Archive for the ‘Orthodox Church in America’ Category

Orthodox Road Trippin’

March 6, 2010

T-minus 6 hours 45 minutes and I’ll be blasting off for a day trip down to Victoria, Texas, to visit All Saints Orthodox Mission.   It’s an OCA mission that’s managed to put down deeper roots in 4 short years then many parishes accomplish in 10.  In the last year they’ve built a brand new Orthodox-style church in a growing area of town, and planted 100 olive trees and pastured a flock of 150 sheep on their 90 acre church property.  That is absolutely amazing, and I’m not just talking  about the sheep.  (Clarification – the church itself owns 17 acres of the 90 acre property; the remainder is owned by a parishioner.)

Tomorrow’s trip is a parish lenten retreat for members of St. Anthony’s to join our brothers and sisters as they celebrate the  official entry into their new church, called the “opening of the doors”  or Thyranexia.  It is a blessing and prayer service, kind of a dedication service.  And of course we’ll have a lenten lunch afterwards.  Nothing is really “official”  in the Orthodox Church unless it’s finalized with a pot luck and lots of coffee.  All Saint’s priest, the Very Rev. Fr. Dimitri Cozby, was actually the priest who received me into the Orthodox Church almost 20 years ago.  He was St. Anthony’s longest serving priest for more than 20 years, then left and started this mission.  You couldn’t ask for a more wonderful and godly priest to serve a new mission. 

I’m also going to combine pleasure with pleasure.  The rest of the group isn’t as crazy as I am to leave at 5:45 am, but I’m going to be doing a little bird watching before the service starts at 11:00 am.  Victoria has got some great birding spots and it’s also going to be kind of nice to just visit around town.  My in-laws lived in Victoria for more than 25 years until they retired and moved to Corpus Christi a few years ago.   I think this is only the 2nd time I’ve been back since they left.  I tried to get my kids to go with me, even bribing them with a trip to The Texas Zoo (yes, Victoria even has a really great little zoo), but they just couldn’t be talked into it.

I’ll post more when I get back.  In the meantime, check out some of the great coverage the Victoria Advocate newspaper has been giving All Saints with this video and news article.

Fr. Moses Berry

February 2, 2010

Fr. Moses Berry, Orthodox convert, is an inspirational priest and evangelist.  He is the pastor of Theotokos Unexpected Joy Orthodox Church in Ash Grove, Missouri.  This week the New York Times published a very uplifting article   about his work preserving the African-American heritage of his hometown and the museum he founded, the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum.

For several years Fr. Moses has been presenting Orthodoxy in a unique way to a community that is woefully underrepresented in our churches.  It’s important to remember that the historical Orthodox Church wasn’t a “white” church; the Middle East and Mediterranean were filled with Africans, Arabs, Greeks, Persians, peoples of all races and nationalities, who became the first Christians.    Sadly, we’ve lost much of that cultural, and maybe never had, that racial diversity in America’s churches.  Black Americans searching for the religion of their ancestors are more likely to stop at Islam without realizing that the  original faith of their grandparents 15 centuries ago was in many cases Orthodox Christianity.   

Besides full-time priestly responsibilities, lectures, writing and museum duties, Fr. Moses had the energy and drive to found the Brotherhood of Saint Moses, an organization that sponsors an excellent yearly retreat (going on 18 or 19 years now), called the Ancient Christianity Afro-American Conference, focusing on Orthodox evangelism to minorities, African-Americans, in particular.  Ancient Faith Radio has been broadcasting the retreat lectures for a couple of years and they are in the must-listen-to category. 

Also, please see Fr. Moses’ September 2009 video lecture  at St. Tikhon’s Seminary’s Annual Lecture Series, titled “Honoring a Shared Heritage”.   His testimony and conversion story are filled with a power and conviction that I wish I could honestly say I had.  Glory to God and His Holy Church in this country, and praise God for priests like Fr. Moses.   If we had 100 more like him, can you imagine what the Orthodox Church in America would be like?  Unstoppable!

Orthodox History

November 17, 2009

There’s a much over-used expression, “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been”.   Trite, but so true, and it could easily be applied to the history of the Orthodox Christians in the New World. 

For a couple of months I’ve been reading an excellent, and the first of its kind, website devoted exclusively to the history of Orthodoxy in the US, Canada, the Americas .  It is sponsored by the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas (SOCHA), and headed by Father Oliver Herbel, but the list of names associated with the Society is an academic ‘who’s who’ of Orthodox theologians and historians.  You will simply not believe how much information can be found on this site; most of which is not widely known outside the academic study of American Orthodoxy.   And SOCHA doesn’t just present the nice, pretty stuff either.    They want the rest of us to understand that the Orthodox Church isn’t simply what it is in this country because of the good that was done by the early Russian missionary saints, but was shaped just as profoundly by the prideful,  the spiritually deluded, the ineffective, and some just plain whack jobs.  

This is what makes our history so interesting and so suprising.   I think we Orthodox underestimate just how far we’ve come in the past 200 years.   Orthodoxy has managed to become securely established, albeit in a demographically small size, but still recognizable as an American Orthodox Church.   All we need to do is finish the job.   We must put aside the jumbled bird’s nest of administrative disunity to establish a truly unified American Orthodox Church.

To hear these stories brought to life, check out the companion podcast  on Ancient Faith Radio by SOCHA’s Associate Directory Matthew Namee.

Orthodox Conference on Missions and Evangelism 2009

September 17, 2009

Now posted on Ancient Faith Radio are the talks given at the recent Conference on Missions and Evangelism sponsored by the Antiochian Archdiocese.   This has been a very succesful, enthusiastically attended conference, attracting a Who’s Who of Orthodoxy, particularly well known converts.  The frank, heartfelt responses of Metropolitan Jonah to a variety of questions about Orthodox unity, missions and relations with the Oriental Orthodox churches are very edifying.  Every word I’ve  heard from Metropolitan Jonah has the power to move me in so many positive ways.   I always come away with a renewed sense of commitment and love for Orthodoxy and the Church in this country.  What a blessing he is for American Orthodoxy.

The Search Begins For a New Bishop

August 13, 2009

OCA Diocese of the South

The website for the Diocese of the South is reporting the news that Metropolitan Jonah has taken the first big step in the search for a new Bishop for the Diocese.  Metropolitan Jonah has been acting as locum tenens i.e. temporary caretaker (Latin, “one holding a place”) since our beloved Archbishop Dmitri retired in the Spring. 

August 12.   With the blessing of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, Locum Tenens of the Diocese of the South (‘DOS’), an Episcopal Search Committee has been established. The Committee was approved at the recently concluded DOS Assembly in Atlanta.

The Search Committee will consist of the DOS deans and the chancellor of the Diocese. Members of the Committee include, Archpriest Philip Reese, Archpriest Peter Smith, Archpriest Ted Pisarchuk, Priest Stephen Freeman, Priest Marcus Burch, Priest Seraphim Hisph and Archpriest Joseph Fester.

The Episcopal Search Committee is scheduled to hold their first meeting in early September.

I’m sure there’s going to be lots of idle speculation, rumors and blatthering from the peanut gallery.  The priests that have been selected are well-known and respected, not just for their administrative skills, but for their spirituality and love of the Church.  

The best we can do is to pray for them and the hard work they’re undertaking.  Filling the shoes of Archbishop Dmitri is going to be difficult but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit I believe they will find worthy candidates. 

Orthodoxy in Unlikely Places

July 9, 2009

BigBend

So as I posted earlier, I was on vacation the end of June and early July in New Mexico and West Texas.  At some point we stopped in the historic little town of Fort Davis, Texas, on our way down to Big Bend National Park.   We spent a wonderful night at our usual stay, the Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park. 

Wherever I travel I always make a review of the phone book and local newspaper  to see what kinds of churches, particularly Orthodox, are found in the area.  Since I’d been to the Big Bend area many times, I didn’t even pay it that much mind since I thought I knew what was to be found out here.   In the way of Orthodoxy that means flat nothing between San Angelo and El Paso.   So you can imagine my total, utter shock when I opened the Jeff Davis County Mountain Register and saw the name Saint Jonah the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in the church listings on page 3.  

To give you an idea how unlikely it is that anyone in the OCA Missions Office ever thought about Big Bend as an area of future church planting, some statistics please.  Fort Davis and Valentine are the only two towns to be found in the whole 2265 square miles of Jeff Davis County, with a total population of 2207.   Thirty miles from Fort Davis is Brewster County and the location of St. Jonah Orthodox Mission in Alpine, Texas.   Only 8866 people reside in Brewster County’s 6193 square miles, most in the town of Alpine (population 5786).  And yet, in two counties where the average population density is less than 1 person per square mile, an Orthodox mission has been planted and a part-time priest assigned.   Glory be to God!

New Pascha Website

April 15, 2009

resurrection

Can you feel it?  Only 4 days to go before Pascha!  This is it folks; the home stretch.  We’ve almost made it to that great day of Resurrection.   It’s easy at this point to already start feeling we’re celebrating Pascha.   The power of that joyful day is so great it spills over, even into the sadness of Holy Week. 

In anticipation of the upcoming Great Feast or Feast of Feasts, the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America have joined up to create a really nice website focusing on Pascha and the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour.   The Feast of Feasts website  features articles by well-known Orthodox writers and theologians, photos, testimonials, and a lot more.  A really nice feature that is going to be added will be stories of Pascha submitted by readers.  Send an email with your story, reflection or memories of Pascha to editor@feastoffeasts.org and it may be chosen to add to the website.  Keep the length to 300 words or less (no photos, no PDF, text-only)

Saint Tikhon and the Unity of the American Church

April 7, 2009

tikhon

Today is the celebration of the repose of one of the greatest American saints – Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and Enlightener of North America.  He served as Archbishop of the entire North American continent at a time when communication and travel were difficult,  when no well-organized, central administrative structure governed the church in this country, when there were no seminaries, and the faithful were either new immigrants without churches or had been unpastored for decades in remote areas.  His time in America was relatively short – just nine years between 1898 and 1907, but in that time he transformed the Orthodox Church in America and gave it a vision and mission for self-governance and independence.

Ironically, the Orthodox Church in this country has entered a period that, I believe, will test the very limits of what Saint Tikhon envisioned and worked to achieve.  A series of events and actions are taking place right now which, if they do not seem divinely guided, at least are the kind of events that may one day be seen as the opening shots in a very strident conflict between the Old World and the New. 

1.   The election of Metropolitan Jonah to lead the Orthodox Church in America (the only autocephalous Orthodox Church in this country and a grandchild of Saint Tikhon).  Metropolitan Jonah is the strongest voice for American Orthodoxy – a hierarch who isn’t mincing words about the urgency for Orthodox administrative unity in America.

2.   The reigning in of the Antiochian Bishops of North America and Canada and the re-enforcement of submission to the Patriarch of Antioch, supported wholeheartedly by Metropolitan Philip.  

3.   The anticipated Pan Orthodox Synod  that is being convened by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Preparatory meetings are already scheduled for this summer.  Big topic of discussion – the church in the diaspora.

4.   Patriarch Bartholomew I’s strongly worded “suggestion” that American Orthodox fulfillment and unity are best achieved by submitting to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.   If you have a strong gag reflex, please be warned when you read the speech given by the EP Holy Synod’s Chief Secretary, Archimandrite Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadisthis, to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary on March 16th. 

Let me just make one observation here to the Ecumenical Patriarch’s proposal….. BAAW HAW HAW HAW.  Sorry, I don’t know how to write up the corresponding sound of me snorting my morning coffee all over the screen.   With all due respect Your Eminence, it seems that the more desperate your situation becomes in the oppressive, hostile, crushing state of Turkey, the more you resort to fancy tap dancing to extend your influence, power and importance over the Orthodox faithful in the diaspora.   We all feel for your difficult situation but this is America.  At least for us in the OCA, we’ve been handling things on or own for a good long while now – not always successfully, but we ain’t about to turn against the work of Saint Tikhon and go back to the Old Country, to an isolated, besieged patriarchate which, under the “freedom” of the Turkish constitution and the threat of terrorist attack, has zilcho autonomy and self-determination.   Let’s be frank – Your Eminence has been overseeing a slow death, 500 years in the making, while Orthodoxy in this country is young, alive and moving forward.  And we can go forward as co-workers and co-equals in Christ, but we won’t be doing it holding our Daddy’s hand.  

Metropolitan Jonah put this so much more eloquently than I do in his sermon during a Pan Orthodox vespers  at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas on April 5th (We had some parishioners attend and I can’t wait to get their impressions.)  I absolutely love Metropolitan Jonah!  This is the kind of leadership we have not had in the OCA in decades and it seems only by the providence of God that his election coincides with these new attacks on American Orthodox independence.

As Saint Tikhon observed in a speech given in March 1907 during the first All American Sobor (the precursor to the present OCA All American Councils) shortly before he returned to Russia (and you will excuse his use of the word “Russian” Orthodoxy – he was after all preaching to a predominantly Russian audience) 

…the more I study the history of the Orthodox Church in this country, the more I am convinced that our work here is God’s work; that God himself is helping us; that when it seems as though everything we do is ready to fail — the work of Russian Orthodoxy — on the contrary, it not only does not die, but grows in new strength and brilliance.

Beautiful and Scary

March 28, 2009

Alaskan volcano Mount Redoubt is acting up this week, with explosions and 10 mile-high ash clouds.   If you’re not sure of your geography, Mount Redoubt is located in the Chigmit Mountains in the Aleutian range, about 110 miles southwest of Anchorage.   Here is a great slideshow of additional photos taken this week.

Alaska Volcano

The photo below is of the nearby town of Ninilchik and it’s Transfiguration of the Lord Orthodox Church (founded in 1846; the present temple dates from about 1901).  The snow on the ground and roof are covered in dark grey ash.

Orthodoxy has prayers for everyone and everything, so I wonder if there are special prayers or patron saints that protect from volcanic eruptions?   Among the Roman Catholic dedicated saints, the Martyr Januarius (d. 305 AD and also an Orthodox saint) is recognized as a volcanic intercessor.   I’m thinking if I lived close to a force of nature that could obliterate me off the face of the Earth, I’d have to ask for help from every known saint possible!

APTOPIX Alaska Volcano

January 17 Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Anthony de Padua

January 17, 2009

anthony_the_great

The City of San Antonio is a very Roman Catholic city – starting with the first naming of our city in honor of Saint Anthony de Padua  on June 13, 1691. On the Saint’s feastday,  Spanish explorers and missionaries had stumbled across a native American settlement on the banks of a beautiful river, deciding to name the spot after this great 13th century saint of Padua, Italy.   Since then Saint Anthony has become the namesake and benefactor of the seventh largest city in the US, a great basketball team and at least 3 pages of yellow pages businesses.   I’m sure this humble and pious saint would be so proud (insert eye roll here).

When my Orthodox parish was founded 30 years ago this September, we kept up the patronage of Saint Anthony, but had to look to a pre-schism Orthodox saint and naturally Saint Anthony the Great was an easy choice.  

Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Anthony of Padua, while separated by centuries, culture and continent, both left all they had to unreservedly and totally commit themselves to following the Gospel. 

In their words they were even of the same love for God and his Kingdom and knew what struggles and fruits could come from the ascetic life:

Attribute to God every good that you have received. If you take credit for something that does not belong to you, you will be guilty of theft.    Saint Anthony de Padua

I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility”.    Saint Anthony the Great

 Last night we gathered at 7 p.m. for a pan-Orthodox celebration of Great Vespers and had a little socializing in the Fellowship Hall.  (A very disappointing turnout I have to say – maybe all our missing parishioners were honoring Saint Anthony de Padua by staying home to watch his basketball team play.)  Divine Liturgy will start at 9 a.m. this morning, and we’ll top off the weekend with a luncheon after Liturgy tomorrow.   

For 30 years Saint Anthony has been our protector and benefactor in the spiritual life and God willing, he will continue for 30 more.  

Troparion of Saint Anthony

Imitating the zealous Elijah in behavior 
and following the Baptist on the straight path.
You became an inhabitant of the desert,
O Father Anthony and by your prayers you made secure the whole world!    Therefore, intercede with Christ our
God that our souls may be saved.

 

Saint Anthony de Padua by Il Guercino

Saint Anthony de Padua by Il Guercino