A celebration of Mary

| 28 Aug 2012 | 01:47

— You may have noticed the church building next to Dairy Queen on Marshall Hill Road. “Panagia Soumela Chapel and Cultural Center” the sign says. But what exactly is that?
Passing by on a recent Sunday, it appeared that a small carnival was taking place at the facility. Upon further investigation it was found to be much more than a few rides for the kids. It was a religious celebration and a time for people to gather together to worship and share their heritage and Greek Orthodox faith.
Holy Institution Panagia Soumela, Inc. (HIPS) is not a parish. Services are held there infrequently, perhaps six times a year. It is a cultural retreat center housing a charitable, religious, educational and scientific organization committed to maintaining a chapel in honor of Holy Mother of Mount Mela, or Mary, the mother of Jesus.
According to their Web site, “HIPS is united by a common faith and spirituality with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and more particularly with the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey since the township of West Milford is within the spiritual jurisdiction of this Metropolis. The underlying unit is based on identity of doctrines, sacramental life and worship, which distinguishes Orthodox Christianity.” HIPS is affiliated with the Pan-Pontian Federation of the United Sates and Canada.
The festival honoring Santa Maria coincides with the Roman Catholic observance of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
At Panagia Soumela, the day started with a church ceremony and a procession of an icon of Santa Maria. After the service, there was food and traditional music and dancing; a celebration of an important day. In attendance were people from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Canada.