His Grace Bishop Thomas writes:
December 6, 2012
Feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker
Beloved Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic:
Christ is Risen!
By now, I'm sure you have all heard of the falling asleep in the Lord of our beloved Patriarch Ignatius IV. We are all saddened by the great loss suffered by all Orthodox Christians throughout the world.
I had the opportunity to meet with His Beatitude a number of times during the last twenty years. I first met him when I served as a deacon at the Church of St. George in Houston, Texas, when he underwent open heart surgery. His Beatitude passed on eight years to the day that I was consecrated a bishop. On December 5th, 2004, faithful from all over the world, including representatives from this Archdiocese, gathered at his home in Damascus. His Beatitude personally greeted each member of our delegation at his residence. He presided over the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy and laid his hand on my head. I also personally met with His Beatitude at the Patriarchal headquarters in 2008. The genuine love he possessed for me and the faithful of his flock was evident during this visit as well.
Many of you have had the opportunity to meet with His Beatitude and receive his blessing. Those of you who have enjoyed such an opportunity should consider yourselves greatly blessed.
Though His Beatitude has passed on to the Church Triumphant, we remember how he led us, the Church Militant here on earth, time and time again toward the kingdom of God. The Church now calls upon us to remember His Beatitude in our prayers. God willing, as we pray for him, he will continue to pray for us, as he has done for these many years.
St. Herman Middle School Retreat at Antiochian Village
- For students in grades 5 – 8
- "Reading the Holy Scriptures: Weaving Ourselves into the History of God's Love," with Fr. Noah Bushelli
- Retreat package: $90.00 per student, including lodging and meals at the Conference Center
Beloved in Christ,
Greetings in the name of our incarnate God and Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ!
However great the heaven of heavens may be, or the upper waters which form a roof over the celestial regions, or any heavenly place, state or order, they are no more marvellous or honourable than the cave, the manger, the water sprinkled on the infant and His swaddling clothes. For nothing done by God from the beginning of time was more beneficial to all or more divine than Christ’s nativity, which we celebrate today. (St. Gregory Palamas, “On Christmas,” The Saving Work of Christ: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, p. 1)
What a truly awe-inspiring gift we receive in the Nativity of the Son of God, our great God and Savior Jesus Christ! At the beginning of the homily quoted above from St. Gregory Palamas, he says that his festal address “must be exalted therefore in accordance with the greatness of the feast” so that we can “enter into the mystery... that something of its inner power might be revealed to us.”
(Wappingers Falls, NY) On Thursday, October 25, 2012, His Grace Bishop Thomas was invited to attend a ROCOR Western Rite ordination at the Mount Alvernia Franciscan Retreat Center in Wappingers Falls, New York. His Grace Bishop Jerome, the ROCOR bishop of Manhattan and Vicar of the Diocese of Eastern America, presided over the ordination of Dn. Mark Rowe to the Holy Priesthood, and served as the principal celebrant at the Divine Liturgy. Bishop Jerome, who is bi-ritual and fluent in Latin, adorned western vestments and conducted the ordination service in the Western Rite, and said the Divine Liturgy (Mass) almost exclusively in Latin.
Father James Hamrick, an Antiochian Western Rite priest serving as pastor of St. John the Baptist Mission in Lewistown, Maryland, accompanied Bishop Thomas to the ordination. Bishop Jerome invited Fr. James to participate in the laying-on of hands during the ordination, and to concelebrate at the Mass which followed Fr. Mark’s ordination to the priesthood. Other ROCOR clergy who assisted in the service included Subdn. Anthony Bondi and Fr. Nathan Monk.
Father Mark Rowe was originally ordained an Anglican clergyman in 1997, and in 1998 was assigned as the rector of St. Mary the Virgin in Tampa, FL. Father Mark originally met Bishop Thomas in about 1998, prior to Bishop Thomas’ elevation to the episcopate, while (then Fr. Thomas) was still serving as a priest at St. Nicholas in Pinellas Park, Florida. It was in the years following that Fr. Thomas was instrumental in introducing Fr. Mark and his parishioners to Holy Orthodoxy.
Over the weekend of October 19-21, 2012, His Grace Bishop Thomas, visited Holy Ascension Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania. His stay began with prayers at Daily Vespers on Friday evening, followed by a fine Mediterranean dinner at a local restaurant with our parish council. There, the parish council invited His Grace to come back next Spring for a proposed “ground-breaking” prayer service and ceremony to kick off our expansion project. That project includes growing our existing place of worship, in addition to adding more classes for Sunday School, a new kitchen, and a modest size parish hall. His Grace blessed the idea and has scheduled to visit our parish March 23-25, 2013. He also challenged the parish to plan for a Pan-Orthodox Vespers service to be held at one of our local Orthodox parishes for that Sunday evening, which happens to be the Sunday we commemorate the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and is the Vespers service for the Great Feast of Annunciation. Excitement is growing over this idea as our parish desires to come more fully to know our Orthodox clergy, brothers and sisters of our surrounding parishes.
On October 9, 2012, His Grace Bishop Thomas of the Diocese of Charleston received a missions report from the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church of Göteborg, Sweden. Last summer two Swedish Orthodox Christians, Herman Fields and Mikael Fälthammar, had participated in a two-week residency at the Antiochian Village in Pennsylvania as part of the St. Stephen's Course, in the Antiochian House of Studies School of Orthodox Theology. "We were immensely blessed," wrote Mr. Fields and Mr. Fälthammar, "by meeting many Orthodox brothers and sisters in the United States.
"We want to express a special thank you to Fr. Joseph (Allen), Adn. Peter (Boulukos), Cheri Mullins and all the faculty of the House of Studies," they continued, "as well as to our hosts His Grace Bishop Thomas, and Paul Finley, for all your help and hospitality. We felt rejuvenated and encouraged by two intense weeks of spiritual fellowship and learning."
The rest of the newsletter reported on the work of the Swedish mission. "In the heart of Göteborg, we are very blessed to be able to borrow a basement venue, under a large church.
On the weekend of October 14, 2012, Sayidna Thomas visited St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Sayidna arrived on Friday afternoon and that evening had dinner with the Parish Council and their families. Suanne Moses, the President of the Council, welcomed Sayidna and hoped that he would have a good visit at St. Mary’s. During the meal they spoke about the life in the parish and about the economic growth in the area which is connected mostly to the service industry. Sayidna noted that there were several new hotels in the area and stated that they would provide an opportunity for interested Antiochian Orthodox to find work in this area. He particularly noted how in Pennsylvania the price for housing is relatively inexpensive compared to other metropolitan areas. He hoped that this would be attractive to people looking for a less expensive life in a beautiful geographic area who could become viable members of our Orthodox parish.
In 1987, in the beautiful Pennsylvania borough of Emmaus in the Lehigh Valley, the third largest metropolitan area in Pennsylvania, the mission church of St. Paul was officially founded as a mission of the Antiochian Archdiocese with the blessing of the parish constitution by His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip. Over the past twenty-five years, the parish was led by its founding pastor, the V. Rev. John Kahle of blessed memory (1987-1999), the V. Rev. Theodore J. Mikovich (1999-2009), and the current pastor, the Rev. Andrew Stephen Damick (2009-present).
During its time in the Lehigh Valley, St. Paul Church has been a haven for English-language Orthodox Christian spiritual life and is known both locally and beyond for its love and hospitality to visitors of every background. On the weekend of Oct. 5-7, 2012, St. Paul’s celebrated twenty-five years of this witness, including a full two days of liturgical services (Great Vespers, Matins and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, two days in a row), celebrating not only the regular Sunday services but also on Saturday the feast of the Apostle Thomas, the nameday of His Grace Bishop Thomas, who presided over the weekend celebrations. The anniversary weekend also included a brief and challenging retreat led by the V. Rev. Dr. Alexander Atty, Dean of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.
It’s a place we call home, a place where our youth gather every summer, a place where relationships are formed and strengthened, a place that is so difficult to leave, and a place where Christ is truly present. This special place is the Antiochian Village Camp, a family that has influenced our Archdiocese for many years in inexplicable ways. I have been involved with the Village for the past fifteen summers— nine as a camper and CIT, and the past six as a staff member. Every year I fall more in love with the Village, the ministry, and the Orthodox Church.
The influence the Camp has had on our youth is incredible! I have grown up at St. Mary’s Church in Johnstown, a small town in Western Pennsylvania. I have seen the effect the Village has had on our youth in my home parish, our diocese, as well as the youth from around the country.