Diocese of Charleston News
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.
His Grace, Bishop Thomas visited Saint Elias in New Castle, PA on the weekend of August 19-21. Sayidna made pastoral calls with Father Kevin Gregory to see a couple of parishioners. He also visited with the children of the parish, ate a meal in the parish hall with the parish council and some guests, and went to nearby Holy Transfiguration Monastery and visited with the nuns there.
The kids sang a song that they learned while attending Vacation Church School the week prior to His Grace's visit. While visiting with him, the kids were given the opportunity to ask Sayidna questions.
One of the high points of the visit was the hierarchical Divine Liturgy. Bishop Thomas' sermon was inspiring, challenging us all to take our faith seriously and to bring our friends and family to the faith.
Fr. Kevin Gregory Long and the parish community are thankful to Bishop Thomas for his prayerful and paternal love and care for us. We eagerly look forward to his next visit with us.
His Grace Bishop Thomas will be speaking at the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black's 19th Annual Ancient Christianity and African-American Conference on May 25-27, 2012 at the Antiochian Village.
The annual conference of the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black, the Ancient Christianity and African-American Conference offers an opportunity to explore the ancient African roots of Christianity as well as discuss the Orthodox Faith in relation to the African-American experience.
The Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black is a Fellowship of Orthodox Christians seeking to first bring ancient Orthodox Christianity to African-Americans. Secondly, the brotherhood attempts to root and nourish African-Americans in the martyric experience of their righteous Christian forefathers and foremothers, both in Africa and America.
The Bible Bowl for 2012 will be centered on the Epistle to the Romans. Materials to help prepare your teams can be obtained here. Please remember, all Bible Bowl questions will come directly from the text and not from the website.
Please also encourage your senior and junior SOYO members to participate in all of the festivals of the conference. Please go to the Festivals web page for additional information on the festivals contests, which will be added to the site in the coming weeks.
Lastly, please talk to your church school directors, youth directors and Teen SOYO advisers, and encourage them to include time in their activities to prepare for the Oratorical, Creative Arts, Photo, Writing and Poetry contests for the upcoming church year.
On behalf of the Metropolitan, thank you for your cooperation in making next year’s PLC a success!
Yours in Christ,
His Grace Bishop Thomas writes:
Beloved in Christ,
Your prayers are requested for the repose of the soul of the servant of God the Archpriest James Deep. Fr. James is retired and the former pastor of St. Anthony Church in Butler, Pennsylvania. Funeral arrangements are pending.
As the parishioners of St. Mary Church in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania were concluding their observance of the Dormition Fast in preparation for the Great Feast of the Dormition, their parish nameday, Bishop Thomas arrived in Chambersburg to celebrate with them.
Fr. Ted Pulcini, St. Mary’s pastor, drove His Grace into Chambersburg during the afternoon of Friday, August 12. That evening Bishop Thomas presided over the final Paraklesis service of the fast, leading a group of parishioners in their supplications to the Mother of God.
The next morning, Fr. Ted accompanied Sayyidna to the St. Seraphim Center, a FOCUS-affiliated ministry conducted by the parish to feed the needy in the Chambersburg area. The Center serves lunch to some 35 to 45 guests twice a week (on Thursdays and Saturdays), complementing the lunch schedule of the local Salvation Army. The Center will be observing its second anniversary this fall and is now well recognized as a welcoming community center in the Chambersburg area. Since last fall, the Center has also offered recycled articles of clothing, free of charge, to men, women, and children who need them. Bishop Thomas commended the work of the Center and gave his enthusiastic blessing to its continued efforts.
Antiochian hierarch His Grace Bishop Thomas is among a group of five bishops whose audio interviews have been posted in a special feature on the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America's website. More interviews are planned as the series unfolds over the coming months.
The Assembly site explains that the twelve-member Secretariat of the Assembly, led by His Grace Bishop Basil, initiated these conversations, "a series of audio interviews of the Assembly's fifty-three member hierarchs by Archpriest Josiah Trenham (proïstamenos of St. Andrew Church in Riverside, CA and director of Patristic Nectar Publications) for the purpose of providing a broad swath of perspectives to the Church-at-large on the significance and work of the Assembly."
Along with His Grace Bishop Thomas, the other bishops featured in this first set of MP3 interviews are: Bishop Daniel, Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Bishop Maxim, Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church of North America, Archbishop Nicolae, Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas, and Bishop Ilia, Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Please join us at the Antiochian Village from September 23-25, 2011 for the Patronal Feast of St. Thekla Convent. This is the 33rd Annual Pilgrimage at the Village and the 3rd since the founding of the monastery.
As Orthodox Christians, our lives are a type of pilgrimage, so why set time aside to attend the St. Thekla Pilgrimage? The key is in "setting aside." We invite you "to set aside all earthly cares" and to join us in refocusing and refreshing ourselves in our Orthodox life. Like St. Thekla, Protomartyr and Equal to the Apostles, together we will pray at the Divine Liturgy and services, obtain guidance and direction from the Gospels for our lives at home, and enjoy fellowship with other pilgrims.
Through the intercession of Saint Thekla, may this Pilgrimage be blessed!
Speakers and Workshops
The speakers for the weekend are His Grace, Bishop Thomas, who is our guest Hierarch and Mother Alexandra, who will offer a talk on prayer.
There will be four workshop sessions offered concurrently:
Orthodox Family Life
This session will discuss the daily Pilgrimage of Orthodox life in our homes, how faith directs us and how the love of God binds us.
On Friday, June 24, 2011, on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Bishop Thomas, the bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic, made an episcopal visit to the faithful at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Lewistown, Maryland. St. John the Baptist Mission is the only Western Rite church in Maryland, and is one of only four Antiochian Orthodox churches in the United States that has taken the Forerunner of Christ for their name and patron saint. Bishop Thomas’ visitation coincided with the mission’s celebration of their annual patronal feast.
The celebration began with evening Vespers, followed by the tonsuring of Reader Jude (Marty) Hobbs by Bishop Thomas. The fact that Marty keeps a shaved head gave occasion for a bit of levity as Bishop Thomas took up the scissors, looked at Marty’s head, and proclaimed, “We’ll see what we can do here!” A bit of Marty’s goatee was sufficient for the ritual tonsuring, and with the prayers of consecration said by His Grace, the newly tonsured Reader Jude chanted his first epistle reading from Philippians 2 before Bishop Thomas and the people of St. John the Baptist.
Now that summer is in full swing, His Grace Bishop Thomas reminds all families that camp season is here! Urges His Grace, "Visitors to Antiochian.org should be linking onto the Camp website in order to see the children of their Diocese enjoying the Antiochian Village Camp."
Go here for regular Camp updates and new photos.
Message from Donna Starke, Creative Festivals Coordinator:
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As the coordinator of the Eastern Diocese, I would like to thank you, your Church School Coordinator and your young parishioners for participating in the Festivals. As you know this year’s theme is “Be mindful O Lord of the Priesthood, the Deaconate and every Priestly rank.” I am sure you will be pleased to see some of the artwork they have done and read some poems and essays showing how much of an impact you have on them! Attached you will find the list of winners for the 2011 Creative Festivals.
All students who participated will receive a ribbon, and winners in grades 1 through 12 will receive an icon in July at the Parish Life Conference from His Grace, Bishop Thomas. Please encourage winners from your parish to attend the awards ceremony. It is a lovely way for them to have their talents and efforts recognized.
At this time I ask that you make arrangements with someone in your parish to arrange to pick up all creative festival entries and prizes from the hotel at the close of the awards ceremony on Saturday, July 2.
If you have any questions, please contact me by email at or on my home phone.
Thank you again for your ongoing support.
Creative Festivals Coordinator
Donna_starke@comcast.net or (609)426-0429
With great joy the congregation of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Beckley, West Virginia 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 Fourth Sunday of Pascha, May 13–15, 2011.
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, including the installation of a beautiful Christ Pantocrator icon written by iconographer Matthew Garrett, new carpeting for the church, and continued growth of the congregation. Parish council members also discussed the ongoing work of various parish organizations, including the Women of the Holy Myrrh Bearers. The women’s group operates a soup kitchen called Carpenter’s Corner on the first Monday of each month, offers financial support to the local crisis pregnancy center, helps gather food for a nearby food pantry, and undertakes many other charitable endeavors, seeking whenever possible to provide assistance to those in need. In addition, the Myrrh Bearers contribute substantially to the Parish Building Fund and support all these efforts through organizing and leading the parish’s annual baklava baking project.
by the Right Reverend Bishop Thomas (Joseph), Ed.D.
If we were to survey the Orthodox Christian private grammar schools that currently exist in our country, we would discover that they exist for one of two reasons. The first, and probably the more common, is that parents want a place for their children that is safe from the evil influences found in the secular schools that will also give to them an adequate academic education. Such schools do not particularly exist as Orthodox schools for the sake of Orthodoxy, but rather as safe havens, sheltering students reassuringly under the preferred religious branding.
By contrast, the other kind of Orthodox Christian school that exists in our country is dedicated to immersion in the Kingdom of God. Their purpose is not to provide a shelter from the world that happens to give a decent education, but rather it is to use education sacramentally to unite students mystically with Jesus Christ. Indeed, far from providing a shelter, we may think of such places as a barracks or as a training camp, raising up soldiers for Christ’s mystical army. Such schools have one purpose: the salvation of students and of the world. For them, education can become a mystery of the Church.
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in no wise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
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!
We are again drawn to contemplate and stand in awe at the holy Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the God-man and our Savior. This year, I pray that we will not mark Pascha as a mere remembrance on the calendar, a happy annual festival that is anticipated and enjoyed but whose power does not provoke us to a radical change in ourselves, a challenge toward holiness and perfection in the Holy Trinity. Indeed, I think many times we enjoy these delightful feasts but have so “institutionalized” them within ourselves that we do not actually let them touch us.
Fundamentally, Christ’s Resurrection is a cataclysmic event. It marks not merely the beginning of a religious movement, but truly the utter reversal of history, the moment that death itself was turned back, when the ultimate catastrophe befell the powers of darkness and bright hope came again into the world. When the God-man died, as St. Basil tells us, “the Author of life could not be held by corruption.” And so He rose again! And so we can be saved from death and from all corruption.
May we ourselves be not simply emotionally moved or cheered by this Gospel; may we never be the same! If even time and history could not stand to remain as they were, how can we ever be content with a mere recollection of past events? Let us once again shout out in victory to the Conqueror of death, casting aside all of our earthly entanglements and entering with Him into that glory that will never fade.
Yours in Christ,