Saturday, December 26, 2009

The forgotten saint of the forgotten church on the forgotten island

This picture of The Right Reverend, Most Venerable Archimandrite, Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides is the only one I am aware of. He was the first Orthodox Priest in Texas. The picture did hang with Honor in the Church Congregation Hall of Saints Constantine and Helen Church in Galveston, Texas. It has been saved from “Hurricane IKE’s Destruction” (September 12, 2008), and will hang there again when the new hall is constructed soon. I live in Galveston, and I have been a part of the Church congregation since Baptism. My Mother was baptized by Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and was very proud to tell people of that fact until her death in 2001. I have studied everything I can find on this wonderful Priest over the years, including his Last Will, the Galveston Daily News archives, Immigration Records, the Rosenberg Public Library of Galveston, the Church records (Slavonic, long-hand written in Cyrillic), the Internet and greatly on the local “folklore” stories told of him.


“Guided by Saints”, “Priest of Three Kings”

and the History of Saints Constantine and Helen Church Galveston, Texas

Work in Progress by Layman,Milivoy Jovan Milosevich
Aka: MIMOSerbian Christmas….January 7, 2010

His father was an Athenian Greek. When the first outbreaks of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire started on the Peloponnese Peninsula, his father, a fisherman crossed onto the peninsula to join the forces of famed Greek General Theodoros Kolokotronis, also an Athenian. Eight years later, when Independence was achieved (with great help from the Allied Russian, English and French Forces); he settled in Egio (one of the oldest cities in the Balkans), Peloponnese Peninsula, Greece
Born in November of 1833, young Theodoros was named for the famed Greek General. They called him “Theos” and he celebrated his Name Day each September 22nd (Julian Calendar in the 1800’s), on the Feast Day of St. HieroTHEOS, the Student of Saint Paul, the Apostle, who in 53 A.D. became the First Bishop of Athens. Theodorus grew up fishing with his father, and spending time around the port; while his mother (a native of the Peloponnese Peninsula) pushed him to the Church. The era after Greek Independence was wrought with economic problems and the Armenians and Bulgarians had replaced the Ottomans as bankers and merchants, allowing our young Theos to become ever more acquainted with other cultures. Two-thirds of the population had vanished and the land was devastated.
His early schooling was in the Church of Panagia Trypiti that is built inside a cavity of the cliff just 150 stair steps above the Port of Egio and he helped the Priests with all their duties, occasionally traveling into the local mountains to visit Agia Lavras Monastery, about 20 miles south and up in the mountains. Greek Independence had started there with Bishop Germanos Declaring Independence with his blessing of the troops. Later the Ottomans burned the Monastery, but it was reconstructed with help from the Russian Orthodox Church. Many of the Icons there were gifts from the Russian Monastery Panteleimon on Holy Mt Athos and the Be-jeweled Gospel in the Monastery was printed, signed and given by Catherine the Great of Russia. History and multi-ethnic cultures literally surrounded him. As a young adult, he was Tonsured a Monk and was given the name Theoclitos. He soon traveled to Mt Athos where he was accepted as a resident of the Panteleimon Monastery, where he became fluent in Slavonic and studied Russian language and customs; and made regular visits to the Serbian Monastery Hilandar learning the Serbian language and customs. He had become fascinated with languages.
He was invited to complete a formal education and become a teacher at the Slavic Greek Latin Academy and Theological Seminary at Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Monastery, better known today as the Moscow Theological Academy, just outside Moscow, Russia. After under-graduate, a Graduate Degrees in Theology and a few years of teaching; he was called upon by the new Danish born King of Greece, George I, to tutor his son Prince George. Later, the King’s brother-in-law, Tzar Alexander III of Russia called upon him to tutor the Royal Family’s 6 children specifically in other Orthodox cultures including the Greek language. So, he became a Greek cultural teacher to the future Tzar Nicholas II of Russia, who was Canonized a Martyr Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991.
It is also said, Fr. Theoclitos was one of the 30 or so clergyman serving at the wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna, who was Canonized a Martyr Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000.
The Parishioners of Galveston would later call him …“The Priest of Three Kings”
It is known that with the outset of the American Civil War, a group of multi-ethnic Orthodox Christians were having regular prayer meetings in Galveston, as early as 1861, and they called themselves “the Parish of S.S. Constantine and Helen”. Galveston is a seaport, and its citizens were accustomed to our Eastern European and Mediterranean People. Our Eastern Orthodox Christians were always around the port. There were those that came, returned home and came back again. The first known Serbian in America lived in Galveston for a long time; his name was Djordje Sagic (aka: Djordje Ribar and/or George Fisher). He came to Texas in the late 1820’s after “jumping ship” (because of indentured servitude) in Philadelphia, and became the first Port Director of the Port of Galveston under the Mexican Government. He then became a Major in the Texas Revolutionary Army under General Sam Houston. He served in public office as City Councilman in Houston, Texas and Justice of the Peace in Harris County after the Texas Revolution. Sagic had studied for the Priesthood in Karlovci Serbia, but left the seminary to join the last efforts of the first Serbian uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1813, lead by Serbian leader, Karageorge Petrovitch. He left the area in 1850 to ultimately retire in San Francisco, California as a Justice of the Peace and retained the status of the Official Greek Government Consul there until his death, in 1873. He knew 13 languages.

The First known Greek in Galveston participated in the Parish Church group. He called himself only by the name of Captain Nicholas. Captain Nicholas joined the notorious Privateer Jean Lafitte in New Orleans, when Lafitte sailed for Galveston, as Capitan of Lafitte’s prize schooner the Mirabella. Captain Nicholas sailed away from Galveston with Lafitte after burning everything they left behind. Captain Nicholas returned to Galveston after Lafitte’s death, becoming a farmer on west Galveston Island and recounting old pirate stories at the waterfront. He lived more than 100 years and is believed to have died in the Hurricane of 1900. Some have said that with Lafitte came the first of many nationalities to Galveston, but I am unable to corroborate any other Orthodox Christians. During the late 1880’s and early 1890’s these Orthodox Christian Serbian, Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, and Arab (Lebanese) immigrants to Galveston had organized and started gathering moneies for a church. Aside from the religious group, they each started several individual nationalistic groups. Each had separately written many petitions to their former Bishops back home for a Parish Priest and had received only denials; justified by the facts of distance and costs, but these denials were in some cases including the suggestion that they petition the Russian Orthodox Mission Diocese in North America. So the culture in Galveston was ripe for the addition of an Eastern European & Mediterranean Priest of Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ stature.

Nicholas II became Tzar of Russia on November 26, 1894. The Romanov Royal Family had created and supported the Russian Orthodox Mission into North America through Alaska since 1784.


So, the Slavs, headed by Risto Vukovich; and the Greeks headed by Athurs Menutis gathered and decided to petition the Russian Mission Diocese. They sent three telegrams written in Cyrillic and signed by Vukovich, Christo Chuk, and Milosh Porobich which explained the diversity of the parishioners to; (1) the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, (2) Tzar Nicholas II personally, and (3) His Grace Bishop Nicholas in Sitka, Alaska. A short time later the parish board received a telegram personally from Tzar Nicholas II, stating his acceptance of their plea. The Tzar had a large Gospel Printed, all the Vestments and Liturgical necessities including a signed Antimins, and all the Icons for an Iconostas painted and assembled including the icon to be used for the name day of the future Church (His own Namesake, Saint Nicholas); and he chose his teacher Fr. Theoclitos to go to Galveston, telling him “Let there be an Orthodox Church in Galveston”.
By this time, Fr. Theoclitos was 61 years of age, was a well traveled man and spoke more than a dozen languages; Greek, Russian, Serbian, Slavonic, Latin, Bulgarian, Arabic, Hebrew, Danish; and some Spanish, English, French, German, and Romanian. The Ambassador of Russia to the United States acquired U. S Citizenship for him even before he left Russia. Prior to leaving Russia, Fr. Theoclitos was given the heavy cross he always wore by Tzar Nicholas II and he was elevated to the rank of Right Reverend Archimandrite, because he would soon be the Priestly leader of a flock of Christians so far away with little known chance of a visiting Bishop anytime soon. His journey to the far off land of Galveston, Texas began with six companions. With him were; the Very Reverend Archimandirte Rafael Hawaweeny (Glorified a Saint in March of 2000 by the Orthodox Church in America) and his three Deacons Constantine Abu-Adal, Istvan Moldowanyi and John Shamie (later Shame was a Priest in Galveston); and Archimandrite Fr. Theoclitos’ two Russian Deacons, Theodore Pashkowsky and Joakim Zubkowsky, and his Romanian Deacon Pavel Grepashewsky; and Fr. Peter I. Popoff. First leg of the trip was by train to Berlin, serving liturgy there at the Russia Embassy Church; then on to the Port of Bremen. Next leg was by passenger ship to Southampton for a change of ships, then on to New York aboard the passenger ship, S.S Havel out of South Hampton, as a United States Citizen. Only 82 passengers sailed that day. Although a group of Priests were at the port of New York to greet them on the Morning of November 14, 1895, they were required by customs to spend one night in Quarantine. The Next Morning, they were joined in New York by Bishop Nicholas Ziorov of the Russian Orthodox Mission in America to consecrate the First Arab-Syrian Orthodox Church in America under the Russian Mission’s jurisdiction, and to install Archimandrite Rafael as Pastor, with his three deacons. A few days later, Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, his three Deacons; and Fr. Popoff traveled with Bishop Nicholas by train to Washington D.C., then to western Pennsylvania, where Fr. Popoff was to serve and then on to Kansas City. At this point, it was decided that only the Romanian Deacon Grepashewsky would travel to Galveston with Arch. Fr. Theoclitos; and Bishop Nicholas and the other two Deacons would go on to San Francisco. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos stopped in Hartshorne, American Indian Territory, Oklahoma to have Liturgy for a group of Russian Miners, just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma before reaching Galveston.

The distances from Galveston to either San Francisco or New York are about 1600 miles. Although his rightful rank was high, which gave him the right to consecrate his own chapel including the right to wear a Mitre (Crown, but with a flat, not standing Cross on top) and carry a Pastoral Staff (Bishop’s Staff); he lived his life in Galveston as a meager Monk, teacher, and Pastoral Priest. The Church Congregation never paid Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, because he received his pay directly from the Tzar (1500 rubels a month and 500 rubels as expenses; about $120 total, at that time) until Arch. Fr. Theoclitos passed away in 1916, a year and a half before Tzar Nicholas II and his Family were murdered.
The Trustees of The Existing Congregation Board (Chris Vucovich, Chris Chuoke, Athurs Menutis and Mitchael Mihaloudski) formally received their State Corporation Papers on January 13, 1895 and subsequently purchased a 43’ wide x 120’ deep property that is at 4107 Avenue L, Galveston, Texas on December 15, 1895. They started to build a rectangular wood frame Orthodox styled Church, and when Arch. Fr. Theoclitos arrived, in January of 1896, he directed the finishing of the Church. The congregation was astonished to be blessed with an Archimandrite and a Deacon, not just a Priest, and best of all he was somewhat of a linguist.

In Galveston, all properties faced either North-west or South-east, so they had chosen property that leaves our Church unusually facing South-east. And, although the Icon of Saint Nicholas was placed in the Iconostas to Honor Tzar Nicholas II as the Patron of the Church; it was Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ decision to use the name S. S. Constantine and Helen Church, because the congregation that started on its own should be remembered. Bishop Nicholas was invited and he accepted; and the Consecration of our church occurred on June 3rd 1896, the feast day of Sts Constantine and Helen. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ decision on the name of the Church, was not unusual with him. He was known to have baptized children with names other than their parents had asked for. My mother’s name was to be Ruza, Serbian for Rose, but he baptized her as Sophia which her parents accepted without question, and gave my mother and others an unusual lifelong connection to their Archimandrite. But then, his guidance and decisions were always accepted by his congregation. There have never been any questions of his guidance that were ever passed down through the years even though we Eastern Europeans have always loved a good argument. He had services in the Slavonic, Greek and Arabic languages. It was as though his congregation was standing with a Saint.

In 1897, Arch. Fr. Theoclitos purchased a 36 plot track in the Lake View Cemetery as a gift to his Congregation. He buried his flock in the next consecutive plot, without regard to couples or children or any Relationship, because he saw them as one congregational family.

In early 1897, Bishop Nicholas replaced Deacon Grepashewsky with a young Russian Monk, Fr. Mikhail Kurdinovski to allow Arch. Fr. Theoclitos time to travel and invited Arch. Fr. Theoclitos to San Francisco to speak in the Greek language on the mounting losses of the Cretan insurgents in their revolution against Ottoman rule. Bishop Nicholas had to be acutely aware that his Archimandrite was the highest ranking Greek born Clergyman in America. While in route, we know that he also served Liturgy again in Oklahoma; and in Denver, Colorado. After his sermon in San Francisco he was asked to traveled with Fr. (later, Archimandrite) Sebastian Dabovich (currently being considered for Canonization as a Saint), to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, where they served Liturgy in Slavonic, Greek and Arabic in both cities. He again traveled to San Francisco in 1898, to participate in the installation of Bishop Tikon Belavin, as the new Bishop, replacing Bishop Nicholas of the Aleutians and Alaska (Diocesan name was changed in 1900 to Diocese of the Aleutians and North America). Although little is known about it, Bishop Tikon visited our parish in 1899, for the first of two visits.

It’s known that Arch. Fr. Theoclitos traveled extensively on the Gulf Coast going as far east as Mobile, Alabama, as far south as Corpus Christi, Texas, and into the interior north to Ft. Worth, San Antonio, San Angelo and Austin Texas, performing Marriages and Baptisms and serving Liturgy where ever he found our Orthodox Christians. In 1897, The Wiemar, Texas newspaper had an article about him; where he borrowed the local Catholic Church in LaGrange, Texas to perform the wedding of a Greek Couple. The writer (obviously Protestant) posted the short article that follows.

Weimar Mercury, 29 Jan 1898
LaGrange, Tex., Jan. 25, --Married today, Mr, Abraham John to Miss Zeche Nemer, both Greek, at the Catholic Church by Rev. Theoclitos (Archimandrite of the Orthodox Church), Galveston, Tex. A very large crowd attended the ceremonies, which were “somewhat of a novelty”, no such ceremonies having ever been performed here.

Our Church Board additionally purchased a like adjoining property west of the Church doubling the size of the property in early 1900. But, in his 66th year, on September 8th 1900, Galveston Island was hit by the greatest natural disaster in United States history when the massive Hurricane of 1900 came ashore. The Island was almost totally destroyed (est. of 8,000 to 12,000 deaths of a population of 30,000, which included 24 members of the congregation. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and Fr. Mikhail spent 30 hrs in the church praying and giving refuge to parishioners and neighbors that sought safety in the church. After the storm had passed, the Church structure was still standing although it had floated to the west about 10 feet partially onto the additional property just purchased. Those that were with him in the church believed Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and his church had truly saved their lives. The congregation gathered and raised the Church, repaired the damage and early in 1902 petitioned Bishop Tikon, who had since moved the headquarters of the Diocese to New York, to visit and Re-consecrate their repaired Church. Bishop Tikon accepted and arrived shortly before services on June 3rd 1903. This event made Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and his congregation’s church not only patronized by, but also consecrated by future Saints of Orthodoxy. By order of Tzar Nicholas II, Bishop Tikon bestowed on Arch. Fr. Theoclitos the Royal Honors of (1) the Order Of St. Vladimir and (2) the Order of St. Anne (in his picture, the ribbon and cross like medallion around the neck to his right side is the order of St. Vladimir, the ribbon and medallion around the neck to his left side is the Order of St. Anne and the necklet with the large medallion was awarded him upon attaining his Graduate Degree in Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy.

While in Galveston, Bishop Tikon visited the cemetery, and became aware that it was filling fast. As a gift to the Congregation, Bishop Tikon,who was later made Patriarch of Moscow, purchased 27 additional plots next to the original cemetery track. Arch. Fr. Theoclitos and the Church continued with a new influx of immigrants coming to Galveston each year, even purchasing another 21’ to the west of the Church. Although he did keep constant communications with the Diocese, it is not clear whether he ever met with Archbishop Platon of New York, who replaced Bishop Tikon.

He was known to include the Romanov Royal Family each week in the Liturgy, as: (1) word of Tzar Nicholas II’s son, Alexander’s affliction with hemophilia began to spread, (2) World War I was building and (3) talk of revolution against the Tzar was in the news from time to time. Also, because of our multi-ethnic culture in Galveston, the shot by Serbian Gavrilo Princip that assassinated Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, (believed to be the shot that started World War I, was heard loudly in our Church making the War and the assassination more than an important issue.

On weekly trips to the business district, the neighborhood children would gather on the church steps and wait for his return. He would always have a large bag full of fruit and the latest sweets for them, saving a large portion for his parish children. He became acquainted with many people during his years in Galveston and was thought of respectfully, while they became somewhat enchanted with his customary meager but stoic Orthodox Monastic ways. He was a constant visitor to St. Mary’s Infirmary (the local Catholic Hospital) and John Sealy Hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Following his heart, as the Apostle St. Paul guided him through his Name Day St. Hierotheos, he was known to give Confession, Baptizism and Communion to anyone who professed to be Christian. He truly became a friend to many families, who felt his visits to their loved ones in the hospital made those loved ones better. He converted to Orthodoxy many of these families: the Dambido family, the Matthews family and the Lelirra family to name a few.

In 1911, the Galveston-Houston Inter-Urban Train was instituted, allowing many of our Orthodox Christians in Houston (50 miles north and largely Greek and Lebanese) an ease of access to Galveston for Sunday Liturgy. The trains were one or multiple electric cars that ran from downtown Houston to downtown Galveston, and you could get on or off at any time. So, our members could get off, then on again, less than 800 feet north of the Church on the main road into Galveston. It was still a 75 minute trip, one way, but it was an inexpensive way for our Houston parishioners to get to church from time to time. It was later discontinued in 1936.

And then, in his 81st year, the Island was hit by another devastating Hurricane in August of 1915. Again, Arch. Fr Theoclitos and others prayed in the Church. This storm was even more tenuous for them, but never was anyone in the church lost in any storm. The Church floated to the north about 50 feet into the street, and the front wall was torn open and the Gospel given by Tzar Nicholas II was found by parishioner George Mandich another 200’ away in the city cemetery across from the Church, miraculously with very little water damage. The congregation repaired the Church and moved it back into place with mule and muscle.

The parish again, needed more future graves. This time, as a religious benevolent society, they purchased their own private Cemetery in the western part of the city, about a quarter mile from the other cemetery. The land was far larger (would easily accommodate about 300 graves) and would meet their needs for long years into the future. But they also divided it into two sections, the Greeks to one side, and the Serbians and other Slavs on the other.

Later in the following year, the Church was hit by the loss of their 21 year life with Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, just short of his 83rd year, on October 22nd 1916. He had become gravely ill six weeks before. He somehow knew his time was near, and had the Diocese notified of his illness, and he asked parish leaders to find a way for them to bury him under the Altar of the Church. It was his belief that his grave would, by its nature, cause the Church to continue at the location for centuries into the future. He passed to his Creator at 8:15 in the evening, in St. Mary’s Infirmary Hospital. With the help of Church leaders, his body was prepared by Malloy & Sons Funeral Home, but the parishioners then took the body to the church and stood vigil over his remains continually, until his Funeral. The New Archbishop Evdokim of New York ordered his Diocesan Secretary, Archpriest Fr. Peter I. Popoff (who had been one of Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ companions on the trip from Russia), and two others of his Diocesan Council members; Fr. Louniky Kraskoff of Denver, Colorado (whom he had visited with on trips to San Francisco) and Hieromonk Fr. Paul Chubaroff of Hartshorne, Oklahoma to immediately travel to Galveston so that Our Beloved Archimandrite would be religiously cared for. They finally arrived in Galveston six days later, on the morning of October 28th. Hierarchical Funeral Services were held that afternoon at 2:00 P.M. During the six week wait, the Parish Board had received permission from the County Judge to place his remains under the Church’s Altar and workers prepared the Concrete Vault that was required by the Judge for his casket to be encased, where it remains today. As Arch. Fr. Theoclitos requested in his will, his Cross and Medals were all taken to Archbishop Evdokim by Archpriest Popoff.
+Memory Eternal+

In the following years our Church was served by numerous short-term or as they were called in those days, traveling Priests. In 1929, the parishioners, spear-headed by Petar B. Kovacevich, built a wood frame Hall (32’ X 75’) with a parish home above, in hopes of having a Priest and his family, stay in Galveston. It helped, but, in 1933, our Greek brethren gathered and purchased their own Church, The Assumption of The Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church. Our parishes have helped each other thru the years, whenever either was without a Priest or there was a time of need, as our Arch. Fr. Theoclitos would expect of us.

The Hierarchs of the Church in those years were Archbishop Alexander,Metropolitan Platon, and Metropolitan Theophilus

In 1934, Fr. Alexis Revera and his family arrived in Galveston and stayed for 27 years. In 1948, the parish decided it was time for the Church to receive some upgrades, mainly in the form of cosmetics. Wing additions were added to the elevated Altar area, the interior was totally painted, Stain Glass windows were added, hard wood flooring, a new roof coving, and the old siding was covered with a light brown brick; work was completed in 1949. The parish petitioned the Diocese, and in 1950, the newly elected Metropolitan Leonty, traveled to our fare city to re-consecrate the Church. Air-conditioning was added in the 1960.

In 1962, it had become apparent that the community was almost totally made up of Serbians. Metropolitan Leonty and Bishop Dionisije (right) of the Serbian Diocese met and sealed an agreement that put our beloved Church under the Serbian Diocese, while the Russian Diocese would receive under its control the Church in Billings, Montana, which was started by Serbian Bishop Nikolai (Canonized a Saint by the Serbian Orthodox Synod in 2003,) and Archimandrite Fr. Sabatian Dabovich; but had over the years become almost totally Russian. They further agreed to guide these two parishes to remain multi-ethic and services were to be in both English and Slavonic and should include a litany of any other languages when needed for other ethnic parishioners.

In 1964, the Texas Highway Department was working on plans to expand the street next to the cemetery into a 6 lane highway. They were intending to put an over-pass over the Serbian Section. Two parish leaders, Ilija P. Kovacevich and John N. Milosevich went to the highway department with their plan to move the Serbian Section at the Highway Department’s expense. The Highway Department agreed. So, it became the work of parishioners; lead by local Constable and parishioner Sam Popovich to get every relative of a loved one in the Serbian section to sign the necessary papers. The highway department would provide 6 times the land they were taking and would bare all expenses of exhumation and reburial; where a solid caskets or a vault was not found, the earthen material would be placed in a vault to be transported; and the Priest would attend and be paid for a service of exhumation and re-burial for each grave. The new cemetery is much like a Church with a center aisle and rows of graves to each side; with small side-walks between the rows and an Alter table at the front.

In 1978 our Parish came under the Jurisdiction of one of it’s own, Serbian Bishop Christopher. The First American Born Bishop to serve an American Diocese. He was born and raised in Galveston and had been ordained a Priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1949. With his leadership, the congregation has prospered through the past 30 years, with him becoming Metropolitan in 1991.

Now we have been hit by another devastating Hurricane “IKE”, which came ashore on September 12th 2008. Our Church sustained minor damage with only a few inches of water inside and some wind damage (no doubt that our Arch. Fr. Theoclitos mystically was riding out the storm in his Sanctuary). But our Hall was in 3 feet of water. The old wood frame structure was left structurally unsound. The Parish decided to fix the Church first. We then had the old hall destroyed, and are planning to break ground on a new hall in early 2010. Our Greek Brothers and Sister, didn’t fare as well, their beautiful Church was inundated with 8 feet of sea water. The masonry Church and hall structurally survived, but the interiors didn’t make it. They are without a Priest, but have managed to somewhat re-do their Church and are working to completion. During this time, they have attended Liturgy on Sundays with us, and now that their Church is presentable, our priest Fr. Srdjan Veselinovich has liturgy on Saturdays for them.

In 2009 our parish was placed under the jurisdiction of His Grace, Serbian Bishop Longin, ending an over 40 year schism in the Serbian Orthodox Church in America. Interestingly, His Grace Bishop Longin and Arch. Fr. Theoclitos, both received Graduate Degrees in Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy at Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Monastery (name changed to Zagorsk Monastery in 1930).

And so,168 years after the first parish meeting in Galveston, Texas, we beseech Our Archimandrite Father Theoclitos Triantafilides; his friends Archimandrite Saint Rafael Hawaweeny and Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich; Our Patrons Saints Tzar Nicholas II and Saint Trazistza Alexandra, Our First Metropolitan and Patriarch Saint Tikon Belavin, our first Serbian American Bishop Saint Nikolai Velimirovich and all those who with the Saints have guided our Parish in their goodness, to intercede on our behalf for yet another Century of existence.

From 1895 -2010, the Church-School Congregation of SS. Constantine and Helen was served by the following priests:

Archimandrite Theoclitos (Greek) 1895-1916
Father Michael Andriates (Greek) 1916-1918
Father John Shamie (Lebonese) 1918-1920
Father George Palamarchuk (Serbian 1920-1925
Father Marko Dimitrieff (Greek) 1925-1926
Father Pavel Markovich (Serbian) 1927-1928
Father George Milosavljevich Serbian) 1928-1929
Father Joakim Tkoch (Russian) 1929-1934
Father Alexis Revera (Russian) 1934-1961
Father Damaskin Susjnar (Serbian) 1961-1965
Iguman Mitrofan Kresejovich (Serbian) 1965-1968
Father Jovan Trisich (Serbian) 1968-1969
Father, Dr. Tihomir Pantich (Serbian) 1969-1971
Father Constantine Pazalos (Serbian), (Greek Born) 1971-1982
Father Svetozar Veselinovich (Serbian) 1982-1985
Father Zarko Mirkovich (Serbian) 1985-1987
Father Dragan K. Veleusic (Serbian) 1987-1992
Father Oleg Vifliantsev (Serbian), (Russian Born) 1992-1994 Father Dane Popovich (Serbian) 1994-1994
Father Dejan Tiosavljevich (Serbian) 1994-1995
Father Srdjan Veselinovich (Serbian) 1995-Present

Marriages, Baptisms and Celebrated Liturgy in the following locations in America.
City/Town Aprox. Distance
from Galveston
New York, New York 1416 miles
Washington, D.C. 1213 miles

Hartsborne, Oklahoma 380 miles
Dallas, Texas 269 miles
Ft. Worth, Texas 281 miles
San Angelo, Texas 363 miles
New Braunfels, Texas 199 miles
La Grange, Texas 132 miles
Galveston, Texas 0 miles
Houston, Texas 50 miles
Beaumont, Texas 90 miles
Eagle Lake, Texas 93 miles
Seattle, Washington 1937 miles
Portland, Oregon 1881 miles
San Francisco, California 1686 miles
Denver, Colorado 928 miles
New Orleans, Louisiana 287 miles
Lake Charles, Louisiana 117 miles
Mobile, Alabama 414 miles
Biloxi, Mississippi 362 miles
Port Lavaca, Texas 122 miles
Polacios, Texas 86 miles
Corpus Christi, Texas 181 miles
San Antonio, Texas 216 miles
Waco, Texas 209 miles
Austin, Texas 191 miles
Cameron, Louisana 81 miles
Rockport, Texas 154 miles
Indianola, Texas 35 miles
Brazos, Texas 60 miles
Sabine, Texas 75 miles
Approximate total missionary miles of work……..over 25,000
“by train or horse and buggie”
31 locations in 11 States in 21 Years

Extreme Post Script:
In retrospect, this writer remains in awe, that The Right Reverend, Most Venerable Archimandrite Father Theoclitos Triantafilides May….truely….be
“The Forgotten”First Greek-American SAINT
He was the answer to our predecessors every prayer.
He traveled extensively on a global basis to serve the religious needs of many. He provided the “Connecting Link” for our multi-ethnic American lives, and through the teachings of Orthodoxy and his God-Given Art of Language, he lead us on the path of Saint Paul, the Apostle, past the ever separating ethnic divide.

Nativity Encyclical 2009

The Serbian Orthodox Church
to her spiritual children at Christmas, 2009


By the Grace of God
Orthodox Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands, Locum Tenens of the throne of the Serbian Patriarchs, with all the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, to all the clergy, monastics, and all the sons and daughters of our Holy Church: grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, with the joyous Christmas greeting:

Peace from God! Christ is Born!

Again this year, our dear spiritual children, here we are before the cradle of the Divine Child Jesus Christ. The immense mystery beyond comprehension of the birth of God the Logos took place in a lowly cave in Bethlehem, which from that moment, once and for all time, became the center of the world – the center of God’s glory and a source of comfort to all those who have sought after God throughout human history.
The great father of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, when speaking of the Nativity Feast says: “Honor, brothers, the feast days, but most of all the day of Christ’s Nativity; for he who calls Christ’s birth the mother of all feast days makes no mistake…” From the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord all the feast days spring forth, as rivers spring forth from their sources. According to the holy Chrysostom, the birth of Christ is a new creation of the world, and the Incarnation of God the Logos is the cornerstone of everything.
Another great father of the Church, St. Gregory the Theologian, begins his Nativity homily with the doxology – glorification of God:

Christ is born – let us glorify Him!
Christ comes from heaven – let us welcome Him!
Christ is on earth – let us be lifted up!
Sing to the Lord all the earth!

And he continues: “Let the people that sit in the darkness of ignorance see the great light of the knowledge of God. The old is gone – look, everything has become new! The letter of the Old Covenant withdraws – the Spirit takes over; shadows disappear – the Truth arrives.”
According to the narrative of the Holy Evangelists, the Lord Jesus Christ was born in the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus in Bethlehem of Judea, the city of prophets and of King David, from whose offspring, according to the prophesies of the Old Testament prophets, was to be born the Messiah promised by God – the Savior of the world.
Saint Gregory Palamas, the theologian of the light of Bethlehem and of Tabor, in his Nativity homily reveals the deep meaning of the Messiah’s coming: “With the incarnation and birth of Christ the Messiah into the world, universal joy and peace have been granted to the world. Listen to the end of the song of the Angel, the deliverer of the good news, and you will discover it – it says: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men (Luke 2:14); for God came in the flesh in order to bring His peace to the world and to reconcile it with the Most-High Father.” Christ’s peace is not the same as the peace of this world. St. Gregory Palamas calls the peace of Christmas “the spirit of adoption, because those who are bearers of this peace with faith became inheritors of God and coinheritors of Christ (Romans 8:17). “That is why, according to this same saint, only those who live in love with one another, and who according to the words of the Holy Apostle Paul “bear with one another, and forgive one another…even as Christ forgave you,” live in the same Savior and in the spirit of Christmas. (cf. Colossians 3:13)
The far removed and exalted God, Who in the Old Testament conversed with Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 3:5), with Christ’s birth bowed down the heavens and became “Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23), without losing anything divine. St. John of Damascus confirms this when he talks about Christ’s Nativity by saying: “That is why we don’t say about Him that He is a man made God; rather He is God Who became man: because He being perfect God according to His nature, became perfect Man without changing His own nature nor the divine economy.”
The newly revealed Abba Justin of Celije said that “on Christmas God, according to His immeasurable love, entered history, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, incarnate from the Ever-Virgin Mary Theotokos, and became a real man.” In this way in the new born Child – the Divine Child Jesus Christ God – we have been given every abundant gift of the Heavenly Kingdom, bringing with Himself eternal Truth, eternal Justice and eternal Life which, according to Saint Maxim the Confessor, we taste in advance in the life and the liturgy of Christ’s Church.
The Feast of Christmas has divided the entire history of mankind into two parts — into the time of anticipation and into the time of salvation. The biblical anticipation of the Messiah and Savior already began with the promise to the first-created people Adam and Eve (see Genesis 3:15), and more concretely to our forefather the patriarch Abraham, to whom God promised that in his descendants all peoples would be blessed (see Genesis 22:18), which was fulfilled precisely by the Birth of the God-Man Jesus Christ.
All the Old Testament prophets pointed to the great mystery of the Messiah’s birth. Therefore, looking at the Old Testament with the eyes of the Holy Apostle Paul, we can repeat after him that the Old Testament in its entirety is “our tutor to bring us to Christ”, (Galatians 3:24), an instructor which before Christ pointed all God-loving souls to Bethlehem’s Cave.
On the other hand, the three Magi from the East, whom the grace-filled Bethlehem star brought to the place where Christ was born, signify, according to the interpretation of the Holy Fathers, the entire polytheistic world, which through its philosophy of men (cf. Colossian 2:8) could not penetrate into the depths of the mystery of God’s Incarnation.
To both the God-loving souls and the polytheistic world, the heavenly angel during the Birth of Christ revealed the great mystery of the world’s salvation, delivering the Good News to Bethlehem’s shepherds, and through them to all of us: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
From that proclamation of glad tidings to Bethlehem’s shepherds right up to today, the Birth of Christ is the Feast Day of heavenly and earthly joy in which angels and saints participate together, but also every God-loving soul enlightened by Bethlehem’s light. Like the three Wise Men from the East who came to worship the Divine Child Jesus Christ, all of us are called as well to worship Him, and to offer our gifts to the newborn King of heaven. (cf. Matthew 2:2)
Is not all the good from God that we have done this year our biggest gift to the Divine Child?
If we have fed the hungry, given a drink to the thirsty, and visited the sick, in doing so did we not offer our gifts to God?
If we have glorified God with our life, living a holy and God-pleasing life, in doing so did we not offer the gold of the virtues to the Divine Child?
If we have loved God’s Church and with our diligence have adorned the Lord’s House, in doing so did we not offer a God-pleasing sacrifice?
If we have acknowledged the suffering of our brothers, and have comforted them with our works, in doing so did we not do good to Christ Himself? (cf. Matthew 10:42)
You see, in return for His limitless love the Divine Child Christ expects such gifts from us. That is why Christmas is also a feast day before which we re-examine our faith and everything which we, as God’s creatures and sons and daughters of God, are called to do, as was so often repeated by our Patriarch Pavle of blessed memory.
This Nativity season we are especially filled with joyous sadness that our great Patriarch Pavle has left us and has gone on from earth to heaven. We deeply believe that he, in accordance with freedom given to him by God, “with all the saints of our nation” continues to offer his prayers for our Church and our crucified people, together with Saint Sava, Saint Simeon the Myrrh-gusher and all our holy ancestors who recognized and received Patriarch Pavle “as one of their own and as their equal.”
This Christmas we also remember all those who are afflicted, the suffering, those in exile, and all those who have had any injustice done them; we want to comfort them with the words: Christ is Born! Rejoice, for behold, the Lord comes to wipe away every human tear. (See Revelation 21:4)
With His birth on earth Christ has sanctified every aspect of human life – from conception to death and resurrection. That is why the Nativity reminds us not to raise our hand against the fruit of our womb, but rather to live according to God’s commandment: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) By respecting this blessing of God, Rachael’s weeping over our people and for our children who are no more (see Matthew 2:18) would cease, and the inextinguishable life that has shown forth from Bethlehem’s cave would blossom.
This Nativity season we are also with our brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija — the cradle of our people. In Christ’s love we ask them to return to their homesteads in Kosovo and to stay there to live with their holy shrines, safeguarding our Kosovo, that “wretched place of judgment.” Let us never lose hope that God will enlighten the minds of those to whom He has given earthly power and control over other countries and peoples; that they, in the spirit of divine and human justice, will re-examine their unjust decisions regarding Kosovo and Metohija. Only in this way will peace and community in the Balkans and Europe be renewed, and the wounded dignity of the Serbian Orthodox people be returned. We also pray to the Newborn King of Peace that He eradicates war, violence and injustice everywhere in the world, so that finally peace and justice might reign among all peoples and nations.
We greet our entire God-loving people with the greeting of Bethlehem, asking that we safeguard our Orthodox Faith, our language and our alphabet, on whatever continent we might live. We Serbs are an ancient Christian nation, because through baptism by Cyril and Methodius and enlightenment by St. Sava we became part of the culture of the entire Christian world. We in this way have left an indelible stamp on the history and civilization of modern Europe and the world, embedding ourselves, once and for all, in their future.
The Nativity of Christ always calls all of us to live in brotherly love, in love for God and in evangelical humility, living from the work of our hands and holding fast to the New Testament teachings: that we not do to others anything that we would not wish them to do to us. (cf. Acts 15:29)
In summarizing this great and inconceivable mystery of the Nativity, Saint Gregory the Theologian said: “This is our holy day. This is what we celebrate today: God’s coming to mankind — so that we might come to God; or to put it more suitably: so that we might return to God; so that we might put off the old man and put on the new, and so that just as we have all died in Adam, we may come to new life in Christ, that we may be born again with Christ, and be crucified along with him, and be buried with Him, and resurrect along with Him.”
Concluding our Nativity encyclical with the words of this Godly-wise Church father, we greet you all, dear spiritual children, and we greet all peoples and all nations with the all-joyous greeting of Bethlehem and of peace:


Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade at Christmas, 2009.

Your intercessors before the cradle of the Divine Infant Christ:
The locum tenens of the throne of the Serbian Patriarchs,
Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE
Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana JOVAN
Metropolitan of Libertyville-Chicago CHRISTOPHER
Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ
Bishop of Sabac-Valjevo LAVRENTIJE
Bishop of Nis IRINEJ
Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE
Bishop of Srem VASILIJE
Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM
Bishop of Budim LUKIJAN
Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE
Bishop of Banat NIKANOR
Bishop of New Gracanica-Midwestern America LONGIN
Bishop of Eastern America MITROPHAN
Bishop of Zica CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Backa IRINEJ
Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ
Bishop of Ras and Prizren ARTEMIJE
Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN
Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE
Bishop of Western Europe LUKA
Bishop of Timok JUSTIN
Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE
Bishop of Sumadija JOVAN
Bishop of Slavonia SAVA
Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE
Bishop of Milesevo FILARET
Bishop of Dalmatia FOTIJE
Bishop of Budimlje and Niksic JOANIKIJE
Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina GRIGORIJE
Bishop of Valjevo MILUTIN
Bishop of Western America MAXIM
Bishop of Gornji Karlovci GERASIM
Bishop of Australia and New Zealand IRINEJ
Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Hvostno ATANASIJE
Vicar Bishop of Jegar PORFIRIJE
Vicar Bishop of Lipljan TEODOSIJE
Vicar Bishop of Dioclea JOVAN
Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE
Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje JOVAN
Bishop of Polos and Kumanovo JOAKIM
Bishop of Bregal and locum tenens of the Diocese of Bitolj MARKO
Vicar Bishop of Stobija David
[Path of Orthodoxy translation]

Friday, December 18, 2009

His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew on 60 Minutes

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Appear on
60 Minutes Segment on Orthodox Christianity

NEW YORK - His All Holiness Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians who constitute the second largest Christian denomination in the world, will be featured on the CBS News program 60 Minutes reported by Bob Simon, scheduled to air on Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 7 p.m. EST. The segment will focus on the Orthodox Church, the most ancient Christian church, and its development from its earliest years to modern times in what is now the Republic of Turkey.

His All Holiness was named 11th among the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine and was awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal for his efforts to promote human rights and religious tolerance. He has also been recognized by the United Nations as a Laureate Champion of the Earth for his pioneering work to protect the environment. Affectionately known as "the Green Patriarch," Patriarch Bartholomew has called upon leaders of all denominations to join him in this effort, noting simply that "If life is sacred, so is the entire web that sustains it."

His All Holiness recently concluded an extended visit to the U.S., where he participated in an environmental symposium in Mississippi, ministered to the five million Orthodox faithful in America, and met with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama, among many others. He is the author of Encountering the Mystery (Doubleday) and In the World, Yet Not of the World (Fordham).

Commenting on the upcoming broadcast, Archbishop Demetrios of America said:

"The appearance of the Ecumenical Patriarch on a program such as 60 Minutes is an extraordinary opportunity for the American public to become aware of our Orthodox Christian Faith. Millions of people who would otherwise have limited knowledge of the Orthodox Church will have the chance to see and hear the highest ecclesiastical personage of our Church in their living rooms. It is also a tremendous opportunity for our own Orthodox Faithful in the United States to see His All Holiness in a way that will surely touch their hearts and minds with love and deep respect."

60 Minutes is the pre-eminent investigative television news show in the United States and has run on CBS since 1968. It has been among the top-rated TV programs for much of its life and has garnered numerous awards over the years. The show will also be broadcast over the Internet on the 60 Minutes website:

More information about His All Holiness's work for religious freedom, human rights, environmental conservation, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as texts of his addresses may be found at:

Nativity Greetings

“We bow unto Thee, the Sun of Righteousness”
–From the Troparion of the Nativity

The One Who was born of the Virgin Mary, Whom we call “the Sun of Righteousness,” and Whose miraculous birth we glorify again this year, is indeed worthy of our worship and our reverence.

Let us bow unto Him for He was pleased to be born like one of us—entirely because of us and our salvation. Let us bow unto Him because of His love towards all creation and especially towards man. And let us rejoice this year also in the Newborn One, in hope that he will warm our hearts and that He will, by His might, make way for that which is God-pleasing, good, honorable and steadfast to be born in our souls.

This Nativity, we greet all of you, the faithful of our Diocese, for whose souls we answer before the Lord, and we pray that we all work more diligently on the path of salvation. “Let us be people,” was the message of our most-holy Patriarch Pavle. The authenticity of his persona and the simplicity of his message have touched the soul of Serbia, as well as of millions of Orthodox throughout the world. May the God-Child grant that this message produces a rebirth in us also!

Peace from God – Christ is Born! Happy and Blessed New Year 2010!

Bishop of New Gracanica and Midwestern America

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chistmas Schedule



Sunday, December 6th 26th Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, December 13th 27th Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, December 20th 28th Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, December 27th 29th Sunday after Pentecost


Sunday, January 3rd Sunday of the Holy Forefathers

Wednesday, January 6th Christmas Eve Great Vespers Service @ 7:00 p.m. with Traditional Burning of Yule Log

Thursday, January 7th NATIVITY OF OUR LORD.

Sunday, January 10th 31st Sunday after Pentecost

Thursday, January 14th Circumcision of our Lord; St. Basil the Great

Sunday, January 15th 32nd Sunday after Pentecost

Tuesday, January 19th THEOPHANY -Baptism of our Lord (Great Blessing of the Water)

Sunday, January 24th Sunday of the Publican & the Publican

Sunday, January 31st Sunday of the Prodigal Son


Sunday, February 7th Sunday of the Last Judgement

Sunday, February 14th Sunday of Forgiveness

Monday, February 15 Beginning of Great & Holy Lent

All Divine Litirgies commence at 10:00am

Monday, August 31, 2009

Benefit Concert

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Iva Milenkovic is 28 years old and battling a rare and aggressive form of cancer called extra-skeletal osteosarcoma with telangectatic features. She is being treated at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Being from a foreign country and without any insurance, Iva must cover all costs from personal funds.

A benefit concert for Iva will be held at Dunham Theater Houston Baptist University 7502 Fondren Road, in Houston on Thursday, Sept 3, @ 8:00 pm. The music of Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninov will be played beautifully by two concert pianists, Ivana Ristova and Krume Andreevski. All proceeds will go towards Iva's fight against cancer. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at the door.

We are trying to sell 1,100 tickets, so in addition to attending, we need everyone's help in promoting this event. Please tell friends, family, co-workers, etc. This is a great opportunity for everyone to support Iva in her fight and enjoy a relaxing evening of great music!

For more information please visit:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Road Closure on HWY 45 August 30th 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I just got off the phone with one of parishioners who was privy to the information concerning the closure of Hwy 45 this Sunday. It seems that both the City Councils of League City and Galveston were strongly debating this move. One for obvious tourism reasons and the other for traffic congestion reasons. League City has won out and the closure will proceed as planned. This means all lanes both north and south, including feeder roads will be closed at the Calder Exit near 518. All traffic is to be diverted onto Hwy 3. This means that the trip back home will mean travelling along this path which will be congested as all traffic will be heading along the same path. Be prepared and allow for extra travelling time, both to and from church for those who will be brave enough to weather the traffic storm.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Church Records

Brothers and Sisters,

We are extremely excited to offer to all our faithful the original parish records of the births/baptisms, weddings, deaths and burials of Sts. Constantine and Helen Serbian Orthodox Church. I would like to take this opportunity in thanking Christine Kovacevich who painstakingly scanned each entry one by one with the greatest of care and in the highest resolution possible for all of us to enjoy and cherish. The entries begin with the first records dating back to 1895 and go up to 1924 for now. We are still in the process of scanning the rest of the entries. To best view these records I would "save as" and then name either church records with the years to my desktop, hard drive. Under the View options scroll down where it says Page Display and select Show Cover Page During Two-Up. We also have the ability to zoom in up to 6,400% for those who might need a little extra help in viewing them up closer.This will also allow us to print off the pertinent information that we need in the gathering on information for family trees. I should like to give everybody a heads up that the records vary in size in Adobe Acrobat Format so it might take a couple of minutes each downloading and saving them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Russian Television programme: Orthodoxy in America

Dear Friends,

On June 6th, 2009 we were very privileged to have with us all the way from Moscow Russia the official television crew under the direct blessing of His Holiness Patriarch KYRIL. Very Reverend Father Alexei Uminski who together with the able crew of "Orthodox Encyclopedia" made a journey/pilgrimage to the United States where they paid particular attention to the history of Orthodoxy in Texas. Although the video is entirely in Russian it nevertheless offers the viewers a glimpse of what our church looked liked during it's repair post Hurricane Ike (21:35). The programme itself runs for 25 minutes and is actually part 2. Father Alexei has visited many different continents in search of Orthodox communities to show the viewers of the largest Orthodox country in the world back home in Russia where and how the rest of Orthodox faithful live and practise their faith. Our own Mitchell Chuoke and Officer Steven Brewer make an appearance in the video.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Dormition Announces Recover Update

May 1, 2009


Dear Friends:
The holy altar table is being rebuilt by volunteers.
The building permits are in place.
We have chosen two contractors to share in the rebuilding of the interior of the Church and the hall, which work will start on the 6th of May.
We will not have air conditioning but hope to have the holy altar fully completed and have our first service, post “Ike”, on Saturday, May 23rd or May 30th.
I will send out a notice A.S.A.P. to advise on the date of our first service.
Please feel free to contact me anytime on my cellular at 281-686-6120.


Leroy Naschke Jr

Recovery Chairman

P.S. Please honor your pledge commitment given in 2008 and do the same for 2009. Send pledges and donations to The Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church, P. O. Box 655, Galveston, Texas 77553-0655.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Save Iva Milenkovic

Dear Friend,

My sister Iva Milenkovic is 27 years old and battling a rare and aggressive form of cancer called extra-skeletal osteosarcoma. Unfortunately, there are very few hospitals in the world that have the expertise necessary to treat these cancers. One of them is the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
Being from a foreign country with no international insurance, Iva must cover all costs from personal funds. This is where we need your help. Your generosity can help save her life. Every dollar donated goes directly to covering Iva’s battle against cancer. Unfortunately, we do not have time to wait, so please donate now to help save Iva’s life. Thank you!

~ Zoran Milenkovic

How to Donate
The estimated cost of treatment for Iva is $250,000 over the next 9 months, averaging about $1000 per day. Please consider giving Iva a fighting chance by sponsoring a day of treatment.
To donate make checks payable to "Zoran Milenkovic" and send to the address below:
814 Island Meadow Court
Houston, Texas 77062
Or, to donate by credit card, visit our website

Pictures of Church Hall Demolition

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Paschal Greeting from HEM CHRISTOPHER

Paschal Greeting 2009

Centuries have passed since the Myrbearing women first saw the empty tomb. They came to anoint the body of the Teacher with aromatic fragrances sprinkled with their tears. They were present at the Cross of Crucified Savior, when all except His mother and one of the disciples abandoned him. Thus, they were honored to be the first witnesses and the first to announce His Resurrection. Likewise, many centuries separate us from that first resurrection evening, when the Risen Lord appeared to his disappointed and frightened disciples and greeted them with a greeting of encouragement: “Peace be with you! In a moment he returned peace to them, renewed their faith in Himself and His Divine mission.If He, the Son of God, had not risen, the history of Christianity would have ended with His last words on the Cross: “It is finished”. He did arise, and in the name of that truth, His Disciples had joyfully given their lives, bearing witness to Him, our Lord and Redeemer. Bearing that great and undisputable truth, His Church has undertaken a worldwide mission throughout the worldWe pray to the Risen Lord to resurrect in us the human image of mans original nature, which today is so disfigured with countless faults and vices. That in us everyone would recognize a human being, regardless of our intellectual, social or financial status. Our time abounds with material goods, grand plans and ideas. Nevertheless, our age is characterized by a crisis of morality and character. Let us pray to the Risen Lord and beseech Him, as did Luke and Cleopas, that He remain with us, that we may rejoice in Him, derive strength from Him, that we may uplifted and escape and not be carried away by the murky waters of our time. On this day of our common spiritual joy we call upon you, dear brothers and sisters to remember St. Sava Monastery, the center of our spirituality and place which nurtures the future pastors of our Holy Church, and your Metropolitanate with a generous offering that they may successfully fulfill their holy mission.With these thoughts, we greet you, dear brothers and sisters, with our joyous Paschal greeting:

Christ is raised! Indeed, he is Raised!
~Your Prayerful intercessor before the Resurrected Christ,
+CHRISTOPHERMetropolitan of Midwestern America

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Some relections on Confession-Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

1. For each conscientious priest confession is without any doubt one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of his ministry. It is here, on the one hand, that he encounters the only real object of his pastoral care: the human soul, man, as he stands sinful and miserable, before God. But it is here, one the other hand, that he realizes to what degree nominal Christianity has pervaded our Church life. The basic Christian notions of sin and repentance, reconciliation with God and renewal of life, seem to have become irrelevant. If the terms are still used, their meaning is certainly quite different from that, on which our whole Christian faith is based.
2. Another source of difficulties is the theoretical, or even theological, confusion as to the nature of the sacrament of penance. In practice a purely formal and juridical understanding of it, clearly Western and "romanizing" in its origin, coexists paradoxically with an equally doubtful reduction of confession to psychology. In the first case the man comes to the priest, confesses transgressions of Christian law, and receives absolution which entitles him to the second sacrament "of obligation" - Holy Communion. Confession proper is reduced here to a minimum, and in some churches even replaced by a general formula to be read by the penitent. All emphasis is on the priest's power of absolution and the latter is considered "valid" regardless of the state of soul of the penitent. If the first case reveals "romanizing" tendencies, the second can be termed "protestantizing". Confession is regarded as "counseling," as helping and solving difficulties and problems and is a dialogue not between man and God, but between man and a supposedly wise and experienced advisor with ready answers to all human problems. Both tendencies, however, obscure and deform the truly Orthodox understanding and practice of confession.
3. The existing situation is due to many factors. And, although, it is obviously impossible to enumerate all of them here and to even outline the very complicated historical development of the sacrament of penance, a few remarks are necessary before we discuss possible solutions.
a) Originally the sacrament of penance was understood and practiced as reconciliation of those excommunicated, i.e., banished from the "ecclisia" - the assembly of the People of God and its fulfillment in the Eucharist which is the "Koinonia" of the Body and Blood of Christ. The excommunicated is the one who cannot offer and, therefore, cannot receive. This reconciliation was a long process and the absolution - its final seal, the sign or "image" of repentance, i.e., of the rejection and condemnation by the penitent of his sin and alienation from God, of its real confession (manifestation, recognition) as sin. The power of absolution was not thought of as a "power in itself," virtually independent from repentance. It was indeed the sacramental sign of an accepted repentance which has brought forth its fruit. The Church in the person of the Priest witnessing that there is true repentance and that God has accepted it, has "reconciled and united" the penitent with the Church. Whatever changes occurred in the practice of the sacrament, this first and essential meaning, is still the starting point of its Orthodox understanding.
b) Also from the very beginning the ministry of the Church implied the care of souls, i.e., guidance in spiritual life, help in a man's fight with the old Adam in him. But at first, it was not included in the sacrament of penance. It was under the influence of monasticism with its highly developed theory and practice of spiritual guidance, that the latter became little by little an integral part of confession. Yet, in monasticism itself this spiritual guidance remained for a long time distinct from sacramental confession and was entrusted quite often to non-ordained monks. What made it an essential aspect of the pastoral ministry and almost the central contents of confession was the progressive secularization of Christian society. The Church after Constantine ceased to be a minority of heroically minded "faithful," she identified herself almost completely with the "world" (cf. the Russian term "mirianin" for "laikos") and had to deal with a multitude of nominal Christians in need of help, constant guidance and personal care. The significant change in the Eucharistic practice (from a corporate communion as an essential act of membership in the Body of Christ - to a more or less frequent individual communion) which occurred during the same period and under the influence of the same factors, meant a decisive transformation in the understanding of penance. From a sacrament for those cut from the Church, it became a sacrament for those inside the Church. The theological emphasis shifted from repentance to absolution, as virtually the only essential element of the sacrament.
c) The secularization of Christian society made it open and receptive to humanistic and pragmatic philosophies of life, which radically obscured the Christian idea of sin and repentance. The concept of sin as separation from God, from the only true life in Him and with Him, was progressively replaced by a sort of moral or ritual legalism in which sin means primarily the transgression of an established rule. In a man centered and self-satisfied society with its ethics of success and purely external "decency," these rules themselves underwent a radical transformation. They ceased to be regarded as absolute norms, and were reduced to a socially accepted ethical code. If an early Christian always knew that he was a sinner whose sins are forgiven and who, without any merit on his part, is introduced into the Bridal Chamber, given a new life, made partaker of the Kingdom, the modern Christian, since in the eyes of the society he is a decent man and a "nice fellow" always "feels fine" about himself and thoroughly enjoys his self admiration. His vision of life, which, in turn, shapes his understanding of religion, excludes altogether any dimension of depth, be it that of his alienation from true life (sin) or that of a new life in Christ. From time to time he commits, to be sure, certain transgressions - very common and minor! - but, after all, who doesn't? However, when I recently happened to confess about 50 people in a typical Orthodox parish in Pennsylvania, not one admitted to have committed any sin whatsoever! Are we not told daily by the press and other media of mass communication that we live in the best possible society among the best possible people? "Christian" people have taken this affirmation quite seriously.
d) This secularism finally won the hierarchy and the priests themselves. Our Church life is simply based on a system of mutual praise and adulation. A parish is always happy about itself and requires the pastor to constantly thank his "fine" people for their contributions, efforts, help and generosity, to be the mirror in which they can admire themselves. The same spirit of success, "good-neighborhood," and external activities pervades our life from the top to the bottom. The success of the Church is measured in terms ofattendance, financial wealth and the number of "parish affairs" of all possible kinds. Where in all this is there any room for repentance? It is indeed absent from the very texture of the Church's preaching and action. A priest can call his parishioners to ever "bigger ‘n better" achievements of material nature, he can sometimes voice his dissatisfaction with their "attendance" and "obligations," he can fight masonry and church committee, but he himself usually does not think in terms of a world which ". . . is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of eyes and the pride of life" (I John 2:16). He himself does not really believe in the Church as salvation from the despair and darkness of sin, and not an institution for the satisfaction of the "religious needs" of members "in good standing." In these spiritual conditions, in this pseudo-Christian moral situation confession cannot be but what it actually is: either another "religious duty" to be performed once a year for the satisfaction of an abstract canonical norm, a real "end in itself" with no spiritual consequences whatsoever, or, then, a discussion of one's "problems" (not sin, for a sin, as soon as it is recognized as such, has ceased to be a "problem") which most of the time have no solution precisely because their only solution would be the conversion to real Christianity.
4. Can a truly Orthodox view and practice of confession be restored? Yes, if we have the courage to deal with the problem at its roots and not with mere externals.
The starting point of this restoration is in preaching and teaching. To some extent all Christian preaching and teaching is a call to repentance, to the metanoia, the change of mind, the reevaluation of all values in the light of Christ. There is no need to preach constantly on "sin," to judge and to condemn. It is when a man is challenged with the real "contents" of the Gospel, with its Divine depth and wisdom, beauty and all embracing meaning, that he becomes "capable of repentance," for the true repentance is precisely the discovery by the man of the abyss that separates him from God and from His real offer to man. It is when the man sees the bridal chamber adorned that he realizes that he has no garment for entering it. Too much of our preaching is in the form of abstract imperatives: the Church prescribes to do this and that; but commanding is not preaching. Preaching implies the desire to convey to people the positive, the Divine meaning, for it is only this meaning that makes "prescriptions" significant, life-giving, saving. Christian teaching should also include a deep and constructive criticism of the secularistic philosophy of life, an evaluation of the culture in which we live. Christians must always fight idols - and there are plenty of them today: "success," "materialism," "security," "money-centerdness," etc. For here again, only within such broad and truly Christian judgment of this world the notion of sin recovers its true meaning, as deviation of love and interest, as worshipping values and norms that are not truly "valuable." This implies, of course, that the priest himself is free of this identification with the world, puts eternal Truth and not the "practical considerations," in the very center of his ministry. Both preaching and teaching must have a prophetic element in them, i.e., an element of Divine judgement, an invitation to consider everything in this world with the eyes of Christ.
5. Confession, then, must be replaced in the perspective of the sacrament of penance. And each sacrament implies at least three equally essential elements: preparation, liturgical order, and fulfillment. If the whole life of the Church, but especially preaching and teaching are, as we have seen, preparation for repentance in a broad sense, there is room and need for spe cial preparation. The Church has set apart special periods of repentance: Lent, Advent, other fasts. Here the liturgy itself becomes a "school of repentance" (cf. for example the inexhaustible riches of the Lenten Triodion), and it is the proper time to center preaching on the sacrament of penance itself. The order of Gospel readings, the Psalter, the hymns and prayers supply us with abundant material, the purpose of preaching being to "apply" all this to men, to their life, to their actual situation. The goal is to provoke in them the penitential mood, to make them examine their life not only in terms of isolated sins and transgressions, but in their deepest motivations. Where is the real treasure of their hearts? What guides them in their life? How do they "feel" the precious time given them by God? What is the meaning of this rapid progression to the unescapable end? A man who questions the deep motivations of his life, who has understood, be it just once, that life in its totality can and must be referred to Christ, is on his way to repentance, which is always a conversion, a change of mind, a renewed vision, a decision to return to God (cf. my pamphlet on Great Lent). The preparation must, of necessity, include an explanation of confession, - its order, prayers, meaning.
6. The liturgical order of confession consists of A) prayers before confession, B) exhortation to penitents, C) confession proper, and D) Absolution.
Prayers before confession should never be omitted. Confession transcends the level of a human dialogue and also that of a purely rational acknowledgment of guilt. The man can say - "guilty" and yet feel no repentance. All sacraments are acts of transformation. And the first transformation in the sacrament of penance is precisely that of a human confession of transgressions into Christian repentance, i.e., into a purifying crisis of the human soul, which turns itself to God and from Him receives the vision of both - sin and the overwhelming love of God "covering" that sin. But this transformation requires Divine help and prayers before confession invoke and call for, this help. They are, therefore, an integral part of the sacrament.
After the prayers comes the exhortation. It is the ultimate invitation to true repentance. "God stands here invisibly and receives your confession . . ."
But it is essential that at this solemn moment, when the priest points to the presence of Christ, he himself would not be opposed to the penitents. One of the best forms of exhortation is an identification of the priest with all sinful men. "We have all sinned . . ." For he is neither a prosecutor, nor a silent witness. He is the image of Christ, the One who takes upon Himself the sins of the world, and it is his active charity which will move men to repentance. The Russian pastorologist, Metropolitan Antony, defined the essence of priesthood as "compassionate love." Penance is the sacrament of reconciliation, i.e., sacrament of love, not of judgment.
Confession itself has various patterns. But, since the penitent usually does not know how to begin, it is the duty of the priest to help him. The form of a dialogue is, therefore, the most practical one. And although all sins are essentially sins against God, against His truth and love, it is advisable to divide confession into three parts:
A) Relation to God: - Questions on faith itself, on possible doubts or deviations, on prayer, liturgical life, fasting etc. Too many priests narrow the whole confession to "immoral acts," forgetting that the deep root of all sins is in the weak or deformed faith, in the lack of love for God.
B) Relation to fellow man: - The basic attitudes of selfishness and self-centerdness, indifference to men, lack of attention, interest, love. All acts of actual offense must be mentioned and their sinfulness shown to the penitent. Envy, gossip, cruelty, etc.
C) Relations to one's self: - Sins of flesh with, as its counterpart, the Christian vision of purity and "wholesome," respect for the body as an icon of Christ, etc. - Lack of serious interest, of any real effort to deepen the whole life; alcohol, cheap idea of "fun," irresponsibility, family relations. We must never forget that we usually deal with a man who is not used to examine himself, whose attitudes towards life are shaped by common standards, who is basically self-satisfied. It is the function of the confessor to shake this "petty bourgeois" attitude, to show the penitent the real Christian dimensions of perfection, to challenge him with the idea of constant conflict. The Christian vision of life is a tragical one and unless people realize it, there is simply no hope for a "Christianization" of our soft and socially centered Church life.
A final exhortation concludes this dialogue. In it the priest must call the penitent to a necessary change. God does not forgive, unless the man desires a better life, makes the decision to fight his sins, to begin an ascension towards God. What seems impossible with men, is possible with God. This last exhortation must be an act of faith: try hard and God will help for He has promised to do so . . .
And then, only then, comes the absolution - as the fulfillment of all this: - preparation and effort, preaching and meditation, exhortation and confession. Once more, from an Orthodox point of view, there can be no absolution where there is no repentance. God does not accept a man, who has not come, and "coming" is precisely repentance, an act of "conversion," a real and critical change of the whole attitude of man. To think of absolution as sheer "power," valid and efficient whenever pronounced by the priest, is to deviate from Orthodoxy into a magical sacramentalism and a "juridicism," denounced by the whole spirit and the entire tradition of the Orthodox Church.
7. Therefore, the absolution must, of necessity, be refused if a man
- is not an Orthodox Christian, i.e., openly and confessedly rejects the vital teachings of the Church;
- refuses to give up an obvious state of sin: for example, adultery, stealing, exercising a dishonest profession, etc.;
- conceals his sins or fails to acknowledge them as sins.
We must remember, however, that the refusal of absolution is not a punishment. Even excommunication in the Early Church was pronounced with the hope of healing the man. For the Church's purpose is to save, not to judge or condemn. The priest must always contemplate the total fate of man, strive at his conversion and not simply follow a formal norm of justice. We know that the Good Shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep in order to save just one. This leaves a great freedom to the Priest who must follow his priestly conscience, must pray before he decides anything and must never be satisfied with an external conformity, with "rules" and "prescriptions."
May, 1961
St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall, 1961, pp. 38-44

Paschal Encyclical in Serbian




Рецимо, браћо, и онима који нас мрзе, опростимо све ради васкрсења.(Пасхална стихира)
И ове године у пролећне дане, драга браћо и сестре, у једнакој радости прослављамо највећи празник Цркве Божије, Васкрсење Христа Спаситеља. Сваке године у ово доба, када тајанствена сила живота буди обамрлу природу, слава Васкрслог Господа и у нама буди један светлији, светији и радоснији живот. Данас навиру узвишене мисли, рађају се дивна осећања и обузима нас једно свето и несвакидашње расположење. Са Васкрслим Господом и ми се уздижемо у један виши и садржајнији живот. Блиста у срцу нашем победнички сјај вечног живота који нам је даровао наш Васкрсли Искупитељ и Спаситељ. Као што је у оном тајанственом Почетку, на Божију Реч постао свет и у свету живот, тако је својом Божанском силом васкрснуо из мртвих Син Божији Исус Христос. Овај велики догађај тајанствен је као стварање света, чудесан и узвишен као права песма радости која се заорила над свеукупном Божанском творевином. Шта више, као пуноћа првог стварања и као ново стварање, он је још чудеснији и узвишенији како од првог стварања тако и од свих историјских збивања.

Многи векови деле нас од оног ведрог јерусалимског праскозорја, када су свете жене Мироносице угледале празан гроб. А биле су дошле да мртво тело свога Учитеља помажу мирисима, да Га оросе сузама и да хладну гробну плочу загреју топлином своје љубави, своје верности и своје оданости. Биле су оне и поред крста Распетог Спаситеља онда када су Га, осим Мајке и једног ученика, сви били оставили. Макар и издалека пратиле су оне последње тренутке највећег Учитеља. Нису Га заборавиле ни када је умро. Зато су удостојене да буду први сведоци и први весници Васкрсења, прве радоснице новога живота у Васкрслом Господу. Данас и у нашим ушима одзвања ехо оне благе опомене коју им је упутио анђео Божији са гробног камена: „Што тражите живога међу мртвима? Није овде, него устаде” (Лк 24, 5–6). И уплашене жене, ту у врту где је био гроб, прве доживеше радосни сусрет са Васкрслим Господом. Упутио их је да иду у Галилеју, да обавесте ученике и да их обрадују радосном вешћу да ће се и њима јавити (Мк 16, 7). И ево, драга децо Божија, и ова наша данашња васкршња радост потиче од тог сусрета са Васкрслим Господом, Који је васкрсао за нас и унео радост новог живота у све следбенике Своје и исповеднике Његове Божанске науке.

Исто тако, деле нас векови од сутона оног јерусалимског дана, када се Васкрсли Господ јавио следбеницима Својим, Клеопи и другом ученику. Преплашени, хитали су они из Јерусалима у Емаус, да би се склонили због страха од Јудеја. Иако нису били храбри као свете жене Мироносице, удостојени су сусрета са Васкрслим Господом. Скрио је Он од њих Свој пређашњи лик, па Га нису познали. И када их је после разговора о ономе што се догодило у Јерусалиму и ломљења хлеба напустио, исповедише се један другоме како је „срце горело у њима” док је са њима беседио (Лк 24, 13–32). Онај исти свети огањ, који је горео у срцима двојице Христових ученика који су ишли за Емаус, пламса данас и у нама, када прослављамо овај Празник над празницима, када и ми доживљавамо духовни сусрет са невидљивим победитељем смрти. Исти тај огањ грејао је и греје Цркву Божију у дугим вековима њене историје. Зар Он сам није казао: „Дођох да бацим огањ на земљу” (Лк 12, 49). Тај свети огањ грејао је и претке наше и осветљавао им живот у тамницама дугих векова. Живели су они дуго без дома, без огњишта, без слободе, у крајњој несигурности, без кућишта и имања, као и многи данас који су избегли са својих огњишта, али увек са вером у васкрслог Господа, с вером у победу правде и истине и с вером у васкрсење.

Исто тако, дуги векови деле нас од оне прве васкршње вечери, када се Васкрсли Господ први пут јавио својим од страха и разочарења преплашеним ученицима, и поздравио их поздравом охрабрења: „Мир вам!” (Јн 20, 19). У трен ока вратио им је мир, васкрсао веру у Њега и Своје Божанско посланство. Да Он, Син Божији, није васкрсао, историја хришћанства била би завршена одмах Његовим последњим речима на Крсту: „Сврши се!” (Јн 20, 30). А Он је васкрсао и у име те истине Његови ученици дадоше радосно живот за Њега. Носећи ту велику истину Његова Црква пошла је у победнички поход широм света, да без проливања крви победи своје бројне до зуба наоружане непријатеље.

„Што тражите живога међу мртвима?” (Лк 24, 5), опоменуо је, као што сте чули, анђео Божији свете жене Мироносице, наднете над светим гробом. Али оне су пошле на Његов гроб жедне истине и вечног Живота. А данас милиони и милиони духовно осиромашених и морално опустошених људи, занесени сјајем пролазних ствари, живе у овом свету као у хладном гробу. Зар се свет не претвара у фабрику и тржиште лажног сјаја и пролазних вредности? Зар се данас често не говори да човек и без неба може мирно да ходи по земљи? Као да се попео данашњи човек на високе врхове своје вавилонске куле, самоуверен у своје знање, али често ситан, себичан, агресиван и пун злих настројења која прете његовој кули и његовом опстанку. Бојимо се да ће се ова наша цивилизација сувише касно сетити Христових речи: „Без мене не можете чинити ништа” (Јн 15, 5).Наш Спаситељ је и постао човек, да бисмо се ми обожили. Дао је да се разапне на Крсту да би искупио грехе рода људског. Васкрсао је из мртвих да би нама даровао вечни живот. Учинио је смрт само једним посебним тренутком у животу - животу који не престаје. Када је Пилат пресуђивао Спаситељу, није имао духовне снаге ни умне висине да у Њему препозна Сина Божијег. Али ипак, испред његових очију није могла да умакне лепота људског лика страдалног Спаситеља у његовој судници. „Ево човека!” – објављује Пилат тужитељима (Јн 19, 5). Овим је ипак покушавао да утиче колико-толико на окореле савести Христових убица. Веровао је да ће људски сјај Његове Личности можда неке поколебати.

Молимо Васкрслог Господа да и у нама васкрсне људски лик првобитне човекове природе, који је данас тако често извитоперен, маскиран и унакажен бројним манама и пороцима. Да и у нама свако препозна човека, обасјаног Његовим вечним животом, био имућан или сиромашан, на великом или малом положају и месту. Наше доба је тренутно суочено са материјалном кризом, али је код нас још присутнија криза морала и карактера. Радоваћемо се ако свако, угледавши било кога од нас, може да каже: Ево човека! – да би свако, и пријатељ и непријатељ, и судија и тужилац, у свакоме од нас увек доживео истинског и правог човека. Сачувајмо, браћо и сестре, људско достојанство, које је толико уздигао Својим Васкрсењем Син Божији. Сачувајмо веру у Васкрслог Господа, љубав према ближњима, истини и правди; према свему добру које људи ипак желе, али које без помоћи Васкрслог Господа и Његовог Јеванђеља не могу постићи.Помолимо се Васкрслом Господу и замолимо Га као двојица ученика, путника за Емаус, да остане са нама. Да му се радујемо, да из Њега црпимо снагу, да се духовно уздижемо, да нас не захвате и не однесу мутне воде нашег времена.

Упућујући ову поруку свој нашој браћи и сестрама, данас се посебно сећамо верника на Косову и Метохији, као и наших верника широм света, на свима континентима где православни Срби и сви православни хришћани данас прослављају Васкрсење Христово, ваш Патријарх и сви Архијереји Српске Цркве поздрављају вас поздравом радости и новог живота.

Дано у Патријаршији српској, у Београду,о Васкрсу 2009. године.
Ваши молиtвеници пред Васкрслим Господом:Архиепископ пећки,
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Архиепископ охридски и Митрополит скопски ЈОВАН
Епископ полошко-кумановски ЈОАКИМ
Епископ брегалнички и мјестобљуститељ
Епархије битољске МАРКОВикарни
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sermon by Metropolitan Jonah

It is a great joy to see everybody here this evening from so manydifferent communities, from different traditions. Orthodoxy is acelebration of diversity in unity, and unity in diversity. Our unity is in our one Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and our one Orthodox faithand our one commitment to living the truth, to living as Christians.Not to live according the spirit of the world, not to live accordingto our passions, not to live according to the desires that flit by through our minds and lead us into all sorts of trouble, but to livethe truth, to live Orthodox.

And, our diversity is something wecelebrate, not a diversity of lifestyles, but a diversity that reflects the whole spectrum of our community, people of all races,people of all colors, people from a multitude of different ethnic backgrounds.And yet, there is another thing that unites us here as well: we areall Americans. We are a single community, we are a single community of Orthodox Christians, and we are the local church in Dallas, the localchurch in Northeast Texas. It doesn't matter that we have all these various administrative jurisdictions, ultimately, because we gathertogether as one body, to pray with one mind and one heart, to celebrate the same Eucharist, to come to the same chalice. It doesn'tmatter if we are eastern rite or western rite, doesn't matter the language in the service is, but its all, we are one church, we are one local Church, and I might add, we are one indigenous Church.

Right now in world Orthodoxy there is a solution to our disunity being proposed. But I would propose there are two solutions. There's onesolution being proposed in which we all submit to Constantinople. We all submit to a foreign patriarchate where all decisions will be madethere, where we will have no say in the decisions that are made. We will have no say in our own destiny. We surrender the freedom that wehave embraced as American Orthodox Christians to a Patriarchate still under Islamic domination. I think we have a better solution.And this is something of the utmost importance, and it is something imminent. It is not something where we can wait and say "Oh maybe in my grandchildren's time there will be Orthodox unity." I'm talking about June. And, if you think I'm kidding, there is a conference being convened in the Phanar in June to discuss exactly this -- (actually,it's in Cypress) -- to subject the Diaspora to the single singular control, the so-called Diaspora, to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and thereby come into unity.Well, that's one model for unity. I would submit if we wanted a Pope we'd be under the real one. And I don't think any of us want a Pope,otherwise we wouldn't be here.

But who are we really? I think part ofthis comes from a total and complete ignorance and misperception onthe part of the holy fathers who are the leaders of the churches inthe Old World. They don't understand that there are Americans who are Orthodox.There are Americans who have been born and bred in this land who have embraced the Orthodox faith. There are Americans who have come over here -- fleeing communism, fleeing Islamic domination, fleeingoppression. Who have come to this land to embrace a new life, a lifeof self-determination as well as a life that is governed by the Orthodox faith. I don't think they understand that our church here has this rich diversity but we all share a common identity.It doesn't matter what language the services are in, we appreciatethem all. We appreciate the Arabic and the Romanian and the Slavonic;we appreciate the Georgian and the Albanian and who knows what else.But we also have to appreciate the English and the Spanish and the French, just as we have to appreciate the Klinkit and the Aleut, andthe Upik and the Athabaskian, who are the true indigenous Orthodox Christians of our land.I don't think the holy fathers in the Phanar understand that we are a Church, albeit with separate administrations, but that has a common value of determining our own destiny. A church that is dedicated tothe conciliar process, which does not ignore the voice of the laity,which does not ignore the voice of the priests, a church which is united in its common commitment. Because we are Orthodox not simply by birth, we are Orthodox not simply by our ethnic heritage. We are Orthodox because we have chosen to be Orthodox. We are Orthodox because we have committed our entire life to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. And, it is that commitment to Jesus Christ and the Gospel andour commitment to bring our brothers and sisters in our land to thatsame commitment of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, not to some kind ofalien ideology, not to some nationalist or imperialist ideology fromsome forgotten empire, not the imposition of foreign customs and thesubmission to foreign despots.But, to a united Church in this country, a Church in which we value the diversity and value the unity equally. A Church in which weappreciate one another and listen to the voice of one another so that no person is devalued. So the traditions that our fathers in the faith have brought to this country are valued.

So the efforts and the labor and the sweat and the blood and the tears of all those who have gonebefore us to establish the Orthodox Faith in America for over 200years now, 215 years to be precise, to acknowledge their sacrifice.And, it is upon their sacrifice, upon their martyrdoms, upon their sanctity, upon their sacrifice that our Church here is built.There are those there that say that there was no canonical OrthodoxChurch in the North American until 1924 until the establishment of thePatriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek archdiocese. Excuse me. The Russian Orthodox Church established a missionary workhere in 1794. It established English-speaking churches where priests were trained to speak, to serve the liturgy, to teach the Gospel, andto bring faithful people into the Orthodox Church, from 1857 in SanFrancisco. They say our unity in America was a myth at the time of St.Tikhon. Well yes, there were a few dozen churches that were not partof it, but what about the 800 that were? What about those 800churches? Churches that may have had Russian clergy, or had clergy whowere trained by the Russians, but were composed of Greeks and Serbs,of Arabs, of Romanians, of Bulgarians, and of converts, who have stood for the integrity of the Orthodox Faith and the integrity of theGospel of Jesus Christ, and the integrity of the witness, the missionary outreach which is essential to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.Not to make people Greeks, not to make people Russians, not to makepeople Arabs, but to simply bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to thisland, in its wholeness and its completeness, as it was preached by the holy Apostles, in the fullness of its integrity. There are those there, in the old world, who devalue this, who say that they are the only criteria of Orthodoxy. Who are ignorant of our Saints, who refuse to recognize the sacrifice of so many of those who have come beforeus, in Christ, to establish the Gospel here.

I think we have a different solution. It is imperative for us to cometogether. Not for all the other churches, the Antiochians and theSerbians and the Bulgarians and the Romanians and everyone, to jointhe OCA, but to come together in a new organization of Orthodoxy in North American that brings us all together as one Church, even justpulling together all our existing organizations so that all the bishops sit on one Synod, so that all the Metropolitans get together on a special Synod or something like that. So we can continue ourrelationship with the Mother Churches, a relationship of love and support. Firm in our own identity as Orthodox Christians and making our witness to protect them from whatever evils confront them, whetherit be an aggressive Islam, or whether it be Communists who now call themselves democrats (I'm not talking about Washington by the way, not at all.)It's very interesting. Seven months ago I was still an abbot in a monastery in northern California. Just a few months ago I was madeMetropolitan and I had no idea, really, what the scope of Orthodoxy isin America. And, now I'm beginning to get an idea. Not only did I findmyself the Metropolitan of the OCA, but Locum tenens of the Bulgarian diocese. Well, these are people who have fled oppression just as in somany eastern European countries. It's the same people who were thereunder the communists; they just changed their titles.It's the same thing with the churches in the Middle East. How manyhundreds of thousands of faithful Iraqi Orthodox Christians are livingas refugees in camps in Jordan and Syria, ignored by the world. Weneed a united, powerful witness. A witness that will not only bear witness to the unity of the Gospel and our common commitment to oneFaith in Jesus Christ the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism that constitutes the Orthodox Church. We need to bear witness as a united Body, only to those issues that affect the Phanar, not only to the tragic situation in Cypress, but to those issue that affect all Orthodox Christian throughout the world. There is no witness in Congress. There has been no Orthodox voice, save one lone Serbian bishop, during the American aggression in Kosovo. There were so manyhundreds and thousands of Orthodox Christians that suffered and died at our hands, and the hands of our government and our voice was muted.

We have to come together as one united Orthodox Church in North America in order to truly show people that the Orthodox Church is the One Holy Catholic Church, in order to show that truly we are the Church constituted by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. And, there is only one way to show that -- not by self-righteous proclamations of our Orthodoxy it's not by self-righteous condemnation of non-OrthodoxChristians, it's by coming together and showing people how we love oneanother, how we forgive one another. How we bear common witness to the Gospel. Though we have multiple churches and diverse traditions, weaffirm that there is One Truth, who is the person of Jesus Christ. The Orthodox way of life is the way of the healing of the soul and the way of salvation.It is imperative brothers and sisters, imperative on us that, we come together and with one voice, as the Orthodox Church of North America,to say to the holy fathers of the Old World, the Orthodox Church exists in North America. We are grateful for the support you have given us. We love and support your work. We rejoice in your victories and we are sad with your tragedies. But, you have to give us the freedom to take care of our own Church in our own country, in our own culture, and not to be controlled by people who have never heard a word of English much less allow a word of English to be spoken in the liturgy. We can't allow our Church to be controlled with people who have no appreciation of our culture and have to bow to the Turkish Islamic authorities.This, my friends, is something truly critical affecting our life and our witness. We hear of all of these scandals, all the stuff that wenton in the OCA and all the stuff going on in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and all the petty little stuff that goes on in ourparishes. All of that is pettiness. We have to come together. The Lord Jesus Christ is calling us together to be one Church in America,composed of all Americans, no matter where they came from, no matterhow long their ancestors, or they themselves, have been in this land.Because the canonical organization of the Church, according to theHoly Apostles and all of the ancient Fathers, is not about some kindof international organization where we look 8000 miles away for some source of canonicity. But it is the local Church, the presbyters andthe deacons, and the faithful people gathered around their bishop.This is the fullness of the catholic Church. This is the fullness ofthe Orthodox Church as it was given to us from the holy Fathers, as it was given to us by the Apostles. And, it is this that we must affirm.That Church exists now, here, in our midst. It was planted by ourFathers in the faith generations ago, on this continent. It has grown and bears fruit. And, it subsists out of our common sacrificial commitment to Jesus Christ. Let us give thanks to God for our unity,let us give thanks to God for our diversity. Let us affirm to ourbishops that they will tell the bishops of the Old World,"There is an American Orthodox Church. Leave it alone."God Bless you.

(transcribed from Sermon, April 5, 2009)