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Diocese of Charleston News

Bishop THOMAS Visits Holy Ascension Mission in Frazer, PA

The Holy Ascension Orthodox Mission in Frazer, Pennsylvania was blessed to have Bishop THOMAS present with us for his annual visit on the weekend of November 14-15Th, 2009.

The Sisterhood of St. Thekla sponsored a dinner for His Grace following Vespers, and we celebrated a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday.  During the sermon, Bishop THOMAS commanded the founding of Holy Ascension Parochial School, The Academy of St. Raphael, which will serve as a spiritual education foundation for our parish.  His Grace motivated our parish to begin building our permanent home and he spoke candidly about families making sacrifices to help raise money toward this goal.

Bishop THOMAS on the Manhattan Declaration

November 24, 2009

Beloved in Christ,

God bless you.

As I promised you a couple of days ago, we are forwarding you information on the Orthodox approach to issues that have been recently addressed in the Manhattan Declaration.  Below I offer a few comments on subjects relevant to that document:

Spirit of Orthodoxy Choir to Perform Christmas Concert in Bergenfeld, NJ

Bergenfield, NJ, December 6, 2009The Spirit of Orthodoxy Choir, under the direction of Maestro Aleksei V. Shipovalnikov, will present A Star Shines in the East: Eastern Orthodox Lessons and Carols for the Christmas Season on Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 4:30PM at Saint Anthony Orthodox Church, 385 Ivy Lane, Bergenfield, NJ. The multi-media performance will include scripture readings, traditional American and Slavic Carols and choral gems from the various Orthodox Christian traditions.  Works by various Slavic masters, including Bortniansky, Allemanov, Kastalsky and Degtiarev will also be featured accompanied by breathtaking seasonal images from the Holy Land and other Christian sites. A reception to meet the artists will follow. Tickets are $12.00 for adults and $8.00 for children and Senior Citizens.

The Spirit of Orthodoxy Choir was formed in 1997 as a missionary and educational group and draws its members from choir directors and singers from Orthodox parishes of various jurisdictions in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Choir’s music witnesses to the range of the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church and is representative of the major stylistic periods of Russian Church music. In its 12-year existence the choir has established a reputation, both within and outside the Orthodox Church community, for outstanding interpretation of Orthodox liturgical music in the English language, as well as Church Slavonic and other languages.  As is the tradition of the Orthodox Church, all music is unaccompanied by instruments.

2009 Nativity Greetings from Bishop THOMAS

Beloved in Christ,

“Today is born of the Virgin Him Who holdest all creation in the hollow of His hand.  He Whose essence is untouchable is wrapped in swaddling clothes as a babe.  The God Who from of old established the heavens lieth in a manger.  He Who showered the people with manna in the wilderness feedeth on milk from the breasts.  And the bridegroom of the Church calleth the Magi.  And the Son of the Virgin accepteth gifts from them.  We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ.“

On behalf of myself and the entire Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic, we wish you a blessed Nativity Fast and a glorious Feast of the Holy Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Bishop THOMAS visits St. John Chrysostom + York, PA

Dn. John Shumski writes:

His grace, Bishop THOMAS, visited St. John Chrysostom Church in York, PA on the occasion of their patronal weekend, November 6-8, 2009. Sayidna had dinner with the clergy, parish council members and their spouses on Friday evening. On Saturday afternoon he met with Teen SOYO for an “Ask Sayidna” session. Bishop THOMAS presided at Great Vespers with Litia and Artoclesia and was the honored guest at a banquet attended by the congregation. On Sunday, Divine Liturgy was celebrated and a parishioner was inducted into the Order of St. Ignatius. The children of the parish sang a Troparion for Sayidna and a reception followed in the social hall.

Bishop THOMAS Visits St. Philip + Souderton, PA

Fr. Noah Bushelli writes:

The Parish of St. Philip was blessed recently to welcome Bishop THOMAS on our patronal feastday, November 14th.  Fr. Joseph Butts and Fr. Andrew Damick concelebrated with me and Dn. Herman for the Matins and Divine Liturgy.  At the end of the Liturgy, Bishop THOMAS gave to our humble parish a relic of St. Raphael of Brooklyn.  By God's mercy the rain was stayed and we processed around the church with the relics.  Bishop THOMAS encouraged us strongly in our daily evangelistic work, to be disciples of St. Philip and invite people to church by saying, "Come and See."  Fr. Andrew spoke briefly about St. Raphael's life and continuing presence with us after his death.  The parish is commissioning an icon of St. Raphael in which to have the relics embedded.  We are moving forward with mission work and feel very blessed to have the protection and physical presence of St. Raphael, the Good Shepherd of the Lost Sheep in America.

Bishop THOMAS Visits St. Mary + Chambersburg, PA

During the weekend of October 24-25, His Grace Bishop THOMAS made a pastoral visit to St. Mary Church in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  After arriving in town, His Grace met with the pastor, Fr. Theodore Pulcini, as well as Deacon Evangelos Prieston and Subdeacon Joseph Merlina.  Fr. Ted presented Sayyidna with a copy of the St. Mary’s “Five-Year Plan,” which outlines the congregation’s aspirations and intended course of action for the future.

Preparations were then made for Vespers, which was celebrated that evening with some fifty parishioners in attendance who sang the service congregationally.  Afterwards, the Parish Council hosted Sayyidna for dinner at the Copper Kettle Restaurant in Chambersburg, during which he responded to a number of questions, especially regarding the growth of parishes in our Diocese.  Bishop THOMAS noted that when he first came to the Diocese, he had no Western-rite parishes under his omophorion; now there are three, with a number of other groups expressing interest in embracing Orthodoxy.

Fruitful Labor and A Hierarchal Visit at St. Philip Church + Souderton, PA

Fr. Noah Bushelli, of St. Philip Church in Souderton, PA, writes:

Bp THOMAS Prays over Simeon Nicholas BushelliBp THOMAS Prays over Simeon Nicholas BushelliRecently, we had a blessed pastoral visit from Bishop THOMAS.  A unique aspect of this visit was that on Saturday Morning, Sayedna led about 50 of us in a retreat on "Raising Godly Children".  We prayed together the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, then His Grace equipped us with some inspiring stories from his own childhood and some practical resources.

At another visit earlier this year, my family had the blessing of Sayedna praying the 8th Day Naming Prayers for our youngest, Simeon Nicholas.

Brotherhood of St. Joseph of Damascus Clergy Retreat 2009 Report

September 23-25:

Click here for a collection of images from the retreat.

With the Pennsylvania forests’ magnificent change of colors well under way, proclaiming the glory of creation, the clergy of the Diocese of New York and Washington DC, and the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid Atlantic gathered at the Village in late September with Bishop THOMAS for their fifth annual clergy retreat.  In attendance with Sayedna were twenty-seven priests and deacons of the Brotherhood, and Mother Alexandra, abbess of St. Thekla Convent and her guest Mother Mariamne.

The retreat was led by one of the Brotherhood’s own – Archimandrite John Abdalah, pastor of St. George Cathedral, Pittsburgh.  Bishop Thomas asked Fr. John to discuss the theme “Being a Priest with a Positive Attitude.”  During the retreat sessions, Fr. John challenged the Brotherhood to consider three questions about their ministries.  The first was what metaphor best reflects their ministry.  The second was to ask what person had a significant influence on their ministry.  And last was what do we want to be remembered for.  As we discovered through the individual and collective answers to these questions, the images of how we see our ministries - now and in the future - profoundly affect the attitudes we portray to others through our day-to-day work in our parishes.

Bishop THOMAS Celebratees the Exaltation of the Cross with St. George, Allentown, PA

“O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance, and to Thy faithful Kings grant victory of their enemies, and by the Power of Thy Cross, Protect all those who follow Thee.” 

-Troparia Tone 1:  Elevation of the Holy Cross

Click here to see more pictures.

On September 10-14, 2009, St. George Church in Allentown, PA lovingly welcomed His Grace, Bishop THOMAS.  Bishop THOMAS celebrated the Feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross with us and it was a true blessing. 

Bishop THOMAS Discusses Education on OCN

On this week's Come Receive The Light podcast: His Grace, the Right Reverend THOMAS (Joseph), a bishop of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, serving in the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic, leads a discussion to the topic - Where We Send Our Children to School.

St. John the Baptist Mission Profiled in the Frederick News-Post

One man’s spiritual journey ends with a congregation’s conversion

Lewistown is now home to Maryland’s first Western Rite Orthodox church

by Ron Cassie of The Frederick News-Post

Last weekend, at a service at St. Basil the Great Orthodox Church in Poquoson, Va., Bishop Thomas Joseph ordained James K. Hamrick into the holy priesthood of the Western Rite Orthodox Church.

It was a moment Hamrick’s congregation in Lewistown has been waiting for since early spring. On April 10, his small flock at the former Charismatic Episcopal Lamb of God Church converted en masse to the Antiochian Orthodox faith, which includes both Western Rite and Eastern Orthodox churches.

At Hamrick’s urging, the 40-member congregation, which worships in a church built in 1883 by Methodists, was officially accepted as an Orthodox mission in March. After preparation, members went through the sacramental rite of chrismation into the Antiochian Orthodox faith. Further highlighting their transformation, the congregation adopted a new name: St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church.

This weekend, Hamrick will lead an Orthodox Sunday Mass for the first time at the church, marking the final step for the 45-year-old priest and his congregation as Maryland’s first Western Rite Orthodox church.

“For the people who have endured a rather long and difficult journey, this doesn’t mark the end, but a fresh new beginning,” Hamrick said. “We’re excited about what God is doing — about being pioneers and evangelists, about bringing Holy Orthodoxy which is the faith of the Apostles and the ancient Church to the people of Frederick County living in the 21st century.”

Fr. James Hamrick Ordained to Priesthood

Maryland’s First Western Rite Orthodox Church Emerges

Click here for more photos.

On Sunday, August 23, 2009, Bishop THOMAS (Joseph) ordained James K. Hamrick to the Holy Priesthood in the Orthodox Church, Antiochian Christian Archdiocese.  The ordination ceremony was conducted during the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Saint Basil the Great Orthodox Church in Poquoson, Virginia (near Newport News).  The host priest and pastor of the church, Father Gregory MacGregor, was one of Hamrick’s three priest sponsors.  Father MacGregor had introduced Hamrick to Holy Orthodoxy three years earlier during a family vacation to Williamsburg, VA.  At that time Hamrick was a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church and had just planted a new mission in Lewistown, Maryland named Lamb of God Church—all of this after having previously served as a United Methodist pastor for six years in the Harpers Ferry, WV area.

Hamrick’s other two priest sponsors for his ordination were present and included Father Patrick Cardine, pastor of St. Patrick Orthodox Church in Warrenton, VA; and Father Nicholas Alford, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church in Washington, DC, both of whom were also the catechists for Hamrick’s congregation when they made a decision to become Orthodox last year.  

St. Mary's in Johnstown, PA Celebrates Dormition with Bishop THOMAS

Click here to view more pictures.

St. Mary's Patronal Feast was a joyous weekend. His Grace Bishop THOMAS arrived on August 14, 2009 for the celebration of a Vesperal Divine Liturgy. On the following morning, His Grace blessed the beginning of the festival which drew in faithful and neighbors from Johnstown and beyond for food, fellowship and Church tours throughout the day, ending with Vespers. On Sunday morning, His Grace celebrated a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy followed by a presentation of awards to children who participated in the Creative Arts and Oratorical Festivals and brunch with a question and answer session.

Photos from Diocese of Charleston Deacons' Retreat

Click here for more pictures.

With the blessing of Sayedna THOMAS, Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic, several deacons of the diocese met in retreat August 7-9, 2009 at Saint Ellien’s Church in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. The Rev. Dn. Glenn and Peggy McIntyre and the parish graciously hosted the bishop and the deacons. The retreat began with Little Compline Friday evening. On Saturday, the deacons prayed the services of Matins and the Sixth Hour with Sayedna and, in the evening on that day, Fr. Fred Pfeil of St. Michael’s in Monnesen joined the retreat to serve the Vespers.

Interspersed between these services, the deacons and Bishop met for two discussion sessions, one led by His Grace and another led by Dn. Gregory Roeber. Both sessions were in keeping with the theme of the retreat “The Bishop’s Hands,” and emphasized that the deacon is the agent of the bishop who extends the service of the bishop to the parish to which he has been assigned. Deacon Gregory’s paper reviewed both the theological and historical basis of the diaconate in relationship to the bishop and the priests.

Bishop THOMAS Visits St. Michael Church, Monessen, PA

On August 1, 2009, His Grace Bishop THOMAS visited St. Michael Church in Monessen, Pennsylvania. Photos courtesy of Rich and Lora Nahas: click here for more pictures.

Record Number of Children Attend Camp at Antiochian Village

His Grace Bishop THOMAS passes on the following message:

Beloved of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic:
May God bless you always.
This summer a record number of our children are spending time at the Antiochian Village Camp.  I've been blessed to share some of this time with them at the Camp.  I encourage you to go on the Camp website to view what has been happening this summer of 2009.  In order to see the photos, go to the Camp website and see the Summer Memories section.
Thank you.
Yours in Christ,

Holy Spirit Church of Huntington Celebrates Pentecost with Bishop THOMAS

Left to right:  Sdn. Joseph Peck - Parish Council Chairman; Bishop THOMAS, Fr. John Dixon.Left to right: Sdn. Joseph Peck - Parish Council Chairman; Bishop THOMAS, Fr. John Dixon.The Great Feast of Pentecost was a momentous weekend for The Holy Spirit Antiochian Orthodox Church in Huntington, WV. Pentecost is the church's feast, and they just completed construction of their new social hall and Sunday School annex. To celebrate, a banquet and hafli was conducted on Saturday, June 6. The following morning, Bishop THOMAS conducted hierarchical Divine Liturgy.  Included was the installation of Abraham Saad to Subdeacon and the elevation of pastor Fr. John Dixon to Archpriest.

First Episcopal Visit of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church + Lewistown, MD

On Sunday, April 26th (St. Thomas Sunday & Low Sunday), the faithful of St. John the Baptist Church in Lewistown, Maryland received His Grace, Bishop THOMAS, for their first episcopal visit and for the blessing of their space. Approximately 40 people were in attendance for the occasion at the historic chapel where the former Charismatic Episcopal Church congregation had been worshipping since Christmas 2005. Bishop THOMAS’s visitation followed closely the recent Chrismation of the new faithful on April 10th at Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Potomac, Maryland, and their first Divine Liturgy on Palm Sunday. During the episcopal visitation, James K. Hamrick, the congregation’s former pastor was also ordained a subdeacon by Bishop THOMAS. Fr. Peter Jacobsen from New York is currently serving St. John the Baptist Church as the interim priest and pastor.

Paschal Greetings from Bishop THOMAS


Beloved in Christ,

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

In anticipation of the blessed occasion of Holy Pascha, I greet you with love in the Name of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ! As we celebrate this glorious Feast of Feasts, let us remember the uplifting words of St. Gregory of Nyssa:

It is a saying in Wisdom that evils are forgotten on the day of joy (cf. Ecclus. 11, 25). This day makes us forget the first sentence brought against us; or rather it eliminates its very existence and not just its memory…. At that time death reigned because of sin; now thanks to Life it is justice which has taken over the power. At that time one man opened the gate of death; now through one man the gate of life is opened in its place. At that time we fell from life through death; now death is abolished by life. At that time we were hidden under the fig tree by shame; now by glory we approach the tree of life. At that time through disobedience we were expelled from paradise; now through faith we are admitted into paradise. Once again the fruit of life is offered to us to be enjoyed by us freely. Once again the fount of paradise with its four rivers of the Gospels irrigates the whole face of the Church, so that the furrows of our souls are inebriated which the sower of the word has ploughed with doctrine, and the seeds of virtue raised by the victors over the vanquished. Since then the battle line of the enemy has collapsed, and the one who once held sway over the force of devils has been vanquished and disappeared, annihilated, let us say that God is a great Lord and a great King over the entire earth. He has crowed the year with his kindness (cf. Ps. 64.12) and has assembled us in the spiritual choir, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is glory rendered for ever and ever. Amen. (The Paschal Mystery, trans. by Thomas Halton, 97.)

May you and your family enjoy a wonderful Paschal season in the Light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.

Yours in Christ,

Rt. Rev. Bishop THOMAS

PBS Showcases Orthodox Chant in the Diocese of Charleston

Recently, PBS’ Religion and Ethics Weekly program featured chanting from our own Holy Cross Church in Linthicum, Maryland.

Click here to see the PBS feature.

The segment, taped inside the parish of Fr. Gregory and Kh. Frederica Mathewes-Green, beautifully captures the otherworldly essence of Orthodox worship. Church chanter Emily Lowe explains in the clip, “The Orthodox Church is unique in modern times, having a completely sung liturgy. Everything is sung, from beginning to the end.” She also gives a helpful beginner’s explanation of why there are “dissonant…foreign sounds” in Orthodox worship, and she witnesses to the ascetic tradition of the faith when she concludes, “Orthodoxy demands change. It expects change.”

Chrismation of Catechumens of St. John the Baptist Church + Lewistown, Maryland

On the evening of April 10, 2009, the Eve of Lazarus Saturday and the Feast of St. Leo of Rome, twenty-six catechumens from the newly formed St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Lewistown, Maryland were chrismated and received into the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America at Ss. Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Potomac, Maryland. The chrismations were conducted by the group’s catechists, including Fathers Nicholas Alford, Patrick Cardine, and Alban Waggener, as well as by the new mission’s interim priest, Father Peter Jacobsen.

New Mission in Maryland

St. John the Baptist Mission began as a small mission in the Charismatic Episcopal Church (called Lamb of God Church) on Christmas Eve, 2005 under the pastoral leadership of Fr. James K. Hamrick, a CEC priest and a former United Methodist pastor. The congregation, made up mostly of former Methodists, found a historic chapel for lease in Lewistown, Maryland, just north of Frederick, Maryland, an hour west of Baltimore and an hour northwest of D.C. The chapel, originally built in 1833 as a Methodist Church, has been home for the congregation since.