On Sunday, the congregation of Saint Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church hosted a farewell luncheon for their pastor Father Nikodhim. His service as a priest at the Jamaica Estate section of Queens, New York covers more than one fifth of the actual dedication of the building in 1970. He carried on his duties as cleric for thirteen years but he had started two years earlier as reader, sub-deacon and deacon. For all of it, “Father Niko’, as the congregation calls him, received praise on Sunday in the remarks delivered by church officials and statements expressed to me by families who have been through all life stages with him by their side.
A young couple, Viktoria and Joseph Hamlin, whom Father Nikodhim wedded the week before, were there to show their gratitude as they will forever cherish him and the day of their union before God, family and friends.
“We shall miss Father Niko,” says Agathia Luka, a contributor, friend and long time supporter of the church along with her late husband Ilia Ylli Luka. The same sentiment is echoed by Lou Fundos, President of Parishioners, James Liolin, Chairman of the Church’s Council and many members, old and new. Professor Ardiana Miçi of Fan Noli University, Korca flew from Albania for her father’s funeral in New York, in 2017. She keeps in her heart the comforting words of Father Nikodhim who delivered the eulogy. Both of her sister’s children were baptized by him.
Sitting at the cafeteria downstairs the church where she came to listen to the Sunday service marking the end of his tenure, Professor Miçi says that her nephews feel a close connection to Father Niko. The children find him approachable and personable.
“I believe I can say from my family’s experience that he is a father to all people,” she says. That analogy was visualized when children of the Sunday school wrapped their arms around him as they gifted him a book of pictures they put together along with a custom made coffee thermos for his travels.
Father Nikodhim is leaving this month to go to Albania, where he would continue his work with the church and learn more conversational Albanian. He will return in the fall in his new position as the Bishop at Saint George’s Orthodox Cathedral, Boston and of the Albanian Archdiocese in America.
For the clergy, it is very important that the canonical rites are observed from the nomination to the ordaining. The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, in its fall 2022 meeting under the presidency of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon received the Albanian Archdiocesan nomination of Igumen Nikodhim (M.Div.’07) as diocesan bishop. Earlier he was elevated to the dignity of Archimandrite and was named Administrator of the Albanian Archdiocese.
During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in November of last year, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon following the liturgical rites elevated Father Nikodhim’s rank. Later that month, when he kindly accepted the invitation to be a guest of honor at Vatra’s celebration of Albania’s Independence, we congratulated him for the new role in the church. According to Orthodox Church of America, with regard to his nomination as bishop, the Holy Synod will take steps to canonically elect and ordain Father Nikodhim to the episcopacy in September 2023.
“The community has grown and he has grown with it,” said James Liolin as he gave his remarks trying unsuccessfully not to show his emotions. Bitru Haile, a Queens based parishioner, who is originally from Ethiopia, and a Kenyan family of four, also New York residents, who has joined the congregation on “Father Niko’s watch” are grateful for him and wish to see him visit back soon. Adriana Topore, the Church Secretary didn’t speak at the luncheon but her husband Andrea spoke with admiration for the priest of St. Nicholas. For her part, Adriana joyfully feels proud for “the Albanian community to have created another Bishop – Bishop Niko.” Relying on her experience and time working with Father Nikodhim, Jennifer Brehl of the Church’s choir shared moments of laughter and truth nuggets that get discovered when one is curious and asks questions.
On the topic of findings, it was revealed that the ordination of Evgjenios (Eugene) Shkurti, Albanian born and seminarist, to the Holy Diaconate by Archbishop Mark took place at Saint George’s Cathedral in Boston on April 23. It is an important moment for the church that could also be a signal of what’s to come.
Father Niko spoke briefly at the end of Sunday mass promising to come back to the church. During the part of the service when he invites children to ask questions as they learn about faith, he unassumingly delivered the message of what church means to him. One could almost miss it. “This is a place where helpers come to help each other,” he said to them. It is the belief with which he embraced the service that took him from Nathan Preston, born and raised in Northern Idaho, to being tonsured with the name Nikodhim in honor of the Holy Martyr Nikodhim of Vithkuq and Berat.