I, (Fr. Nick Aiello) was Born in 1957 to Italian American, Roman Catholic parents, and raised in Southern California. Matushka Elizabeth (Beverly) McCall was born in South Dakota in 1958. Her parents were both native Oklahoman's: her father from Bartlesville and her mother raised on a farm near Custer City. Mat. Bev was raised in Tulsa and lived her High school years in So. California, where we met and married ...in the Catholic Church.
After an encounter with Christ in the Gospel of Matthew at age 23 I left the Catholic Church to pursue a more "personal" relationship with Jesus Christ as an Evangelical. ...including attending Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon and earning a BA in Biblical Literature (minor in Koine Greek). Mat. Bev had been raised Lutheran and had been an 'inactive' Protestant during this time. My entrance into Evangelicalism activated her religious life.
In 1985 we began a ministry with the Yiu-Mienh Laotian refugees of Portland. Living among them in a housing project and ministering to their various needs as refugees and new Christians, for nine years. ...until our becoming catechumens in the Orthodox Church in 1994. Soon after this, the last of our five daughters would be born to us.
We were received into the Orthodox Church in 1995 in Portland within the Orthodox Church in America. In 1996 I made my first pilgrimage to St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox monastery in AZ and soon after began a relationship with the Abbot (Archimandrite Paisios) as my spiritual father. ...which continues to this day. Mat. Bev would likewise place herself under his direction within a few years.
By early 2000 we were blessed to leave the parish where we began our journey to help a Portland inner city mission (Holy Apostles). I would work for the next nine years very closely with the rector, Fr. Nicholas Letten, as my confessor and mentor. It was here, in his daily matins and vespers that I learned the services and to serve in the altar, as well as serve as parish council president. It was also during this time I was blessed by him to help council married couples (which I have done since), as well as complete diaconate studies.
St. Basil Mission began as a conviction from a visit to Mat. Bev's family in Custer county in 2007. In exploring Weatherford I was struck by the centrality of the university, the healthy commerce and the relative demographic diversity - all what I had learned were components of a successful environment for an Orthodox mission. We received the blessing of our parish priest and our spiritual father to pursue seminary studies for the express purpose of bringing Orthodoxy to Weatherford and Western Oklahoma - where it has no representation.
Our plan was to sell our home and use the profit to relocate to seminary in PA. However very soon after this the housing market fell in Portland for the first time ever - so it seemed to not be God's will - at least at that time. ...and then suddenly it all changed.
We sold our home after nine months on the market (to the first one who looked at it), and my parents decided to give my siblings and I our inheritance while they were still living - which was (from our perspective) completely 'out of the blue.' At the same time I was accepted to St. Tikhon's Orthodox seminary and Mat. Bev was accepted to Weatherford's SWOSU nursing program. (She had applied six times in Portland to various schools and not been accepted - as over 90% of applicants aren't).
In 2009 we moved to Oklahoma. Living that first summer outside Custer City at the family farm with her uncle, and then finding a home in Custer City (18 miles from Weatherford) that was inexpensive enough for us to purchase outright. It was at this time that we began attending St. Elijah's Antiochan Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City, and were blessed and encouraged to proceed with planting the future mission by Fr. Constantine Nasr. I was still in the OCA and would remain so, but with no presence in that area, St. Elijah became our base and Fr. Constantine became our de-facto dean and mission supervisor.
I began my three year seminary study and Mat. Bev began nursing school that Fall of 2009 - she in Weatherford and I in Pennsylvania. I was the only one in the seminary who came to it with the specific intent of returning to plant a mission in a particular place. For the next three years I would come home summers and between semesters.
The summer of 2011 Fr. Joel Wilson and myself (as literally a summer project), with Fr. Constantine and my OCA dean, Fr. Justin Frederick's blessing and supervision, rented a small office space in Weatherford and hung icons, built a reader's stand and Fr. Joel (a web designer by profession) created and launched our website: www.saintbasil.org. We printed business cards, placed an ad in the local paper and began daily matins and vespers services.
St Basil the Great Orthodox Mission was born.
Almost immediately we had two local Orthodox christians find us and join, and support the effort. The mission even remained open (for them to pray in) for most of that school year while I returned for my final year of seminary. During that time I also connected with, and began a mentoring relationship with Fr. Michael Storozuk (of blessed memory) of Sherman TX, (who was mentored and ordained by Archbishop Dimitri of blessed memory). We baptized our first convert that year and had our first few liturgies - Fr. Michael driving the four hours from Dallas to serve us.
I was ordained a deacon that March 25th of 2012 in the OCA National Cathedral in Washington DC, and to the priesthood in the Dallas OCA, Diocese of the South cathedral, that April 20th by then Metropolitan Jonah. In the same way I went to seminary for the express purpose of establishing the mission in Weatherford, Met. Jonah blessed this endeavor from my first month in seminary and ordained me for that specific purpose.
I served my first Divine Liturgy in our home in Custer City on April 27, 2012 - and would continue to serve Liturgy in our home for several more weeks ...until we secured a new chapel space in the office building where our previous space had been - with Mat. Bev serving as my Reader until the arrival of Photeini.
In addition to Fr. Constantine and Fr. Michael's continued support and guidance, we were also helped by Jim Kirkpatrick who made the hour drive from Oklahoma City every Sunday to help me serve in the altar and catechize the new members - all of whom were new to Orthodoxy. I have, since the time we have had a dedicated space, served full-time, unpaid. Matushka Bev was now working as a Registered Nurse and supporting us while I served daily matins and vespers - and built up the people and the mission.
It was during this time (2012 - 2015) Photeini Ball (of blessed memory), who had recently retired and returned to her hometown of Watonga, found the mission and became my Reader. The two of us would serve about three hundred mid-week and Sunday liturgies together (the mid-week liturgies just her and I), over the next three years. (She would eventually relocate to become a novice in the monastery of St. Paisus after one of our semi-annual pilgrimages to the monasteries in AZ).
In 2013 Fr. Constantine served us by giving a lecture on the Palestinian Church and Orthodox history at SWOSU. The fruit of which would be Professor Joe London converting to the Orthodox Church. He would become (and remains) our resident iconographer and advisor on all the aesthetic aspects of the mission building.
By 2014 our membership comprised the dedicated people who would become the founders of our permanent home. In addition to Photeini and Prof. Joe London, we were joined by Sally Simon and Mustafa Sami, Carl and Sharon Anderson, Rdr. Leo and Anne Schommer and Catherine Wiley. It was also in 2014 that Mat. Bev began Nurse Practitioner studies, (graduating in 2017 and working as an NP since).
It was about this time, through the efforts of banker Jeff Massad (a member of St. Elijah's) and Quail Creek bank, and our diocese treasurer Milos Kontsevic (of blessed memory), we purchased a 'rock house' on about a 1/2 acre corner lot, four blocks from Main street and three blocks from the university. We began remodeling with Joe, Mustafa and Bob Giger, (a friend of the mission), doing the lion-share of the work. ...with the other members (Schommers & Andersen's) painting and laying tile. We moved into our newly remodelled building in October 2015.
From that time until the present, we have served on average, twice weekly vigil services and Divine Liturgies - as well as morning matins and evening vespers three and four times weekly - on average, thirteen hours of weekly services. I also serve as a member of the Weatherford ministerial alliance, and minister to our local care facilities and prison.
Our membership has fluctuated over the years, and like all parishes and missions, a number of people claim membership and support us, but do not attend most Sundays. In late 2019 our diocese paid off our mortgage, saving us several years of interest. We are now on schedule to be debt free in six years. And our prayer is that, at that time we can begin building a permanent (larger) temple on our property and use our existing building for a fellowship hall, office and bathrooms. ...AND plant the seeds of a new mission in Western Oklahoma.
Our guiding conviction from the beginning has been to create a beautiful place of worship where the therapy of the services and sacraments, along with personal and marriage counseling, will heal and mature members into Disciples. Our guiding ethos has always been:
Our 'success' does not depend on more people - it depends on more repentance. Our 'security' does not depend on strategy, it depends on our peace.
A contemporary of St. Basil, St. Athanasius the Great, said of Jesus Christ coming in the flesh, “God became man that man may become God.” In other words, the goal of Christ becoming man is also the goal, the meaning, the purpose of humanity: to become like God. This has always been referred to as deification (partaking of God, see 2 Peter 1:4), or theosis (Vision of God). The Fathers taught this as they received it from the Apostles. We believe we retain the image of God (we do not hold to ‘original sin’), but we strive to attain the ‘likeness of God.’ And we can only do so as our souls are healed from the passions and sin. Some of which we are predisposed to from birth and background, what we refer to as ‘ancestral sin,’ and the others as the product of our free will.
Therefore the goal of recovering the likeness of God (deification) is accomplished through the healing of our souls. Of dispelling the darkness of the passions in our souls with the healing light of Christ. His light of prayer, fasting and almsgiving through His body - the Church. All Scripture, theology, morality, sacraments, worship, charity we experience in and through the Church must be toward this end. The Church is, as the Fathers teach, a spiritual hospital.
But even the best hospital is only as effective as it is accessible. The greatest physicians and facilities are only as helpful as the extent to which the sick can use them. To that end my highest priority is providing the fullness and frequency of the services. . . keeping the doors of the hospital open and accessible as much as possible.
It is imperative therefore the members of our Mission understand that they do not exist for the Mission but that the Mission exists for them. It is not what they can do for the Mission but what the Mission can do for them - specifically for the healing of their souls. To this end everything the Mission does should reflect this correct understanding.
Our Perspective of the Christian Denominations Among us
We are literally surrounded by Protestants that brought their form of Christianity to this land. Most of these groups espouse and use the Bible (the writings the Fathers compiled and gave to us), to guide them in theology, worship and practice. However without the Fathers to help them understand the Bible and without the Church of the Fathers to help them put it into practice and show them how to worship, they will to a greater or lesser extent be in sync with patristic, apostolic, biblical theology, worship and practice. And to the extent they are is the extent to which they will have an impact on the souls of their people and the community in general.
I believe it is not for us to assess or judge them. But to appreciate them and respect them for being here first and the sacrifice that very often entailed. I believe we should work with them where we can (caring for the poor), and humbly excuse ourselves where we can’t (worshipping together). I believe we should take great care to welcome them (as we do any who join us in worship), but never intentionally attempt to win their members to the Orthodox Church. That whenever possible, those who God is drawing to the Church from their congregations will do so with the blessing of their pastors and priests.
We must be blameless and above reproach. St. Arsenios of Cappadocia in the late 19th century threatened any of his flock with excommunication for interacting with the Protestant Missionaries who had come to their land for the express purpose of luring them to the Protestant faith from Orthodoxy. He didn’t understand their theology and practice and he didn’t need to - he knew any deviation from Orthodoxy would be detrimental to their souls. If there had historically been Protestants there, and the Missionaries had said they had come for them and any of the Orthodox that had the blessing to join them - that they were not there to proselytize the Orthodox but the unbelievers among them - he would have had no problem with them.
Wouldn’t he say the same thing to us? Wouldn’t he remind us they were here first, and to respect them and not take from them without a blessing if possible? Wouldn’t he tell us to focus on the Orthodox, the unbelievers and the unchurched? I believe he would and I believe this is God’s will for our Mission. That is, the care of our own souls and then the care of others within our Mission, and then the care for the souls within our community God is drawing to us.
I was encouraged by an ascetic hieromonk at the beginning of my studies in seminary to first and foremost concentrate on my conversion. I realize in the years since he gave this to me and I have striven to do it, that it is only in our own conversion (our own healing) that we can help others with their conversion - with their healing. And to the extent we do the one we will be entrusted with the awesome work of the other.