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Editor’s Note: This article is what we hope to be the first in a long series of articles detailing the various churches through Mountain Home and Baxter County. The area’s churches play a large role in our lives and communities, and we wish to highlight the roles they play.
We thank Father Seamans for opening his doors to us and allowing us to write an article about his faith and church. If you are a church pastor or leader, and would like the Observer to write a story about your church and faith, please contact Chris Fulton at [email protected]
St. Thomas the Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Church is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it.
The small church is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood off Highway 62 East heading toward Lake Norfork.
It’s a small, nondescript white building with metal siding and a green metal roof. If it wasn’t for the white spire with a cross sitting atop it, most wouldn’t be able to tell that it was a church when driving past.
There isn’t even a parking lot. Instead, the church sits in a green field, with only a single gravel driveway leading to the property. Those visiting the church simply park their vehicles in the grass before heading in.
A small playground sits to the right of the entrance.
Inside, iconic imagery of Christ, the Virgin Mary, angels, and saints line the walls and tables throughout the building, offering spots for practitioners to worship God and ask His saints to pray for them.
The main portion of the building contains an altar, or Sanctuary, evoking imagery of the safety provided by the Ark. It sits behind two closed doors.
Before the Sanctuary, rests the Nave, which features various iconostasis or stands for icons, it is here that members of the Church pray and venerate Saints.
Small pews and chairs line the area for those that need to sit down during service.
In the back sits a small office for Father Samuel Seamans, the founder, and pastor of St. Thomas in Mountain Home.
The building features no commercial kitchen, television, or stage for a band.
It’s a simple yet elegant setup that hearkens back to the original founding of the Church after the death of Christ.
And that simplicity, tradition, and steadiness of beliefs is what draws the church’s congregation to its doors every Sunday.
“We became St. Thomas Orthodox Church in 2015,” said Father Seamans. “We were at another location, and we were coming in through another rite, and we eventually ended up here. We’re the only Eastern Orthodox Church within two hours of here.”
The journey to Orthodoxy was an interesting one for Father Seamans. A man of many hats, Seamans has served as a police officer and a part-time coroner.
A born and raised Baptist, Seamans’s faith has evolved over the years, taking him from his family roots in the Baptist Church to becoming ordained as an Anglican minister in 2001. From there, his beliefs and understanding of scripture continued to evolve, leading him to the join the Orthodox Church in 2015.
“The Anglican Church was a product of the Reformation from England,” Seamans said. “Orthodoxy is much more ancient and literally traces her history back to 33 A.D. when Christ founded the Church. Our faith is our dogma. What we believe, how we worship, is, in substance, been unchanged that entire time. So, that was another thing that attracted me to Orthodoxy. The ‘unchangingness’ of its doctrine.”
Sunday service at St. Thomas starts at 9:30 for the whole congregation. Prior to the start of services, several members of the Church can be found moving from icon to icon within the Nave. Offering up silent prayers to Christ while asking the Church’s Saints to pray for them.
Father Seamans can be found greeting people and preparing the Sanctuary for service.
Every member crosses themselves, a practice similar to Catholics, with some offering each icon a kiss.
A member of the Church can usually be heard chanting and singing the Gospel during this time. The smell of incense fills the air. Lit candles dot the room.
While the practice may seem foreign to those who grew up in more modern churches, the service can be beautiful to watch for newcomers. And while the age old debate over icons still remains amongst different branches of Christianity, Seamans said he believes that the icons are for honoring the Church’s Saints and not for worship.
“In the same way you see people in the United States stand up, and when they start the national anthem and take off their hat, they’re venerating the United States flag,” Seamans said. “What it stands for. Not the cloth in the stars and the vinyl and cotton, but what it stands for. It’s the same for icons. They are windows into heaven. We venerate the saints that are depicted on the icon, and we unashamedly ask them to pray for us because the ancient church taught that the saints who go before us continue to pray for us.”
As the service begins in earnest, each member takes out a book of songs and prayers called a liturgy and begins to sing and chant alongside Father Seamans. There is no band throughout the service. The only music comes from voices of those standing in the pews. The majority of the service is performed standing.
And unlike most prayers in modern churches, every prayer at St. Thomas is highly scripted so that the whole church can say a prayer together. A practice that Seamans said brings the Church closer together, allowing them to solely focus on worshiping God.
The service lasts around an hour or so and ends with a small sermon from Father Seamans. If the Eucharist is held, it is usually towards the end of the service. Father Seamans also offers confession services in accordance with his faith’s doctrines.
St. Thomas’s congregation believes in the traditional values that were established in the Bible. Seamans said the church is fully founded on the teachings of the Bible, and that they make no attempts to change their beliefs to be more in line with modern times.
That steadfastness in belief, he said, has led people to the Orthodox Church as they struggle look for something to ground them in a world of ever changing opinions and beliefs.
“Every Orthodox Church uses the divine liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is a very ancient liturgy,” Seamans said. “The first parts of it coming from the earliest centuries of the Church.”
As a member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, St. Thomas and Father Seamans fall under the guidance of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States, which is currently led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who serves as a spiritual leader for all Orthodox Christians throughout the world, and His Eminence Metropolitan Antony who oversees the Orthodox jurisdictions within the United States.
St. Thomas falls under the purview of His Eminence Archbishop Daniel.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States was founded in 1918 and is based out of Somerset, New Jersey.
For more information on St. Thomas the Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Church, please contact Father Samuel Seamans (870) 421-2986.