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.
Fr. Noah Bushelli of St. Philip Church in Souderton, Pennsylvania writes:
It is always a blessing to be Orthodox and to be laboring in God's Vineyard, but this blessing is highlighted with an archpastoral visit. Bishop Thomas's stirring sermons, practical wisdom and common touch inspire us to bear greater fruit to God's glory. We are laboring day and night to building up our parishioners in ministry and also to build up our parish through outreach efforts. Glory to God! Here are some of our efforts:
"Oh your mark, get set, go!" Antiochian Village's annual 5K Trail Run will benefit the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, and many runners have registered to participate in the event, slated for Saturday, October 6, 2012. Special Olympics PA provides year-round training and competition in 23 Olympic-type sports, to more than 20,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. One hundred percent of the AV5K Trail Run registration fee goes to Special Olympics.
Antiochian Village is an ideal setting for this event. At this time of year, spectacular fall color will welcome runners and walkers of all ages on a moderately challenging wooded course. Prizes and refreshments will be awarded at the finish line.
The run comes just two weeks before Special Olympics Awareness Day, which is sponsored by SOYO and aimed at raising funds to underwrite the Village's summer Special Olympics program.
Registration will be open the day of the Run at 9 a.m. in the Village Conference Center.
Pilgrims gathered for the annual St. Thekla Pilgrimage at the Antiochian Village from September 21-23, 2012, joined by presiding hierarch His Grace Bishop Thomas, and the Abbess of the Convent of St. Thekla, Mother Alexandra. The Pilgrimage began on Friday evening with Great Vespers, followed by dinner, a showing of the Oscar nominated movie "The Help," and a discussion led by Fr. Anthony Yazge, Antiochian chair of the Department of Camping.
On Saturday, the Pilgrimage continued with a Hierarchical Liturgy at St. Ignatius Chapel at the Camp, followed by fellowship at brunch and an afternoon of activities which included workshops and discussion on "The Family and the Media" and "The Sacraments." Pilgrims also attended the Supplication Service to St. Thekla with anointing with oil from the Shrine in Maíaloula, Syria, and enjoyed a Chapel tour with Village Director Paul Finley. Afterwards, there was time for prayer, rest and reflection, and an opportunity to tour the Antiochian Heritage Museum.
2012’s clergy retreat for the Eastern Dioceses (the Dioceses of New York and Washington, D.C.; and of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic), held from September 17-21, centered on the spiritual life of the pastor. Its keynote speaker was the distinguished Dr. Christopher Veniamin, Professor of Patristics at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Dr. Veniamin spoke with thoughtful and true words about spiritual renewal, but “beyond that,” he said, the retreat was really about “inspiration: the art of inspiration in the Orthodox patristic tradition.”