaze. Or, perhaps an electrical short up in the choir loft may have been to blame. The loft was completely destroyed in the fire. Flames obliterated the church organ, which was in the choir….Church members told 10 news that several prayer candles are left constantly burning in the foyer area. A custodian, however, also kept an eye out to ensure no flames posed a threat to the church.”
The text of the letter to the parish follows:
“Monday, April 13, 2015:
“As many of you know, our beloved St. George Greek Orthodox Church suffered significant fire, smoke and water damage on April 12th, Orthodox Easter Sunday morning. Our parish is heartbroken and devastated by the tremendous loss, but through that loss, many blessings have been found…
“The first responders from the Knoxville Fire Department, while working to extinguish the flames shared their cautious optimism and compassion with the many parishioners who gathered on the church grounds. While parishioners were trying to offer support to the firefighters, they were in turn providing much needed support to our parishioners. One firefighter was injured Sunday morning and the St. George community is praying for a very swift and smooth recovery for him. God had His hand on these gentlemen who worked with diligence, efficiency and professionalism to save what they could of our church.
“St. George parishioners worked today to salvage and clean altar items used during our Divine Liturgy services, prayer books, icons and Sunday school materials. Alongside parishioners were employees from Elder’s Ace Hardware in Bearden sent to our church to help with the cleanup. These friends worked just as hard as any others and the generosity of that business owner to offer his employees to St. George is heartwarming.
Many churches have contacted the Church Office offering prayers, their facilities for church services, and asking where help is needed. These offers remind us of the true meaning of “brothers and sisters in Christ”.
“Our church leaders and parishioners have been overwhelmed and humbled by so many friends, religious communities, businesses and organizations offering to make donations. Fortunately, we have adequate insurance which should cover the extensive damage, however, if you would like to make a donation, please…visit the fundraising site created by our parish.
“Please be aware that any other sites raising funds on behalf of St. George are not affiliated with our parish and those funds are not guaranteed to make their way to St. George. Also, donations can be mailed to St. George Greek Orthodox Church, 4070 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919. Thank you for your support in any form whether it be monetary, physical help or a simple prayer. All are welcome and appreciated!
While the building has been damaged, our spirit to continue has not been damaged and listed above are just a few examples why. With so many generous acts of kindness, support, compassion, caring and love shared with our St. George parish, as well as our strong Orthodox faith, how could our spirits and desire to serve God possibly be weakened? We are lifted up by our parishioners and the Knoxville community to continue God’s work and to give back what we have been given!
“We are hopeful because of the love shared with us by so many. We are peaceful because God is truly working through us all to persevere. We are strengthened with the knowledge that no obstacle could possibly shake our Orthodox faith. Our church is our home and provides comfort and peace.
“Words simply cannot express our heartfelt thanks to all who have offered and continue to offer support in all ways.
“Christ is Risen!”