With all eyes and hearts focused on Jesus Christ, a pan-Orthodox gathering of clergy and their parish councils came together for a common meal in Oklahoma City, OK. With this being the third annual gathering on February 13, 2011, a solid tradition is being established for Orthodox unity in central Oklahoma.
St. Elijah (Antiochian), St. George (Greek) St. Mary’s (Ukrainian) and Holy Ascension (Antiochian) all had a chance to share what the Lord is doing in their midst. Mr. and Mrs. Kory Warr were our hosts and The Very Rev. Constantine Nasr was our emcee. Father Jeremy Davis, of St. Elijah, shared about a successful seminar that will be implemented annually at St. Elijah called, “Sex as God Intends.” That is a two-day seminar for middle-school and high-school students with presentations made by the clergy, medical personnel and laity. By sharing this, it helped to spark the interest in duplicating that ministry for the other Orthodox congregations. Fr. Jeremy also gave a good report about the Mother’s Day Out pre-school program at St. Elijah’s, which is in its third year. “It is amazing,” he said, “how the children are showing their ability to learn about God, the Saints, and to sing some simple songs of worship.” Fr. John Tsaras, and the people of St. George, had just completed their responsibility for hosting about 1,000 participants from 14 states in their annual GOYO basketball tournament. Fr. Justin McFeeters was able to share the joy of how the people of Holy Ascension are excited to bring new people to the Lord. Their big news, since our last time of fellowship, is the opening of their new temple of worship last fall. Fr. Raphael Moore said that even with the difficulties of an aging congregation in a rural setting, St. Mary’s is able to have a positive movement towards growth. Craig Abraham, represented the newly elected Chairman of the IOCC, Mickey Homsey, (St. Elijah-OKC) who was out of town and reported that the IOCC will have a fund-raising banquet in Oklahoma City on May 2, 2011. Unfortunately, Fr. Antony Nelson of St. Benedict’s (ROCOR) could not be with us for the event.
Following these local reports, all sixty-five of the participants then heard two very powerful exhortations to continue “being” the Church by remembering Jesus’ words, “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40) Kory Warr, Chairman of the Board of the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry , shared a very stirring example of how the Orthodox Prison Ministry has affected the lives of family members of the incarcerated. Indeed, the problem of crime is an overwhelming one, but if we focus on changing one life at a time, there will continue to be “a ripple effect” of our investment into the lives of those afflicted by crime. Kory enlightened all to the fact that “prison ministry” is not necessarily done in the prisons. There are many opportunities for the Church to assist the family members of those in (and out of) prison by teaching them practical life skills, as well as incorporating them into the worship life of the Church.
Highlighting the time of fellowship between the parish council members and clergy was the presentation on the pan-Orthodox ministry of FOCUS North America . FOCUS is the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve. This ministry was birthed in January 2009, so conveying the knowledge of who they are and what they do was the primary purpose of their presence. Mr. Charles Ajalat, Chairman of the Board for FOCUS, and the Rev. Fr. Justin Matthews, Executive Director of FOCUS, both spoke with great conviction as they shared the vision of this ministry to the poor. Orthodox believers in several cities across the United States have already caught this vision of what can be done by working together. With the help of FOCUS North America, they are establishing their own locally-funded FOCUS centers to channel the resources of the Orthodox Church into existing ministries and to help create new ones.
FOCUS has begun to cast this vision of ministering to “the least of these, my brethren” by engaging youth through weekend events that are called “Y.E.S.” or Youth Equipped to Serve . In fact, a local teen, Brianna Harroz, who participated in the YES event in Kansas City, came to this meeting specifically to tell how her life was transformed by her involvement. Erin Learned, Youth Director at St. Elijah's, announced that YES will be doing a weekend here in Oklahoma City, April 8-10.
Fr. Justin Matthews reminded us all, from St. John Chrysostom, that “the rich exist for the sake of the poor, and the poor exist for the salvation of the rich.” Mr. Charles Ajalat reminded us that as Christ left the glories of heaven to come and restore us to Himself, we are to leave the glories of the Divine Liturgy each Sunday to go into the world and be as Christ to the poor, the hungry, the sick and those in prison.
When Orthodox parish councils AND their clergy start getting together on a regular basis, things WILL happen.
V. Rev. Constantine Nasr, Coordinator