By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published December 23, 2014
ROSWELL—Parishioners of Epiphany Byzantine Church in Roswell will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at nearby Regina Caeli Academy until their church, damaged by a Dec. 14 fire, can be repaired.
The Roswell Fire Department arrived at the church at 2030 Old Alabama Road at 1:30 a.m. that Sunday after a passerby noticed flames coming from the church and surrounding woods.
The pastor, Father Philip Scott, was asleep in a separate structure on parish grounds. Father Scott said that “a policeman pounding on my front door” alerted him to the fire.
“Everybody has been so, so good,” said Father Scott. “The insurance company has bent over backwards.”
Catholic Mutual Group of Omaha provides insurance coverage for the church.
Epiphany is a church of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy (diocese) of Passaic, New Jersey, and is the only Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic church in Georgia.
Father Scott spent the days following the fire meeting with law enforcement and fire officials, insurance adjusters, and parishioners. “It’s really been chaotic for the last three days,” he said.
Juan Carlos Ramirez, 24, of Roswell was found wandering not far from the fire, naked and yelling. Roswell police arrested him for disorderly conduct.
Roswell Fire Marshal Paul Piccirilli said they charged Ramirez with arson after an investigation. Ramirez has since entered a guilty plea and will undergo a mental health evaluation.
“He had been to the church a week before this,” said Father Scott.
Firefighters extinguished the church fire and three separate fires in the woods within 20 minutes, preventing a total loss.
“It just all came together,” said Piccirilli.
Calling the damage “moderate,” Piccirilli said it encompasses about 500 square feet, mostly to the building’s exterior.
Restoration work was set to begin as soon as possible and will include restoring items inside damaged by smoke and water.
“One icon was completely destroyed,” said Father Scott.
The lost icon depicted Sts. Peter and Paul. Father Scott said the icons near the Holy Place or altar were damaged only minimally.
An engineer visited the church and a temporary support was constructed to shore up the damaged wall. The priest has not received an official damage estimate.
The parish has 160 registered families. Additional families visit, sometimes driving long distances. “We have one family who comes from Warner Robins,” noted the pastor.
The church is a wooden structure built in 1982 in the tripartite style of architecture, in which the narthex, nave and altar are all in a single west-east axis. Father Scott has served as its priest since then.
Regina Caeli Academy, a private tutoring center in the Roman Catholic tradition, offered the parish use of its new Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel for as long as needed. The academy is located at 1565 Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell.
“It’s within five minutes of the church,” said Father Scott.
The Divine Liturgy will be celebrated on Sundays at 10 a.m. Father Scott will hear confessions from 9 to 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. Saturday liturgies are suspended. The Divine Liturgy for Christmas Eve will be celebrated on Dec. 24 at 9 p.m. and on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, will be celebrated at 10 a.m.
On the parish website, a special message of gratitude was offered to the academy. “We are most grateful to Regina Caeli Academy for the generosity and support during these difficult times for our parish. They have gone out of their way to accommodate our liturgical needs and to assist us with this transition, especially at this time of our Lord’s glorious Nativity.”
Information for parishioners will be posted regularly on the parish website at www.epiphanybyzantinecatholic.org.