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.