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Construction underway on Coptic Orthodox church in Green Valley

Construction is advancing on a permanent home for Saint Timothy and Saint Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church in Green Valley.

The Arlington-based church — which goes by the abbreviated STSA Church — currently rents space at George Mason University’s Virginia Square campus at 3351 Fairfax Drive.

In 2018, it purchased a vacant lot for $2 million at 2640 Shirlington Road on which it plans build a permanent structure. The county approved an easement related to the property, located between townhomes and the ABC Imaging print shop, this February.

Work started early in September and now, the dense trees that covered the site are gone. Fr. Anthony Messeh, the church’s priest, tells ARLnow crews have finished clearing the site and finished pile driving, and have now turned to sheeting and shoring.

“We are excited to be a part of the community,” he said. “We’re not here to invade, but hopefully, to continue to serve the community and be a part of what’s happening there.”

He says the building will be ready by the end of 2022. When finished, STSA Church will have a traditional Orthodox church space and a contemporary worship space, separated by an atrium, as well as rooms for age-specific ministries and staff office space. There will be a parking garage below and a floor for commercial office space above, topped by a garden terrace.

Messeh says the office would be offered for rent to offset the cost to build the parking structure.

“When people hear a church is moving in, the first question is, ‘Where is everyone going to park?'” he said. “We wanted to be good neighbors. We didn’t want ‘We’re parking in front of your house’ to be our first exposure to the community.”

STSA, which offers in-person liturgy and Sunday morning services, has sought out a permanent gathering place since it began operating in 2012. For now, the congregation and the priest are feeling the limitations of a rented space in a university setting.

“For us, it’s less about outgrowing the size of the space and more in terms of the mission of the church,” Messeh said.

A permanent home would provide a more fitting space for STSA’s community service work, such as its mentorship program with area public elementary schools and its Christmas party for children with blood disorders from Inova L.J. Murphy Children’s Hospital. Additionally, the church’s growing children’s ministry currently uses college classrooms, which do not have age-appropriate furniture, he said.

Lastly, the wafting incense and Byzantine icons characteristic of Orthodox worship can’t be replicated in a rented space. Messeh’s limited to pictures of icons and plastic statues at GMU and can’t use incense — which could set off a fire alarm.

“There’s a look and feel that we do our best to recreate [but] it’s not a real, authentic Orthodox experience,” he said. “After 10 years, we need that.”

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