The history of St. Stephen the Protomartyr parish demonstrates that faith and hard work can overcome many obstacles. Our story begins with Xenia Wrublevski of South Plainfield, New Jersey. The Wrublevski family had a small farm in the Boro since early in the twentieth century when Lane Ave was a dirt road. When Xenia, of Ukrainian descent, sent her four sons off to fight in World War II, she vowed to build a chapel to express her thanks to God if He would grant that her sons return home safely. Her prayers were answered and Xenia had a small Byzantine chapel built beside her home. She worshipped there daily, adorning the altar with hand-crocheted coverings and religious tokens.
In 1978 Fr. Michael Graves and his group of converts to Orthodoxy from St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Plainfield needed a temporary home and the Wrublevski family graciously loaned the use of the original chapel. As the community stabilized and grew, Xenia donated the building to the newly formed St Stephen the Protomarytr Antiochian Orthodox Church. A few years later the parish purchased the large back lot from the Wrublevski family for a nominal fee with the stipulation the land could only be used for a house of worship. Purchase of the adjacent parish house soon followed.
When Fr. Michael returned to Haiti to continue his missionary work in 1986, Father David Straut, who was a student at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and a parishioner, was ordained to the Priesthood and became our second priest. Soon a new family joined our parish: Samir Tewfik and his wife Beba and their young sons George and Paul. Samir had a special calling and was taking the St. Stephen’s Course of Studies of Orthodox Theology, and soon was ordained to the Diaconate by his Grace Bishop ANTOUN in Jan. 1992. They were a most welcome addition to our small parish.
After years of planning on June 1997, Fr. Straut and Deacon Stephen Tewfik led the congregation outside for a groundbreaking prayer for the first addition to Xenia’s original chapel: 30’x60’ addition with a 30’x50’ basement, which greatly expanded our space and gave us a small kitchen and other facilities. At the groundbreaking, our congregation observed a cloud formation in the shape of a cross in the sky and felt the presence of God amongst us, giving us His blessing to enlarge His house of worship.
Fr. Stephen was ordained to the Priesthood on June 7, 1998 and was assigned to our church. Under his ministry, our parish continued to grow and we were soon in need of a second expansion. The next groundbreaking occurred in November of 2006 with His Grace Bishop ANTOUN presiding. Under Father Stephen’s leadership and vision for the future, our new expansion includes doubling our current worship space and adding a 10,000 square foot addition, which includes: a new social hall, a large, column-free basement, four new bathroom facilities, a chair-lift, a commercial-grade kitchen, an office, and storage room. The basement will have room for over eight ChurchSchool classes. We look forward with great anticipation to worshiping in our expanded church and sharing in many events in our new hall.
None of this could have been done without the dedicated support and hard work of our clergy and wonderful parishioners. May God grant them many years!!