Gathering of the Clergy Brotherhood of St Joseph of Damascus
by Fr John Oliver
His Grace, Bishop THOMAS, of the Diocese of Oakland, PA and the East, gathered his diocesan clergy for spiritual study and refreshment at the Antiochian Village from February 28 through March 2, 2006. His Grace promptly set the tone of the retreat with opening remarks in which he encouraged the clergy in attendance to see themselves “not as an association or an organization, but as a family and a brotherhood.”
Fr Boniface Black, pastor of St Philip’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Souderton, PA, served as retreat leader. Following Great Vespers on the first evening, Fr Boniface provided an overview and initial discussion of the retreat theme – Evangelism and Stewardship. “Evangelism,” he offered, “is about changing people; stewardship is about changed people.” The distinction was helpful as clergy were challenged for the duration of the retreat to consider various strategies for nurturing parishes distinguished as visitor-friendly and financially healthy.
Joy is key, Fr Boniface suggested, and a positive attitude is critical to the success of any evangelism and stewardship effort. “When you look out at your people,” he asked during one discussion, “what do you see?” The clergy in attendance were encouraged to see, in their respective parishes, not problems or personalities, but “future choir members, prospective members for the Order of St Ignatius, camp counselors, monastics, priests.” Fear and discouragement will erode such a positive vision, he explained, and threaten a parish culture that should be defined by enthusiasm, generosity, and welcome.
Parishes where visitors and new members feel welcome are more likely to thrive in an increasingly mobile culture. The task, then, is not simply to nurture the parish faithful, but also to keep an eye toward replacing those who move on. These are the practical considerations of ministry, and Fr Boniface encouraged setting goals that provide for both necessities. Establishing “ministry teams,” for example, can develop current members, while designating a parish publicity coordinator can keep the public aware of an active Orthodox Christian option in their area.
In addition to sound instruction on evangelism and stewardship, the 2006 retreat will be remembered for another achievement: the selection by Bishop THOMAS of Hieromartyr Joseph of Damascus as the patron saint of the Clergy Brotherhood of Oakland, PA and the East.
Born in May of 1793 to a poor but pious family, St Joseph distinguished himself early as a lover of knowledge, with a special affinity for biblical studies. Because the parish in Damascus had requested him, and the Patriarch had grown fond of him, St Joseph was ordained deacon and priest within one week while he was only twenty-four. He grew as capable in articulating the gospel as he had been in studying it, and his skilled preaching earned for him a reputation as “the successor of Chrysostom.”
Of special note, though, was his deep, sacrificial love for his flock. In the end, the event of his martyrdom proved also to be the clearest demonstration of his pastoral sense. During the Damascus massacre of 1860, he hid his communion kit under his sleeve while jumping from one roof to the next toward the Cathedral. He spent an exhausting night comforting afflicted Christians to bravely receive first the sword, then their glory. On Tuesday morning, July 10, the persecutors reached the Cathedral. Many faithful were slaughtered, and moments before his own martyrdom, Fr Joseph found a silent place to consume the last of the Body and Blood of Our Lord from his communion kit.
Such love for both Christian and Christ is precisely the quality His Grace, Bishop THOMAS encouraged the newly-named Clergy Brotherhood of St Joseph of Damascus – of the Diocese of Oakland, PA, and the East – to emulate.