GREER — St. Rafka Maronite Church has enjoyed several significant milestones, but the parish’s most recent celebration is arguably the biggest in its short history.
Family, friends and parishioners packed the small church on state Highway 14 for the first Divine Liturgy celebrated by their own newly ordained Father Aaron Joseph Sandbothe on Sept. 11.
The two-hour Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was followed by a parish luncheon.
“This is truly a feast for our parish,” Father Sandbothe told those gathered for the celebration. “It’s truly a blessing.”
The day before, Father Sandbothe was ordained into the priesthood at St. Mary Church in Greenville by Bishop Gregory John Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron with Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston.
Father Sandbothe was ordained to the priesthood for the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, N.Y. His first assignment will be as parochial vicar at St. Louis Gonzaga in Utica, N.Y.
Father Aaron was a convert to Catholicism as a teenager and was received into the Church at Holy Cross in Pickens by Father C. Thomas Miles. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina-Upstate in Spartanburg, did graduate studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and attended Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary. His parents are Sam and Sherri Sandbothe of Pickens.
The Maronite Church is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It evolved from the worship of early Christians in what is now Syria and Lebanon. Weekly Mass is celebrated in both English and Syriac, which is a form of Aramaic, one of the Semitic languages that dates to the 11th century B.C.
In his homily, Father Christopher Smith, pastor of Prince of Peace Church in Taylors, said Father Sandbothe “has been chosen as a vessel of mercy” to others.
“When they look into his face they see the mystery of their redemption,” Father Smith said. “Because he said ‘yes’ to a divine vocation and was confirmed by the apostolic ministry of the Church, he makes Christ present by acting in his person.”
Bishop Mansour concelebrated the Sunday liturgy at St. Rafka with its pastor, Father Bartholomew Leon.
In 2009, Father Leon led the successful effort to purchase the former Church of Christ property on Highway 14, and Bishop Mansour dedicated St. Rafka Maronite Church in the fall of 2010.
The church was founded in 2002 by a core group of Lebanese families from across the diocese. Between 2003, when Father Leon was first installed as pastor, and 2009, the local Maronites — including now Father Sandbothe — attended weekly Mass primarily in St. Mary’s Gallivan Hall.
Father Sandbothe had words of praise for the parishioners.
“As a testament to the wonderful growth of this mission, to the clergy and to Father Bart, you have not only accomplished all of that in such a short amount of time, you have also produced a priest,” Father Sandbothe said. “Thank you, Father Bart, and thanks to all of you. It’s truly a blessing to me to have all of you here.
Photos by Nill Silver/Miscellany
Top photo: Maronite Father Aaron Joseph Sandbothe prays after his ordination at St. Mary Church in Greenville, with Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, left, of the Diocese of Charleston, and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour, right, of the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Benedictine Father Bartholomew Leon, far right, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Church in Greer.