Brotherhood of St. Joseph of Damascus Clergy Retreat 2009 Report
With the Pennsylvania forests’ magnificent change of colors well under way, proclaiming the glory of creation, the clergy of the Diocese of New York and Washington DC, and the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid Atlantic gathered at the Village in late September with Bishop THOMAS for their fifth annual clergy retreat. In attendance with Sayedna were twenty-seven priests and deacons of the Brotherhood, and Mother Alexandra, abbess of St. Thekla Convent and her guest Mother Mariamne.
The retreat was led by one of the Brotherhood’s own – Archimandrite John Abdalah, pastor of St. George Cathedral, Pittsburgh. Bishop Thomas asked Fr. John to discuss the theme “Being a Priest with a Positive Attitude.” During the retreat sessions, Fr. John challenged the Brotherhood to consider three questions about their ministries. The first was what metaphor best reflects their ministry. The second was to ask what person had a significant influence on their ministry. And last was what do we want to be remembered for. As we discovered through the individual and collective answers to these questions, the images of how we see our ministries - now and in the future - profoundly affect the attitudes we portray to others through our day-to-day work in our parishes.
The metaphors used to reflect our current ministries varied greatly – from the ministry as an image of Jonah to an image of a captain of a ship. Other images that many found useful included that of sandpaper and of a junior officer. Sandpaper from the perspective of ministry as a means to wear down the rough edges, in both the priest and his parishioners. The metaphor of the junior officer also rung true for many as the parish priest must not only lead his parish, but must also be willing to follow his bishop. All agreed that that successful, positive parish work must not be seen not as the work of the clergy, but the work of God. Indeed, all agreed that Christ’s ministry is a work to achieve heavenly things that are much greater than ourselves.
As might be expected, our clergy have been mentored by a wide variety of people - from parents to seminarian professors to other priests. There was even a surprise or two when secular figures were mentioned. Those examples remind us that everyone has the potential of reflecting God’s love and purpose, for all have the image and likeness of God imprinted within them. What the Brotherhood wants to be remembered for can be summarized by imagery of service and faithfulness to God. From a proper perspective of service and faithfulness, we all can approach our work joyfully. And from a spirit of service and a desire to be faithful, we can find peace in letting God be God… then we are able to appreciate the rare gift of entering into the lives of others… and of seeing the need in our own lives to pray and draw near to Christ.
The final gift of spiritual nourishment, the one that most equipped the Brotherhood to return to our home parishes renewed, was most appropriately, sharing in the Eucharistic feast with Bishop THOMAS during divine liturgies celebrated during the retreat. The retreat also included quiet time for reflection, as well as an open dialogue with Bishop THOMAS. Sayedna encouraged the clergy to continue their good work in ministering to all whom God has entrusted to them. Sayedna instructed the Brotherhood to “turn everything over to God and to turn everything over to each other.” He asked that we might also pray for one another.
As we departed, Bishop THOMAS challenged the Brotherhood to emulate the example of both the Brotherhood’s patron saint – St. Joseph of Damascus and St. Thekla - the patron saint of our new convent at the Village. We were reminded of St. Joseph’s insistent dedication to the Orthodox faithful, and as well as to the sacramental life of the Church. And St. Thekla provides us an example of faithfulness during times of persecution and torture. Because of her many sufferings for the faith and the many conversions resulting from her ministry, the Church counts her as a “Protomartyr” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles.” Indeed, what better examples do we have of God’s ministers that maintained a loving attitude to others, even during unthinkable persecutions. May we, O Christ, exhibit the same faithfulness and love to others as did Saints Joseph and Thekla.