Press ReleasOver 300 Parishioners and Friends Mark a New Beginning for Archpriest John and Matushka Eugenia Nehrebecki
by Michael Vlahos
The cooling Autumn Sun had the Orthodox Christian Church of Christ The Saviour shining like a cathedral on Sunday morning October 5, 2003. His Eminence, Archbishop PETER of the New York and New Jersey Diocese celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Afterwards, the V. Rev. John Nehrebecki, Pastor Emeritus, and his wife, Matushka Eugenia, were honored as they celebrated a new beginning after 51 years of dedicated service to Christ's Holy Church. Father John remains with the Christ the Saviour Church as Pastor Emeritus. The Very Reverend David Vernak has assumed the responsibilities as Pastor with his wife, Mariam Vernak.
Concelebrating the Divine Liturgy with Archbishop PETER were Protopresbyter Robert S. Kondratick, Chancellor of the OCA; V. Rev. David Vernak, new rector of Christ the Saviour Church; V. Rev. John Nehrebecki, retiring rector of Christ the Saviour Church; V. Rev. Michael Dahulich, Dean of St. Tikhon's Seminary; V. Rev. Paul Lazor, Dean of Students at St. Vladimir's Seminary; Rev. Alexander Atty, of St. Michael Antiochian Church; and Rev. Samuel Kedala, of Holy Trinity Church, Deacons Michael Sochka, Jesse Greendyk and Victor Gorodenchuk. Seminarians Paul Witek, Jason Vansuch, Andrew Romanov, and John Mindala. Following the Divine Liturgy, a banquet was held in honor of the Nehrebecki's at The Brownstone, Paterson, New Jersey.
At the banquet, the Nehrebeckiís were warmly greeted. Father John was uncharacteristically brief in his opening statement and he quickly turned the program over to Matushka Eugenia. She seemed very humbled when she received a standing ovation from the assembly after her opening remarks. The other speakers were introduced by the Very Reverend David Vernak.
Councilman Leon Brasowski who, on behalf of the Parish, presented the Nehrebeckiís with a ceremonial key to their new house being built on the church property. The toast was offered by Michael Vlachos who spoke about the work that still needs to be done in Christís vineyard and that there is no retirement from the Christian life. Professor David Drillock recalled Fatherís first assignment at Osceola Mills and his many visits to Saint Vladimirís Seminary. Professor John Erickson, Dean of Students at St. Vladimir's Seminary acknowledged Father Johnís and Matushka Eugeniaís influence on, and dedication to, the Seminary.
Fathers Samuel Kedala (Holy Trinity Church, Wantage), David Garretson (Sts Peter and Paul, South River), and Joseph Frawley (West Point, NY) gave anecdotal references as to how Father and Matushka impacted their lives; New Jersey Deaneryís acting Dean Joseph Lickwar (Sts Peter and Paul, Jersey City) recalled the Nehrebeckiís service to the Deanery.
The Very Reverend Michael Dahulich, Dean of St. Tikhon's Seminary, spoke eloquently of their marriage, quoting from the book of Ecclesiastes (4:9-12, NJB) to describe their personal relationship and their dealings with other people, and their commitment to Christ: "Better two than one alone, since thus their work is really rewarding. If one should fall, the other helps him up; but what of the person with no one to help him up when he falls? Again: if two sleep together they keep warm, but how can anyone keep warm alone? Where one alone would be overcome, two will put up resistance; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken." The third cord, of course, being Christ Jesus. Protopresbyter Rodion Kondratick, Chancellor of the OCA, spoke of the Nehrebeckiís service to the OCA and how much more we can expect from them now that they are released from their responsibility to the parish.
Tatiana Nehrebecki introduced the Family program. Mark Jacobs (Louisville, KY) spoke of courting the last nubile Nehrebecki (Anastasia) and how much Father John and Matushka Eugenia would be welcomed in Louisville and at the Saint Michael Parish (the present Rector, Father Alexander Atty, not withstanding) and then the grandchildren, Anastasia (Vernak) Gorodenchuk, Justin Gramkow, and John Della Pesca, recalled the kindness of both grandparents and the wisdom they had imparted to them.
Archbishop PETER spoke of their service and dedication to Christ and His Holy Church and he recalled that even while living in France he had heard of their work and ministry in the United States. Finally, Dr. Joan Kakascik presented proclamations from the Bergen County Board of Freeholders and the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate for the years of selfless service to the community. The Nehrebeckiís spoke again and thanked everyone for their kindness and graciousness and affectionately dismissed the guests.
Father John and Matushka Eugenia founded Christ the Saviour Church on August 7, 1960. Its 40th Anniversary was celebrated in 2000. In the course of his ministry at Christ The Saviour parish, Father John founded nine Orthodox parishes in New Jersey and the Orthodox Chapel at United States Military Academy, West Point. Churches were established in Wayne, Randolph, Mays Landing, Pearl River (NY), Rahway/Clark, Bricktown, Saddle Brook, Cherry Hill/Medford and Flemington/Lebanon.
The Nehrebeckiís have led their parishioners to a rich and full life in both theological and cultural activities. Prelates from Poland, Russia and Japan have visited with parishioners. Leading theologians from Saint Vladimirís Seminary, NY, and Saint Tikhonís Seminary, PA, have been regular guests. For the past 15 years, iconography classes that study the Byzantine/Russian style of icon painting have been held at the church.
Believing that "the hand that gives must meet the hand that receives," Father John and Matushka Eugenia have engendered continuous programs of charitable works personally and through The Martha and Mary Altar Society and the parishís Youth Group. Parishioners have contributed to Paramus and Bergen county projects such as food banks and senior citizen programs.
Father John also stepped down as Dean of the Orthodox Clergy in New York and New Jersey, a position to which he had been elected and re-elected to for 40 years. He was among the Commission of Bishops from the United States that received the TOMOS, the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America, from Patriarch PIMEN of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow in 1970. In 1958, Father John successfully besought the New Jersey State Assembly to recognize the Orthodox as the fourth major faith in New Jersey.
Father John was born as the eleventh child to Michael and Veronica Korsh Nehrebecki on Friday, May 4, 1928 in the steel-producing town of Donora, Pennsylvania. Matushka Eugenia was the fifth child of the Archpriest Elias and Matushka Euphrosina Trembach Yankovsky on April 30, 1930 in Portage, Pennsylvania. They met in Brownsville where Eugeniaís father was serving the needs of the people and young John was traveling through the area helping to establish "R" clubs.
John Nehrebecki graduated from Donora High School in 1946, Saint Tikhon Theological Seminary in 1950, and received a BA degree from Davis and Elkins College (Elkins, West Virginia). While Father John was Orthodox Chaplain at Columbia University, he received his Masterís Degree in Russian studies from City University of New York. He then completed course work at Saint Vladimir Theological Seminary and in Russian literature and history in the Fordham University doctoral program.
Eugenia Yankovsky graduated from Brownsville (PA) High School in 1948 and the Washington (PA) School of Nursing in 1951.
They were married on Thursday, May 22, 1952 so that all the priests could attend the Sacrament (about 20 priests sang the responses). Father John was ordained on July 4, 1952 at Saint Mary Church, Lynn, Massachusetts, by Archbishop DIMITRI of New England. Father Johnís first parish assignment was at St. Mary's Orthodox Church in Osceola Mills, a little town in central Pennsylvania. From there in 1953, the couple traveled to Garfield, New Jersey (The Three Saints Church) and finally in 1960, they founded Christ the Saviour parish in Paramus, New Jersey.
The Nehrebeckiís have six children: Vladimir of Bayonne, Mariam Vernak of Paramus, Olga Atty of Louisville, KY, Anastasia Jacobs of Louisville, KY, Tatiana Nehrebecki of Fair Lawn and Theodora Gramkow of Fair Lawn. Both Mariam Vernak and Olga Atty are married to priests serving in the Orthodox Church. The Nehrebeckiís are blessed with 19 grand children and five great-grand children.
[Dr. Joan Kakascik contributed to this article.]