The Rev. Constantine Nasr came to Oklahoma City in 1982 as a young, energetic priest ready to lead a growing Orthodox Christian congregation.
Twenty-nine years later, Nasr is still full of energy and his influential and enthusiastic presence at St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, 15000 N May, is keenly felt:
Retirement beckons, however.
Nasr, 66, said he will preach his last homily as St. Elijah's senior pastor on Aug. 14.
He said some health issues have caused him to see retirement as an avenue for rest and better healthiness.
Still, he and his wife Sharon will continue to live in Oklahoma City and he plans to stay busy with ministry, just in other forms like writing, missionary work and travel.
“A priest doesn't retire — I'm just changing seats,” he said, smiling.
The Rev. John Salem will become the Oklahoma City church's new pastor. Nasr said St. Elijah is in great shape as the leadership transition takes place.
“The church has grown. Even with people coming and other people moving away, we've had continued growth,” he said.
“It's a wonderful thing to leave on a blessed note of harmony.”
The Rev. Jeremy Davis, assistant priest at St. Elijah, agreed.
“In terms of his legacy, he is the longest-serving priest at St. Elijah in its history,” Davis said of Nasr.
“When he came here 29 years ago, the parish was divided, there were financial problems, lots of angst and turmoil. Now he leaves the parish in place of peace and harmony, in good standing.”
Labor of love
Nasr said he was born in 1947 in Jerusalem to parents who had a fervent love for God and His Church.
He said he often walked with his Orthodox Christian priest father to visit parishioners on the West Bank. Nasr said his father's legacy and a calling from the Lord helped inspire him to become a priest, as well. Nasr said his brother also is an Orthodox Christian priest and his sister is married to a priest.
Nasr said in his pastoral career, he spent nine years as a priest in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before coming to Oklahoma City.
Nasr said St. Elijah was a small parish with a church building at NW 16 and Pennsylvania when he arrived to take the helm in 1982. The church experienced much growth and in 1997 built the sprawling building that sits at its current location off the corner of NW 150 and N May.
Nasr said the church now has room to expand and possibly build more classroom space or an assisted living community. He said he is also proud that the church's Mother's Day Out program has grown in popularity over the years.
Nasr said the church has about 900 members, with an average attendance of about 450 on Sundays. He said on major feast days, attendance swells to about 1,300.
A major part of his ministry at St. Elijah's has been in the role of pastoral leader to many men on their way to the priesthood. Nasr said he saw St. Elijah's as a sort of training center because so many students and seminarians made their way there over the years in search of guidance and fellowship.
Nasr said his time as priest at St. Elijah has always been full of activity.
“We are 24-hours, seven days a week. I cannot fathom all the labor,” he said.
He said he saw the eventful days as worthwhile because he was following in Jesus' footsteps in proclaiming the Word of the Lord.
“Christ did not stay in Capernaum. He went in the highways and byways.”
Meanwhile, the St. Elijah congregation plans to honor Nasr and his wife with a reception after his last service as senior pastor on Aug. 14. Church leaders said an elaborate retirement party is being planned for January 2012.
Nasr said he is excited about discovering the new ways the Lord will use him after he leaves the pastoral ministry. He said his excitement stems from his observation that numerous people are being drawn to the Orthodox Christian Church these days.
“People are finding the Mother Church,” he said.
Assistant priest Davis said parishioners are going to miss Nasr, but they understand that it is his time to do something different.
“There are sad people but that's tempered by the fact that Father Constantine will still be around, without all the pressures of being a pastor,” he said. “People understand that.”