In 1983 no Orthodox Church in the Carolinas celebrated its services in English. Mr Andrew Kuharsky, director of the Greenville Ballet and son of Fr Sergius Kuharsky of New Jersey, established a core group for a mission. Fr George Gladky of Florida who was at the time the Chancellor of the Diocese of the South of the Orthodox Church in America, Fr John Townsend of Georgia, and Igumen Damian of the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, served Liturgies as they were able. It was Fr George Gladky who celebrated the first Liturgy in Greenville on the 4th Sunday of Great Lent commemorating St John of the Ladder, hence the name of the mission. In July 1985, Bishop DMITRI of Dallas and the South assigned Fr Jacob Lee Kulp as the first permanent priest to serve the mission. Fr Jacob and Mat Sharon Kulp arrived with their five children in July 1985. The mission church was incorporated on April 15, 1986.
After three years of sacrifice and noble effort, three families remained out of the original six. Fr Jacob was transferred to Nativity of the Theotokos in Charlotte, NC. In 1992, after a hiatus of seven years, Fr Jacob returned to reorganize the mission in Greenville, SC.
In August of 1995, five families cosigned for a loan to buy St John’s first building. A former “mill house” in the Dunean Mill neighborhood in Greenville. It was then converted for use as an Orthodox Church.
In 1998 Fr Jacob sought medical retirement and in the summer of 1999, Fr Marcus Burch, his wife Mat Barbara, and their two children were assigned by Archbishop DMITRI to St John of the Ladder Mission. The years since the arrival of Fr Marcus have marked a time of substantial growth at St John. By the summer of 2000, we were often exceeding the capacity of the converted mill house and began in earnest a search for a new property.
The purchase of a new property in Piedmont was completed on October 31, 2001, and renovation began immediately. The sanctuary of the building was reconfigured, an altar area and iconostasis were built, icons were commissioned, and much of the interior of the building was painted.
While we were located in Piedmont, we purchased the land that would be our future property in Greenville. Around 2013, Andrew Gould was chosen as the architect to build an Orthodox temple for approximately 250 people. The priority was to build a temple first, rather than a parish hall, and prioritize the worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ above all. On October 7, 2018, we finally moved into our current home located on Roper Mountain Road Extension. When we moved in, the building was not yet complete, the chandeliers, beautiful archways, plaster, bell tower, intricate tongue-and-groove walls, porches, nor the iconostasis were present. We simply moved our iconostasis from our Piedmont location into place. Seraphim O’Keefe is our resident part-time iconographer who is bringing even further beauty to our sanctuary, nave, narthex, prothesis, chapel, and beyond painting images and helping us remember stories from the Old and New Testament.
Andrew Gould’s concept for the new church
In 2020, our community voted to build a parish hall which will be completed in 2023. In addition to attracting new members from the Greenville area, St John has also become the church ‘home’ to many new immigrants from the historically Orthodox countries of Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and even Guatemala. Many of our parishioners are converts to Orthodoxy as well. To supplement our regular liturgical life and celebrations, St John has an active a cappella choir, a Sunday church school program for preschoolers through high school and young adults, adult education on Saturday afternoon, and is active in local charities. St John is also a co-sponsor of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at Clemson University and Furman University.
Presently, St John’s has over 200 adult members including many families with children (and children on the way!). We have found living in a community of believers a joyous spiritual discipline. Please pray for our community as we continue the work of Christ in Greenville.
Please join us at St. John of the Ladder and become a part of our story!