Diocese of Charleston News
On Wednesday, April 1, 2012, His Grace Bishop Thomas presided over the Presanctified Liturgy at St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church in Monessen, Pennsylvania. Fr. Fred Pfeil served, with assistance from Deacon Glenn McIntyre of St. Ellien Church in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Additionally several area Orthodox clergy were present as well: Fr. Joseph DiStefano of St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Monessen; Fr. Edward Pehanich of St. Nicholas Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Monongahela; Fr. George Yatsko of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Monongahela; Fr. Rodney Torbic of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Carmichaels; Fr. Rumen Stoychev of St. John the Divine Russian Orthodox Church in Monessen; and Fr. Samuel Smolcic of Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church in Belle Vernon.
The St. Michael Church choir, supplemented by choir members from some of the neighboring Orthodox churches, sang beautifully under the direction of Mr. George Essey.
At the end of liturgy, Bishop Thomas blessed a new Apostle Book, donated by Mrs. Joan Langan in memory of her brother, the Rt. Rev. John Namie. His Grace then gave an inspiring homily regarding the need for and spiritual value of the holy mystery of Confession.
With great joy the congregation of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Beckley, WV and its priest, Fr. Samuel Haddad, were pleased to receive His Grace Bishop Thomas for a visit to the Parish on the weekend of the Third Sunday of Pascha, April 27 – 29, 2012. The congregation had especially awaited this visit with eager anticipation, as it was to mark the elevation of Fr. Samuel to the dignity of Archpriest.
The busy weekend schedule got underway Friday evening when Sayidna met with the Parish Council. Members had the opportunity to tell His Grace about progress that St. Nicholas has made during the previous year, especially focusing on the congregation’s growth in numbers. Bishop Thomas encouraged the parish council and congregation to continue in their efforts. He also took some time to explain the ongoing efforts of FOCUS (the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve). FOCUS works throughout North America as an expression of Christ’s love, serving the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, sick and imprisoned.
On Saturday His Grace met for lunch with the Women of the Holy Myrrh Bearers. Members of the Parish women’s group enjoyed a wonderful time of inspiration and fellowship with Sayidna. The women reviewed their own activities over the past year, and then listened eagerly as Bishop Thomas shared his thoughts concerning the ongoing crisis in Syria and how it is impacting the Orthodox Christians there. Sayidna also gave an update on the Archdiocese’s new Bishops, highlighting the many ways they are now serving in their new capacity.
by Fr. Joel Gillam and Peter Schweitzer
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Mt. 28:18-20)
St. Matthew’s Gospel concludes with Our Lord’s 'Great Commission', that we should “Go forth” and teach the entire world what He has revealed. This command is directed to every Orthodox Christian, to each and every one of us, through Holy Baptism. This is the mission that every generation is chosen for; the ministry that each of us as part of the royal priesthood offers (1Pet. 2:9). In order to fulfill this command we must know several things: 1) the message, 2) the people to whom we are delivering the message; and 3) knowing these things we must determine the means to deliver the message.
In the secular world, this is known as a communications plan. In the Church it is evangelism, bringing the people the Good News of Christ. In principle, what we are discussing is no different from any other communications plan devised by businesses, organizations, or political campaigns. Yet at the same time it is so that the world might know “God the Father, and Jesus Christ whom [He] has sent” (Jn. 17:3); the gift of eternal life. This is true mission work and evangelism.
On Monday, April 9, 2012, His Grace Bishop Thomas visited the parish of St. Elias in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He presided over the second of the three Bridegroom Matins services of Holy Week. After the service, His Grace delivered a sermon in which he reflected on the importance of the services of Holy Week, and also gave his positive impression of the progress that the church is making in becoming a beacon of Orthodoxy in the New Castle area.
Immediately following the service, refreshments were provided and the Bishop greeted many of the community who came to the service. We were grateful for his visit, and look forward to his returning soon!
The Eastern Dioceses 2012 College Scholarship Application is now available for download. This scholarship application is intended only for parishioners from churches that are within the Eastern Dioceses. If you wish to participate in the application process, please complete the application and be sure to include all required materials. All information must be accurately completed and returned by June 1, 2012.
The fourth and fifth weeks of Great Lent 2012 were especially spiritually blessed for St. Mary Church in Hunt Valley (Baltimore), Maryland. His Grace Bishop Thomas’ pastoral visit to the parish during the weekend of March 23-25 for the Feast of the Annunciation coincided with these two critical weeks of Great Lent, prayerfully and powerfully linking them in the Church’s journey to Pascha.
During an eleven day stay in the Baltimore area, Sayidna presided over St. Mary’s daily English and Arabic Lenten services in the weeks both preceding and following the weekend of the Annunciation Feast. His Grace’s gentle pastoral presence, sensitive and profound spiritual guidance, and wisdom offered at the end of these services deepened and strengthened the spiritual preparation of the attendees to receive the Risen Lord at Pascha.
The principal liturgical highlights of His Grace’s visit to St. Mary’s were his presiding over the offering of the fourth Akathist Hymn on March 23, Great Vespers of the Annunciation on March 24, and celebrating Sunday Orthros and Hierarchical Liturgy marking the Feast of the Annunciation. Bishop Thomas’ recurring message to the faithful throughout the Annunciation weekend services was that they must constantly strive to fully comprehend the meaning of the “good news” announced to the Virgin Mary by the Archangel Gabriel and individually live out the reality of the Lord’s redemptive love for humanity demonstrated by the Incarnation, just as did the Theotokos.
At the conclusion of the Hierarchical Liturgy, His Grace and all those present proceeded to the newly constructed road that will access the construction site of the new Byzantine-style church the St. Mary’s community is building. Bishop Thomas prayed over and blessed the new road, aptly named “Heaven’s Way."
His Grace Bishop Thomas writes:
GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA 2012
Beloved brother Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, God-fearing Monastics, and all my Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ our True God:
Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!
When they who were with Mary came, anticipating the dawn, and found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher, they heard from the Angel: Why seek ye among the dead, as though He was mortal man, Him who abideth in everlasting light? Behold the graveclothes. Go quickly and proclaim to the world that the Lord is risen, and hath put death to death. For He is the Son of God, who saveth the race of man. (Hypaköe of Pascha, Tone 4)
As we now gaze into the tomb with those who first heard the news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, how should we understand this moment? Surely we know that this is the height and heart of our faith, that the beautiful and radiant message of the Resurrection is the defining word of the Orthodox Christian life. But how does this touch us in our own lives? How does this connect with us?
Just like those myrrh-bearing women of long ago who gazed into the sepulcher and came expecting to see death and disappointment, we, too, are people who find that our own vision is permeated by the expectation and the experience of death. The myrrh-bearers came to that tomb not out of joy but to mourn. They came there to pour their hearts into that place of death. But they were greeted there not with death, not with decay, but with life, and not just mere existence, but the Life of the World, the Life Who puts death to death.
St. Anthony Church in Bergenfield, NJ Welcomes Bishop Thomas to Commence Parish Life Conference Registration
His Grace Bishop Thomas honored St. Anthony Church of Bergenfield, New Jersey with his annual visit on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. During the beautiful Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, Dn. Peter Boulukos was elevated to Archdeacon as his proud brother and sister-in-law and entire St. Anthony family beamed. After Liturgy, the parish hall was filled as all enjoyed breakfast and entertainment by our children. Inspired by the Creative Festivals theme “The Bible…fills us with eternal joy,” church school students sang a song about Old Testament patriarch Abraham and teens hosted a radio call-in show - featuring audience participation – about the prophesies of the Old Testament.
St. Anthony Parish Life Conference chairs Jim Bach and Lisa Fares, under the guidance of V. Rev. Fr. Joseph Allen, have been working hard to make sure every aspect of this year’s Dioceses of Charleston and New York Parish Life Conference—to be held July 4-8, 2012 at the beautiful Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey— is a great event. Bishop Thomas spoke to the faithful about our role in making sure that we use the PLC as a way to spread The Word, as we are all called to do, during this registration kick-off event. A table of materials, a “Top 10 Reasons Why All Should Attend the Parish Life Conference” slide show, and a guided tour of the dedicated PLC web site helped ensure that every parishioner knew “The Top 10 Reasons to Attend,” including to enjoy the camaraderie of diocese Orthodox Christians and participate in the traditional and fun events the conference offers for adults, teens, and children!
To register, obtain schedules, purchase an ad for the souvenir journal, or learn more, please visit http://EasternDiocesePLC.weebly.com.
(Unionville, MD) On Tuesday, March 20, 2012, His Grace Bishop Thomas was received by the Sisterhood of the Holy Monastery of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. Bishop Thomas was accompanied by four of his diocesan priests including Father Gregory Mathewes-Green (Holy Cross Church, Linthicum, MD), Father Patrick Cardine (St. Patrick Mission, Warrenton, VA), Father James Hamrick (St. John the Baptist Mission, Lewistown, MD), and Father Raphael Barberg (St. James the Apostle Mission, Westminster, MD).
Following a short service of reception in the chapel, Bishop Thomas welcomed the sisters to their new property and urged all present to do whatever was necessary to ensure that the property would remain an Orthodox monastery. Bishop Thomas and his priests were then led to the dining room where the sisters provided a hot Lenten meal.
Following lunch, Sister Ignatia accompanied Bishop Thomas and the guests on a brief tour of the property.
His Grace Bishop Thomas visited the community of St. George Cathedral in Oakland, Pennsylvania over the first weekend of Lent, arriving on the evening of Thursday, March 1st and departing on the afternoon of Monday, March 5th.
During the weekend, the clergy and the faithful of St. George were blessed to worship at eight different services with His Grace! On Thursday evening, we prayed Compline with the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. On Friday evening, we prayed the Little Compline with the Akathist Hymns to Our Lady Theotokos. On Theodore Saturday morning, we had Orthros and Divine Liturgy and, in the evening, had Vespers. On Sunday morning, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we had Orthros and a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. Later in the evening, the Orthodox community of the Greater Pittsburgh area gathered for the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers, which was presided over by His Grace Bishop Thomas and His Grace Bishop Melchisedek of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania (Orthodox Church in America). Over 20 priests and deacons from every jurisdiction of the Greater Pittsburgh Orthodox community participated in the Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers! Of course, every service was followed by the joy of coffee hour and fellowship in the Church Hall.
St. John Chrysostom Church in York, Pennsylvania welcomed His Grace Bishop Thomas on the occasion of its annual patronal feast day celebration over the weekend of November 11-13, 2011. Sayidna Thomas began the weekend festivities by attending a dinner with the parish council members and their spouses on Friday evening.
On Saturday morning, His Grace blessed the icons in the dome which were written this past Spring. He was accompanied by the Reverend Fr. Peter Pier, pastor of St. John Chrysostom, and Dn. Jerome Atherholt. Following the blessing, the children learned about the Prophets in the dome from Kh. Pam. Great Vespers was then concelebrated by Fr. Peter, Fr. Joseph Butts and Fr. Theodoros Daoud of St. Mary’s in Hunt Valley, Maryland, with Bishop Thomas presiding. Following Great Vespers, a gala banquet was held at the Golden Stories Restaurant in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
The mission community of St. Andrew the Apostle in Lewes, Delaware welcomed His Grace Bishop Thomas for a most blessed weekend on November 19th and 20th, 2011. Also joining in the very special weekend observances was Fr. Nicholas Alford of the Church of St. Gregory in Washington, D.C., along with the Deacon Raphael Garcia and a number of parishioners from D.C. Also coming for the weekend were Fr. Adrian Budica and Kh. Viktoriia from the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY. And also present were Subdeacons Joseph Kavchok from St. Paul, Emmaus, PA; Jason Flowers from the Holy Ascension Mission, West Chester, PA; and Benjamin Daniel of St. Philip, Souderton, PA. A very delicious supper was furnished by the Antiochian Women of St. Andrew following the Vespers Saturday evening.
St. George Church in Altoona, Pennsylvania was delighted to be able to welcome His Grace Bishop Thomas (Joseph) for his annual parish visit over the weekend of December 9-11, 2011. Due to Sayedna’s additional duties as locum tenens for the Diocese of Toledo, the original plans for an October visit had to be postponed. In addition to celebrating the usual cycle of services from Great Vespers to the Divine Liturgy, Sayedna joined the Fr. Stephen Lourie, pastor of the parish, and the Dn. Gregory Roeber and many parish families for an Advent meal hosted by the Ladies’ Society. Sayedna singled out the Society and especially its officers Lydia Kachur and Rebecca Edmiston for praise for the dinner, program for the children, and recognition of the other hard-working women of the parish.
Much to the delight of the parishioners of St. George, His Grace Bishop Thomas made his annual hierarchical visit to Bridgeville, Pennsylvania over the weekend of September 10 and 11, 2011. During his stay, His Grace provided many wonderful opportunities for the membership of our community to meet and interact with our beloved hierarch.
On Saturday morning, September 10, our Church School children and teachers gathered with His Grace for breakfast and a lively discussion of the Orthodox Christian faith. His Grace, in his fatherly fashion, accepted questions from our children as well as questioning them regarding their progress in their understanding of the Orthodox Christian faith. His Grace’s presence and words, as always, were supportive and lovingly challenging.
Following breakfast, our pastor Fr. Jason DelVitto escorted His Grace to the Pittsburgh FOCUS Center located in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. Upon arrival at the Center Sub-deacon Paul Abernathy, Director of FOCUS Pittsburgh and a member of the Parish Council of St. George, Bridgeville, welcomed His Grace and thanked him for visiting the Center. Following Paul’s welcome, His Grace led those gathered at the Center in prayer and proceeded to bless the Center, the people who are involved in accomplishing the extraordinary ministry to the poor done through the Center, as well as the vehicles which are used delivering food, furniture, etc., to those in need.
Beloved in Christ,
Greetings in the name of our incarnate God and Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ!
When Augustus became supreme ruler of the earth, the multiplicity of rule among men ceased. And when Thou becamest human from the spotless one, the worship of many heathen gods also ceased. Then the cities came under one worldly rule; and the nations believed in one divine supremacy. The nations were enrolled by an order of Caesar; but we believers were enrolled in the name of Thy Divinity, O our incarnate God. Wherefore, great are Thy mercies, glory to Thee. (Vesperal Doxastikon for the Nativity)
We are once again reminded by this beautiful hymn that the Good News of the coming of the God-man Jesus Christ into the world is a message not just for certain people, but for all people. We are also reminded that Christ’s Gospel is what unites us all together, no matter what our color, culture, birthplace or language may be. Likewise, the incarnation calls us forth from all our former delusions and idolatry to worship only the one true God, Who has become incarnate as a human being just like us, yet without sin.
As we celebrate the great feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, let us be again inspired to become evangelists and apostles bearing the Gospel to everyone around us; to pray and work together in true unity with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what they look like or where they are from; and most especially always to turn away from anything that keeps us from dedicating ourselves totally to the worship and service of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Yours in Christ,
Rt. Rev. Bishop THOMAS (Joseph)
On the evening of Thursday October 27, 2011, His Grace Bishop Thomas visited with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) chapter at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The students, from a variety of different backgrounds, welcomed him warmly. Students from the UPenn OCF and from Rowan University in New Jersey were also in attendance, as well as Fr. Andrew Damick and Fr. Joel Gillam. The meeting opened with prayer as everyone read the hymn "O Gladsome Light"/Phos Hilaron. After Bishop Thomas was introduced he spoke to them briefly and then listened as they discussed the the history of "O Gladsome Light" and listened to choirs from all over the Orthodox Church singing the hymn in various traditional melodies.
After the discussion the students spoke of ways in which they are asked about the Orthodox Church, and how they have shown the "Gladsome Light" to those around them at college. The proceedings then took an amusing turn as the students and priests participated in an "ice breaker" as Sayidna looked on from the sidelines smiling at the various scrambles during the game. Before the closing prayer Bishop Thomas spoke to the students of his belief in OCF as both a nuturing environment for Orthodox who go off to college, and a transfiguring presence for those in the postmodern university world who are seeking the peace and truth in Christ. This was Sayidna's second visit to one of the Philadelphia OCF chapters; he spent time with the UPenn OCF on September 19. Both groups look forward to seeing him again soon, God willing.
His Grace Bishop Thomas made his annual visit to Holy Ascension Mission in West Chester, Pennsylvania on the weekend of October 7th–9th, 2011. Sayedna Thomas celebrated Great Vespers on Friday evening followed by dinner with the parish council. The dinner featured dialog on the growth of Holy Ascension as well as stories from Bishop Thomas’ experiences as a young priest. On Saturday the day began with a Divine Liturgy commemorating St. Pelagia the Righteous, with the baptism of Paul Meyer, Fr. Daniel’s son, immediately following. His Grace administered the sacrament with the assistance of the Fr. Andrew Damick of St. Paul Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Following the divine services, the Women of St. Thekla Group hosted a light meal in a beautifully decorated hall.
Under the direction of His Grace Bishop Thomas, twenty-four priests from the Antiochian Dioceses of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic and of New York and Washington gathered together for their annual clergy retreat at the Antiochian Village from September 20th to 23rd, 2011. The priests from last year's retreat selected the V. Rev. Fr. Alexander Atty, Dean of St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary, as the guest keynote speaker for the week.
Fr. Alexander gave a series of lectures pertaining to “The Priestly Life.” He spoke of the priest as as a spiritual architect, a good shepherd, a confessor, and a husband and father. The priests were very edified by his words that come from many years of experience as a pastor laboring in the vineyard to the glory of God.
In addition to these lectures, several priests gave intimate reflections on their personal experiences in the life in Christ as pastors. Kicking off the retreat, Fr. John Nosal, led a discussion on selected portions of the biography of Fr. Seraphim Rose. Fr. John Dixon, spoke of the priest's rule of prayer as a foundation for his ministry. Fr. Gregory Long, spoke of how to get through the priest's terror of being speechless when he is needed. Fr. Joel Gillam, noted how humbling and edifying it is to meet with fellow priests, while observing how the Lord has manifested Himself in their lives. Fr. Charles Baz, gave a beautiful word on St. Joseph of Damascus, the patron saint of this annual clergy retreat.
Fr. Noah Bushelli writes:
October 18th, 2011
Feast of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, the Beloved Physician
Glory to God!
We are so blessed to be living in Christ as members of His Body, the Holy Orthodox Church. Sometimes we feel this great blessing more fully than others. Thanks to a recent visit by Bishop Thomas Oct 1st - 6th, we are refreshed in the joy, peace, and vitality of serving God in this God-protected Antiochian Archdiocese and reaching out to this beautiful country of ours. We are Grateful for our Fathers-in-Christ, Metropolitan Philip and our Bishop, Thomas, for the loving, intensely mission-minded tone they have set and we are working very hard to bear fruit worthy of their examples. His Grace came for his annual archpastoral and gave us the challenging and joyful message of following Christ robustly and bringing people into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) presents October as Orthodox Awareness Month, an OCF effort to foster awareness of Orthodoxy and educate students on college campuses across North America.
Throughout the month of October, OCF chapters are encouraged to set up informational tables on campus, offer Orthodoxy 101 sessions, host speakers and facilitate intriguing chapter events, which feature a church service or religious discussion as well as fellowship.
"Liturgy, translated as 'the work of the people,' is not limited to the church building," says John Mahfouz, National Programs Director. "For Orthodox Christians, our call is to leave the church and continue the 'Divine Work' of bringing Christ to others; of sharing the sweetness of His love which is found in the teachings of our Holy Fathers, with those around us. For a College Student, the Liturgy continues on campus!"
Almost a year ago now, an opportunity like no other was presented to a small group of people. An e‐mail message sent by the then Parish Council President of St. James the Apostle (in Westminster, MD) was received by its parishioners stating that a change in leadership at St. James was imminent.
What was not exactly clear at that time was how imminent. Within the next 24 hours, that message had become a reality. St. James was without a priest.
Living in our high-tech world, what followed immediately, and what seemed like for days, was a flurry of email activity amongst the parishioners. Some expressing anger, some expressing sadness, others asking, "What do we do next?"
That following Sunday, the church was full of emotion. Our little sanctuary was full with parishioners seeking answers.
His Grace Bishop Thomas visited the faithful of the parish of St. George Upper Darby October 17-18, 2011. On Saturday the 17th His Grace had breakfast with the Sunday school and SOYO and then answered their questions for an hour and a half. He then stayed at the Church and had a wonderful lunch with the Ladies Society and spoke to them about the new bishops and about all the work they do at St. George. He encouraged them to continue to work with Fr. Joel and to invite people to the church and grow the parish.
Saturday night Bishop Thomas presided over the Vespers service and then joined the Parish Council for a delightful dinner. They were joined by members and prospective members of the Order of St. Ignatius, as well as members of Fr. Joel and Kh. Renee's families.
On Sunday His Grace served the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy and he spoke of the need to bear our cross openly in the world. Since he was elevating Fr. Joel to the rank of Archpriest he took the time to explain that the cross Fr. Joel was being invested with was not simply a reward, but was an expectation of the work he, and the parish, must do in bringing the Gospel to the people of Upper Darby and Philadelphia. That the cross represented the responsibility of the faithful to proclaim Christ to everyone, and the need to be active in the life of faith.
At the end of Liturgy Bishop Thomas raised Fr. Joel to the rank of Archpriest, and then welcomed two new members into the order of St. Ignatius, Kh. Renee Gillam, and Mr. Riad Attar. Everyone got a chuckle when His Grace remarked that it was the first time he could remember elevating one of the priests, giving him a cross to wear, and then bestowing an Order cross on the khouriya on the same day.