Even on a steamy summer Sunday, Vitaly Korchevsky typically would be buttoned up in suit and tie, preaching from the pulpit at the Slavic Evangelical Baptist Church in Brookhaven.
But Sunday, another pastor took his place and read a letter to the congregation from the now-jailed Korchevsky.
"Brothers and sisters," the stand-in pastor read softly, as babies gurgled and some worshipers' tears started to flow. Some bowed their heads in prayer. Others shot stern looks at children to hush their playing in the pews at the packed church on Edwards Avenue, a quiet residential street in this Delaware County suburb.
"I am fine, I am calm, and I know in my heart I am clean before the Lord," Korchevsky wrote in the letter to his congregants.
"I have been reading the Bible daily and miss everyone."
The two-hour service continued. Brightly dressed young people sang hymns; deacons read Bible verses such as "Love is patient, love is kind" (1 Corinthians 13). Some women wore head scarves or ribboned-headbands to cover their hair in the Slavic tradition.
Korchevsky's reputation as a devoted pastor and mentor to the local Slavic immigrants - from Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, and even Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan - doesn't square with the character named in the U.S. government's federal indictment unsealed last Monday, some said Sunday. Korchevsky has yet to enter a plea to the charges of insider trading against him and about 30 others.
Many in his flock on Sundays said they simply don't believe the charges.
"If I had to tell you all the good things Vitaly has done in this community, we would be standing here for hours," said Korchevsky's longtime friend Valeriy Poprotskiy, a Russian émigré whom Korchevsky helped move to Philadelphia for a job.
"I had been living in Colorado for a few years. . . . He said there were more opportunities" here, Poprotskiy recalled, speaking through a translator.
The two met in Kiev, Ukraine, 33 years ago, Poprotskiy said, when Baptists and other churchgoers still were being persecuted under the former Soviet Union.
Back in 1982, anyone openly practicing religion was subject to arrest, jail, commitment to mental hospitals - even having their children taken from them by the government. Some pastors were killed, Viktor Skuratovskiy said.
While Baptists are mainstream in the United States, they were considered just another enemy sect in the Soviet Union. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other religious people practicing openly were deemed to be breaking the law in an atheist Soviet state, added Skuratovskiy, of Bensalem.
He said he visited the Brookhaven service on Sunday to show his support for Korchevsky.
"I, myself, was persecuted by the KGB in Ukraine, because I preached the gospel. I was put in a mental institution for two months in 1985. You weren't allowed to propagate any religion at all, so I came here in 1989 as a refugee" to escape religious persecution, Skuratovskiy recalls.
Propotskiy said his old friend Korchevsky is legendary in the Baptist community.
"I've known his mother and father. I've been to their house, as well. Vitaly gave all his energy to the church, to the point of sacrificing time with his own family," Propotskiy said. "He had people constantly moving in and out of his house as they came to this country to get started."
Korchevsky is married; he, his wife, and two children live in Glen Mills.
Federal authorities seized Korchevsky's financial assets and half a dozen properties he owns. His parishioners have pulled together to try to raise funds for his defense.
Many plan to attend the as-yet-unscheduled plea hearing in New York.
"People will take off of work to go," Skuratovskiy said. "This just shows how much people miss him and have compassion for him and his children."