History of Saint Mark Church, Bradenton, FL
Saint Mark Orthodox Mission began on July 22, 1979, when 20 people gathered with Fr. George Gladky in the community hall of an apartment complex in south Bradenton to celebrate Vespers and explore the possibilities for founding an Orthodox Church of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. Saint Mark, Apostle and Evangelist, was chosen as patron due to the presence of an icon of Saint Mark among the faithful. Fr. George returned twice in the following months to come and serve Divine Liturgy in the same hall where the first meeting took place.
On March 21, 1980, the following Spring during Lent, His Grace Bishop Dmitri of Dallas and the Diocese of the South (OCA), Fr. George from Miami, and Fr. Peter Tutko from New Port Richey, along with some of his parishioners, joined the faithful in Bradenton to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This service took place at the Historic Methodist Church in Bradenton and included 25 persons. Two weeks later, on the Saturday of Bright Week, Fr. George came again to celebrate Pascha, once again meeting at the Historic Methodist Church; a picnic brunch was enjoyed in the courtyard after Liturgy. It was at this picnic that Fr. George informed the Bradenton faithful that if a place could be found for worship, he would arrange for Fr. Peter to come from New Port Richey to serve Divine Liturgy every second Sunday.
A home for worship was found at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota. In September of 1981, Fr. Kyril Riggs replaced Fr. Peter and continued the bi-weekly schedule of services until the first of the next year, when Fr. Kyril agreed to serve Divine Liturgy once a week on Saturdays. Since then, Divine Liturgy has been served on a weekly basis in Bradenton.
During 1982 six to ten faithful regularly attended services. Once again on Bright Saturday, Fr. George Gladky came from Miami to help celebrate Pascha. Attendance rose into the teens in 1983 as Fr. Kyril continued to serve. That year His Grace, Bishop Mark (Forsberg, Auxiliar Bishop of Ft. Lauderdale, Diocese of the South) came for Holy Week and Pascha, and this was the first time Saint Mark Mission celebrated Pascha with a Midnight Liturgy.
In July of 1983, Fr. Theodore Panchak was assigned to serve the Mission for the summer. Because Sunday School rooms at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer were free early, Divine Liturgy could be served on Sundays while Fr. Theodore was assigned; Vespers services were held weekly in the homes of various parishioners. Fr. Theodore returned to school in September, and Fr. Kyril resumed Saturday Liturgies until Christmas.
On Christmas Day, Fr. Lucian Gafton came from London, England, and was assigned to Saint Mark Mission as its first permanent pastor. In the winter and spring of 1984, 20 or more attended Divine Liturgy regularly, sometimes swelling to more than 30 gathered. Fr. Lucian left the Mission in the fall of 1984, and Fr. Philip Reese from Saint Andrew Church in New Port Richey came to serve in the interim until Fr. Thomas Hauland came to Bradenton from Alaska to be the Mission’s resident pastor. His Grace, Bishop Mark came to serve Pascha services both in 1985 and 1986.
In the fall of 1985, an offer was made to purchase the property at 3415 9th Street East in Bradenton. Final papers were signed on January 10, 1986. Fr. George Gladky blessed the building and Divine Liturgy was served for the first time at this new location on January 11, 1986.
Two years passed and 1988 brought changes to Saint Mark once again. Fr. Thomas Hauland left the priesthood, and the Mission was served by Fr. David Milligan, Fr. Basil Karpelenia, and Fr. Stephen Plumlee (now retired and still attached to the Parish). During this period of time, annual banquets and an annual “Festival” were held along with many fundraisers by the Sisterhood to renovate and pay off the building on 9th Street East. With a final large donation by John Chase, Saint Mark Mission achieved its goal and celebrated in 1993 with a dinner and the burning of the mortgage.
In 1994 Fr. John Filipovich was assigned to Saint Mark as its full-time Priest. With Fr. John’s arrival came regularly scheduled services of Vespers, Divine Liturgies, and Feast days. The Mission established adult classes, Sunday School for the children, and Lenten retreats. A lending library was added along with a bookstore. In 1997 12 acres of property were purchased on State Route 70 in Myakka City as a possible site for a new church location.
His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri visited Saint Mark in May of 1998 to grant the mission Parish status. In January of 1999 the first Parish Council was elected, and in October of 2001 Fr. John Chudik was assigned to Saint Mark Church as Parish Priest.
The property on State Route 70 was sold to purchase another piece of property on Morgan Johnson Road (57th Street East) in Bradenton in hopes of finally building a new temple. In 2002 three crosses were planted on this property dedicated to the future church of Saint Mark and the side chapels of Saint James, the Brother of the Lord, and Saint Irene the Greatmartyr. The church’s iconostasis, carved by Kostas Pylarinos and painted by Dmitri Shkolnik, was used at the All-American Council of the OCA held in Orlando, FL, in 2002, and was exhibited afterwards at the Museum of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, FL, until moved into the new temple in 2007. A service for the Founding of New Church took place at the new property with His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri on Saturday, May 1, 2004.
Having outgrown the space at the 9th Street location, the last service was held there in February 2005, the church moving into a rented space at Christ Episcopal Church on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton. The foundation for the new Saint Mark Church on Morgan Johnson Road was poured on December 20, 2006. The walls went up in early 2007, but then the building sat dormant due to financial concerns and other issues. The first service at the $1.5 million temple was Christmas Eve 2008.
The last of the original founders of Saint Mark Church, Irene Zarnoski, was awarded an archpastoral gramota by Archbishop Alexander of Dallas and the Diocese of the South at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Parish on July 14, 2019. Fr. John Chudik continued to serve Saint Mark Church until 2020, at which time he began serving a new mission station in the Villages, FL. In May 2020, the current Priest of Saint Mark Church, Fr. Jonathan H. Cholcher, moved to Bradenton from Warren, Ohio, and assumed his duties as rector of the Parish.
In 2022 as a result of information shared by one of our former winter but now permanent residents, Bob Matzkevich, arrangements were made for Saint Mark Church to receive the Altar and Table of Preparation from Nativity of the Theotokos Church in Waterbury, Connecticut, which was closing its long-time location. Bob personally drove the Altar and Table of Preparation in a delivery truck from Waterbury to Bradenton. In response, another of our winter residents, Diane Koory, was commissioned to paint an icon of Saint Mark as a gift in thanks from Saint Mark Church to the faithful of Nativity of the Theotokos Church. This is the beautiful icon of Saint Mark with a winged lion at the top.
Saint Mark Church is composed of believers from all across this country, permanent Florida residents and winter residents (“snowbirds”), native-born Americans and recent immigrants from many other countries, the younger and the older. Saint Mark Church is a fellowship of believers in communion with God the Holy Trinity, sheep following their Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who pray, learn, and work together in the grace of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God and for the salvation of our souls.
May God grant rest eternal to those who have labored here and departed this life. May God grant many years to all who continue to labor in this vineyard. May God bless Saint Mark Orthodox Church.