August 20-23, 2008
By Paul Abernathy
For many Orthodox seminarians, preparing for another year of seminary is a time of great joy and nervousness. We look forward to concentrating intensely on Christ, yet recognize the spiritual struggle this growth entails. For seminarians of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, the time immediately preceding seminary is also a time we spend together in fellowship and learning.
With the blessing of our father, Metropolitan PHILIP, who has shown himself to care for his seminarians as his own sons, all Antiochian seminarians gathered together for a three day retreat at the Antiochian Village. The theme this year, missions, reminded us that Christ commanded us to go out and make disciples of “all nations.” We received words of wisdom and experience from His Grace Bishop THOMAS, our facilitators, Fr. John Abdalah and Fr. Fred Pfeil, and other session leaders, Fr. Ted Pulcini and Fr. Jason DelVitto.
Our retreat began Wednesday night with Vespers and a welcoming, reassuring message from His Grace Bishop THOMAS. That night, Fr. John and Fr. Fred facilitated an introduction period that provided each of us with the opportunity to see the remarkable men that God has called and the extraordinary circumstances that led each of them there. As each seminarian introduced himself, it was astounding to hear the incredible life experiences that led each one to Christ. Perhaps even more astonishing was the witness many gave of the cross they bore for Christ’s sake, only to receive the tremendous blessings that came along with it. That night, the work of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Orthodox Church here in this land could be clearly seen.
The following morning we began the day with Matins, after which Fr. Ted Pulcini shared his experiences with mission work. Although Fr. Ted is a man of great intelligence, holding degrees from Harvard University and the University of Pittsburgh, while also teaching at Dickinson University, the most striking aspect of his presentation was the love one could easily see he had for his flock. Sharing some lessons he had learned throughout his experience in missions made many of us recognize how a good priest must sacrifice for the people to whom he ministers. Although such sacrifice may not seem easy, with much faith and prayer all things are possible.
Fr. Jason Delvitto addressed us the following day, sharing his experience as a priest for thirty years. From Fr. Jason’s presentation, one could again easily see the presence of love in his ministry. Among the lessons he shared with us was that we must always know where the people to whom we are ministering are, not bringing them to Christ but rather bringing Christ to them. The lessons that both he and Fr. Ted offered were taken to heart as each seminarian present prayed that he would one day share in ministries like these priests, who so deeply reflect the grace of God.
One of the highlights of the retreat was the time we spent with Bishop THOMAS. By the end of each meal, Bishop THOMAS, a man filled with the love of Christ, found himself surrounded by seminarians who were inevitably drawn to his fatherly presence. These moments were filled with great joy and laughter as Bishop THOMAS again reassured us while offering anecdotes that communicated important lessons about Orthodox Life.
Fellowship was a central part of our retreat. Spending time with one another, we found that we were truly among brothers in the deepest sense of the word. Not united by blood or even political ideas, we found that our bond was in Christ, the deepest bond on earth. With that knowledge, we celebrated our time with one another, thankful that God had brought all of us together.
As we celebrated the Leave-taking of the Dormition of the Theotokos on the final morning of the retreat, we thanked God for our experience, which culminated in receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Following the Hierarchical Liturgy, we offered emotional good byes to each other as we all prepared to go to our respective seminaries. It was at this moment that we paused and took note of the love shown to us by Metropolitan PHILIP and thanked God for blessing us with His Eminence’s profound leadership. It was at this moment that we took measure of Bishop THOMAS and the way in which His Grace looked over us while we were there. We thanked God for blessing us with such a warm, loving, and fatherly presider. It was at this moment that we took note of the profound lessons bestowed upon us by Fr. John, Fr. Fred, Fr. Ted, and Fr. Jason, and thanked God for blessing our Archdiocese with such amazingly loving priests. It was at this moment that we gave thanks for one another and the calling we had each received.
May the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, be with us as we continue our journey toward a life of ministry in His Holy Church.