Orthodox Christians will have space of their own at West Roxbury, MA cemetery

Fr. Victor Boldewscul
Fr. Victor Boldewscul
Before now, members of the Orthodox Christian community had to travel far and wide to find a special resting place for their loved ones that focused on their specific religious cultures and traditions. But Saturday's groundbreaking at The Gardens at Gethsemane on Baker Street in West Roxbury brought them one step closer to such a local spot.

Five years in the making, the foundation for a chapel will be set this fall, with construction planned for next summer. If all goes according to plan, a ribbon cutting for both the chapel and a garden will occur in fall 2013, said Alan J. MacKinnon, president of The Gardens at Gethsemane.

Talk of the project began five years ago when Father Victor Boldewskul of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Epiphany in Roslindale approached him about creating a spot where the Orthodox community could bury their loved ones.

"We help people at a very sensitive and vulnerable time in their lives and everyone in the Orthodox community can use this chapel to observe their customs, " said MacKinnon, who estimates that he serves about 100 Orthodox families a year. "This is an unmet need. ... There's not another one in New England and we hope it can be a national model."

In 2009, MacKinnon went to Greece and Lebanon to take in the architecture as he discussed plans with community leaders. The domed chapel is the centerpiece of the project, which includes multiple sitting areas and a garden. It will include 500 plots, expandable to 3,000.

"When we come to bury someone, we'll go into the chapel and say funeral prayers ... the family would say prayers and then go right to the vault," said Father Timothy Ferguson, pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in West Roxbury. "It's a link between the departed and the living that is made real with these ceremonies. ... The (chapel and garden) give us a focal point."

MacKinnon said he picked the area in the cemetery with the highest possible elevation, and the area where lunch was served during the ground breaking will eventually be raised so it is level with the chapel and garden. Other leaders from the Orthodox community in attendance included His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, and His Grace Bishop John Abdalah of the Antiochian Orthodox Diocese of Worcester and New England.

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