From February 12-15, 2013, Wichita, Kansas was the site of the annual St. Raphael Clergy Brotherhood Retreat of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, attended by 67 clergymen. Over the course of four days, a series of lectures was read on the topic “Feasting and Fasting in the Orthodox Church,” by Nun Vassa (Larin) of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who traveled to Kansas from Vienna, Austria, at the invitation of the Bishop of the Diocese, His Grace Bishop Basil (Essey). Sister Vassa, PhD, is a monastic of the Diocese of Berlin and Germany (ROCOR) and a lecturer in the Department of Liturgical Studies at the University of Vienna.
All the clergymen of the widespread diocese gather in Wichita before Great Lent every year for a pastoral retreat under the auspices of Bishop Basil. The program includes four daily divine services (abridged Matins before breakfast, an Akathist before lunch, the Ninth Hour and Vespers before dinner, and Little Compline before bed), and also a series of theological lectures read by an invited speaker. In recent years, invitees have included His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), reading on the topic of the individual and the Jesus Prayer in 2002; His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev), who spoke about St. Isaac of Syria in 2004; Priest Andrew Louth on St. John of Damascus in 2003. Every lecture is followed by a lively discussion on pastoral challenges and questions surrounding the life of Orthodox parishes in the U.S. This year liturgical matters touched upon by the speaker drew lively discussion, including the “Western Rite” (those Orthodox clergy and parishes which celebrate the Liturgy and other services according to the Latin tradition. Such communities are part of the Antiochian Archdiocese and ROCOR.
Bishop Basil, universally loved by his clergymen for his paternal care to their needs, as well as for his hierarchical humility and unassuming manner, attended all the services, lectures and discussions. Priests say that “Sayyidna, [which in Arabic means “our Vladyka”] is not a prince of the Church, but a father of the Church.” The four days of the clergy retreat passed prayerfully, informally, like a gathering of a large family.
The final morning, Friday, February 15, all the participants partook of the Holy Gifts during Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of St George and served the Trisagion Prayers of Mercy for all of the departed clergy and clergy wives who have served the parishes of Diocese. Afterwards, the cathedral sisterhood organized a Lenten trapeza at which the children from the Christ the Savior Academy (an Orthodox Classical School which is located at the facilities of the cathedral) presented a program for the clergy. This Academy, recently established with the support of all three Antiochian parishes in Wichita, offers five days of study a week, from 8 am to 3 pm, as do most American schools. In addition to the usual scholastic studies, Greek and Latin languages and the Law of God are taught.
A Brotherhood meeting was held afterwards where the clergymen discussed missionary and charitable work. Some clergymen reported on their work with convicts in maximum-security federal and state prisons in the Mid-American Diocese of the AOC. In the recent past, the diocese not only had cases of prisoners converting to Orthodoxy, but later being tonsured to monasticism. One priest reported on another project, “Sheltering Tree,” which works on building and outfitting homes for people with developmental disabilities. Parishioners Gayle Malone and Joan Farha, who are sisters, reported on preparations for the annual children’s camp of the Dicoese of Wichita and Mid-America and the annual Parish Life Conference.
After lunch several participants of the clergy conference visited the center of another philanthropic endeavor, The Treehouse , located several miles away from the cathedral, in a poor neighborhood of Wichita. The Treehouse, established by the Orthodox community of Wichita, is a center for the aid and support of poor and underage mothers, with the goal of lowering the number of abortions in Wichita. New mothers are able to receive everything needed for newborns, including clothing, diapers, food, blankets, lotions, toys, etc., and also courses in English and Spanish on care for small children and other topics. Professional teachers are invited to participate. Orthodox parishioners take regular shifts at “The Treehouse,” caring for the constant stream of needy mothers who come to the center (in 2012, 400 young mothers were helped), and also generously contribute resources and things to support the center. This Orthodox center sometimes coordinates with similar Catholic organizations which sometimes send needy mothers. Thanks to this center, and others like it, the number of abortions in Wichita has drastically fallen.
After the visit to “The Treehouse,” those from other cities visited one of the largest bookstores of Wichita, Eighth Day Books , owned by Mr. Warren Farha, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. George. As many people in Wichita know, many customers of the three-story bookstore often visit the cathedral and end up converting to Orthodoxy. Among other literature at the book store is a great deal of Orthodox literature.
After the pre-Lenten clergy retreat, the participants as always, bid farewell to their archpastor and each other with some sadness. The very large Mid-American Diocese holds great distances between remote parishes, and many will only see their brother clerics again next year.
From the ROCOR website .