With the blessing of Sayedna THOMAS, Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic, several deacons of the diocese met in retreat August 7-9, 2009 at Saint Ellien’s Church  in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. The Rev. Dn. Glenn and Peggy McIntyre and the parish graciously hosted the bishop and the deacons. The retreat began with Little Compline Friday evening. On Saturday, the deacons prayed the services of Matins and the Sixth Hour with Sayedna and, in the evening on that day, Fr. Fred Pfeil of St. Michael’s in Monnesen joined the retreat to serve the Vespers.
Interspersed between these services, the deacons and Bishop met for two discussion sessions, one led by His Grace and another led by Dn. Gregory Roeber. Both sessions were in keeping with the theme of the retreat “The Bishop’s Hands,” and emphasized that the deacon is the agent of the bishop who extends the service of the bishop to the parish to which he has been assigned. Deacon Gregory’s paper reviewed both the theological and historical basis of the diaconate in relationship to the bishop and the priests.
During these sessions, the deacons themselves raised many practical questions of how the diaconate should function in all parishes and what the Bishop expects of this ministry. Because of many historical circumstances, both ancient and more recent, Dn. Gregory’s paper documented the fact that most Orthodox Christians in America are not used to having deacons as permanent members of the clergy in their parishes. The deacons responded in discussion that they themselves were responsible for taking some initiative in living out this ministry in partnership with the parish priest and the Faithful. All the retreat participants were urged by Sayedna to help the Faithful to understand not only how deacons serve, but how bishops and priests serve as well, in order that the entire Church might be a servant Church. Sayedna reflected at length upon his own years as a deacon and reminded his deacons that until quite recently, most Orthodox had forgotten the ancient expectation that the deacon should not only serve at the altar, but that serving at the Eucharist naturally flows outward into the parish – the deacon should collaborate with the priest, as a genuine “con-celebrant,” in caring for the needs of the parish, the Faithful and those of potential converts and catechumens. In this regard, Bishop Thomas emphasized that the deacon should be involved in visiting the sick, taking the Eucharist to those unable to come to Divine Services, and assisting the priest in identifying the sick, the poor, and those in distress. Following Great Vespers on Saturday evening, Sayedna THOMAS and the deacons enjoyed fellowship during an evening dinner at a local restaurant.
On Sunday morning, Bishop Thomas and the deacons celebrated a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with the Faithful of St. Ellien’s and other Pittsburgh area communities, including a Byzantine choir from the Cathedral of Saint George, Oakland led by Dr. Stephen Esper. Following Divine Liturgy, the beloved of St. Ellien’s hosted a splendid Dormition Fast luncheon in the parish hall. During the luncheon, Mr. Paul Finley, Director of the Antiochian Village Heritage and Learning Center, spoke about the upcoming Saint Thekla’s Pilgrimage and reminded everyone of how the Village and the Pilgrimage provides all Orthodox Christians with the very important opportunity to retreat and withdraw for prayer and spiritual strengthening, so that we can return to the “outside world” rested and ready for our common service and ministry in the Lord. Sayedna and the deacons are hoping to make this retreat a yearly event, and plans are already being laid for a meeting in October, 2010 at another parish location in the diocese.