Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, Newcastle – October 13-14, 2009

For the parishioners of the church of Saint Nicholas in Wallsend (Newcastle), the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God was this year an occasion of greater significance than usual.  This is because it was the sixtieth anniversary of the first patronal feast day of the Hunter Valley’s first Russian Orthodox Church, the Holy Protection Church at Greta Migrant Camp.

The Holy Protection Church at Greta functioned from the arrival in Australia in August 1949 of Archpriest John Lupish (+1977) until the closure of the camp some seven years later.  It was, during that time, a refuge and a consolation for many Orthodox Christians who found themselves settled for a time in the camp, having come to begin a new life in Australia after the turmoil of the Second World War.

When the Holy Protection Church closed, its furnishings and vessels passed to the Wallsend parish, established in 1952.  To this day, there are to be found in our church icons and candle stands that adorned the camp church.  Many of our parishioners were baptised or married at in that simple church, housed within a corrugated iron hut that had formerly been an Army barracks.

From its beginnings, the life of the Russian Orthodox people in Newcastle has been closely bound up with the the Mother of God.  Father John arrived in Australia during the Dormition Fast, and served the first Divine Liturgy in the region on the feast of her Dormition.  The first church, when dedicated, was dedicated in honour of her prayerful intercession.

Over the past few years, our parish has observed the feast of the Holy Protection as a second parish feast-day. On the eve of the feast, all-night vigil is served with the blessing of wheat, wine, oil and loaves, and on the following morning water is blessed.  Following Divine Liturgy, ‘Eternal Memory’ is intoned for the ever-memorable Archpriest John, together with all the founders, benefactors, and parishioners of the Holy Protection Church.

In honour of both the sixtieth anniversary of the first patronal feast of the Holy Protection Church and the first Russian Orthodox services in the Hunter Valley, the parish of Saint Nicholas commissioned a new icon of the Protection of the Mother of God.  The work of Archpriest George Lapardin, the icon depicts the Mother of God flanked by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John, and Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia.  The Apostle John was the heavenly patron of Archpriest John Lupish, and Saint Nicholas, of course, is the patron of our parish.

At the foot of the icon there are depicted scenes from the life of the Russian Orthodox people of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.  To the right is MV Fairsea, the vessel on which the Lupish family and others travelled to Australia, approaching Newcastle. To the left is the Greta Camp with the Holy Protection Church.  In the background is the BHP steel works, a place where so many Orthodox Christians migrants – Father John himself amongst them – found employment.  In the foreground is the original cottage church of Saint Nicholas, our current church with Father John standing before it, and the Theophany Russian Orthodox Church that functioned in Mayfield (Newcastle) from 1994 until early 2009.  The parishioners of the Theophany Church united with our parish this year, an ongoing source of joy to us.

The icon conveys with great beauty the spiritual truth that in Newcastle Russian Orthodoxy, and the Russian Orthodox people, have, over the course of the past sixty years, been protected by the prayers of the Mother of God.  More than this, it testifies to our hope in her continued intercession.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

Rev. James Carles
Parish Priest
Saint Panteleimon Russian Orthodox Church, West Gosford
Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Wallsend (Newcastle)