The Kingdom is at Hand: the December 15, 2004 Enthronement of the Right Reverend Bishop BASIL to the Newly-established See of Wi


The Kingdom is at Hand: the December 15, 2004 Enthronement of the Right Reverend Bishop BASIL to the Newly-established See of Wichita and Mid-America.

Perhaps a thousand of the faithful of the self-ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America came to the enthronement of Bishop BASIL for the See of Wichita and Mid-America on the evening of December 15, 2004. They gathered at St. George Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas, to pray Vespers and to witness as Metropolitan PHILIP conveyed the episcopal staff and throne to the first bishop of the See of Wichita.

During the Vespers, hymns were sung to commemorate the next day’s remembrance of the Prophet Haggai. Looking into Holy Scripture we discern the Prophet’s words to come from the Holy Spirit with special meaning for the establishment of a new diocese and the enthronement of her new father and shepherd.

1:6For thus saith the LORD of hosts; … 7 I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts… 9The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts. … 14I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy… 16I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts… 17My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem… 2:5For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her… 10Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the LORD. 11And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.

These verses from the prophecy of Haggai express the will and work of God in restoring the temple to Israel after the exile in Babylon. But they also express the will and work of God establishing in Wichita, Kansas, and across Mid-America the fullness of the New Israel, the Holy Church.

 

When the faithful arrived at the Cathedral that evening they saw not just three priests, as would be usual there; instead they saw twenty times that number! They met there perhaps sixty priests and deacons from all the parishes of the Diocese of Wichita and from parishes of other Dioceses of the Antiochian Church in North America, together with His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP of New York, His Grace JOSEPH of Los Angeles, and His Grace BASIL, titular bishop of Enfeh Al Koura – who was soon to be diocesan bishop of Wichita and Mid-America. Serving that evening were the three ranking priests of the Diocese: Archimandrite Daniel Griffith (senior priest of the Diocese), Protopresbyter Paul O’Callaghan (dean of the Diocesan Cathedral), and Economos Constantine Nasr (president of the Diocesan Council of Presbyters). They were assisted by Deacon John Timby.

Awaiting the arrival of His Eminence PHILIP, these priests, deacons and bishops lined both sides of the central aisle of the Cathedral. Many who were present later remarked on how impressive this was. Yet more impressive, according to some, was the arrival of Metropolitan PHILIP. Vested in full regalia according to the custom of Orthodox bishops, with tall black hat and veil descending down his back over a royal purple mantle, and carrying his pateritsa (pastoral staff) he was, even more than usual, the image of leadership and fatherly authority in the grace of the Holy Spirit. He made his way, preceded by the host of clergy, to his episcopal throne, the very throne he would soon deliver to his brother in the Spirit, Bishop BASIL.

As Vespers concluded, Metropolitan PHILIP descended from this throne to give the final blessing of the service. This was also to be his final blessing as the shepherd of the church of Wichita. With the conclusion of Vespers the service of Enthronement itself immediately began. This brief and matter-of-fact service (by Orthodox standards) consisted of prayers for the grace of God to be with the new bishop of the Diocese and the Metropolitan’s handing over of the pateritsa, or bishop’s staff saying, “To those who obey, may this be a staff of comfort and guidance. While to those who disobey, may this be a staff of disciplining.” Receiving the staff with these words, Bishop BASIL was escorted to the throne by the three ranking priests of the new diocese.

After donning new epitrachelion and omophorion, embroidered with images of Christ the Good Shepherd, the Apostles, the Evangelists and Ss Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, His Grace delivered his first archpastoral message to his new flock of lambs in Christ.

Here are some excerpts from that address:

“That which we celebrate this evening is something much bigger and of greater importance than me or any one person. It is much bigger and of greater importance than this Cathedral or any one holy temple, this City of Wichita or any one town, this State of Kansas or any one state. That which is the cause of our great rejoicing and the reason for this festive celebration is the establishment, by the Will of God, of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America – a recognition that the πλήρωμα , the fullness, of the Church of Christ lives and breathes right here in America’s Heartland…

The new bishop of Wichita called to remembrance his priestly predecessor in the mission of the Gospel in Mid-America, Fr. Nicola Yanney, the first Antiochian Orthodox priest west of the Mississippi. His Grace explained, “Father Nicola was ordained for, what was then the westernmost parish of St Raphael’s Diocese, St George Church in Kearney, Nebraska, but he was given pastoral responsibility for an area that is nearly identical to the boundaries of our newly created Diocese of Mid-America. Father Nicola’s parish stretched from the Canadian border in the north, to the Mexican border in the south, and from the Mississippi River in the east, to the Rocky Mountains in the west. It is Father Nicola who, as a circuit-riding priest headquartered in Kearney, followed the example of his Father-in Christ, St Raphael, and visited Orthodox Christians in the scattered towns, villages and isolated farm lands throughout America’s Heartland…

“Could Father Nicola, the sole priest serving a parish as large as the Great Plains, have imagined that the seeds he planted would bear fruit this day as we witness the birth a Diocese comprised of fifty congregations and served by a Bishop and dozens of priests and deacons? …

“Could any among those immigrants gathered with him at Divine Liturgy in a crowded living room on the west side of Wichita have imagined that exactly one century later there would be in this All-American city (named for a local tribe of Native Americans and which counts among its founders Catherine McCarty, the mother of Billy the Kid) a Diocesan Cathedral? “Come and see the works of the Lord, how awesome He is in His counsels, more than the sons of men” (Ps. 65:4)…

(The central dome of St George Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas)

Special words were reserved for gratitude to His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP: “All which we are today, all which we hope to be tomorrow, is inspired by Your Eminence’s faithfulness to God’s call and your charge to us that we be nothing but the Church, the very Body of Christ her Bridegroom – here (in America), and now (the 21st century), the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul – here and now, the Church of Saint Thekla Peer-of-the-Apostles – here and now, the Church of Saint Ignatius of Antioch – here and now, the Church of Saint John Chrysostom – here and now, the Church of Saints Pelagia the Penitent, John of Damascus, Raphael of Brooklyn – here and now. God grant that we be found worthy of Your Eminence’s confidence.”

Shortly after this address, Bishop BASIL came forward from his episcopal throne to the same place from which Metropolitan PHILIP had given his final blessing at Vespers. From there His Grace BASIL bestowed his first blessing on his own new flock. He then turned to face the Holy Table, the throne of Christ, as the Cathedral’s protopsaltis intoned for the first time the polychronion, a formal prayer asking God to grant the bishop many years. After the service many remarked how moving it was to hear in the midst of this solemn and ancient hymn the words “Wichita” and “Mid-America.” One person noted how difficult it is to spell or even pronounce “Wichita” in the traditional and widespread languages of the Orthodox world: Russian, Arabic, Greek or others. Truly the ancient faith of the Apostles has been established in the heart of the New World.

As if all this was not enough joy and celebration, those present were invited to partake of “light refreshment” appropriate to the Church’s season of pre-Christmas fasting. The table in the Cathedral fellowship hall was well-laden and set for what must have been over one-thousand guests. If any went from there hungry they could blame no one but themselves. The hospitality of the Cathedral was, as always, without peer.

 

 

   

As the faithful dined, they listened to the words of those who have been important to Bishop BASIL and to what was formerly the Southwest Region. The speakers included the President of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, Mrs. Joan Farha, the head of the Diocesan Clergy Brotherhood of St. Raphael, Very Reverend Economos Constantine Nasr, who has known Bishop BASIL since they first met at St. Vladimir Seminary thirty-four years ago; also speaking were Dr. George Farha, Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Board of Trustees and parishioner at St. George Cathedral, and the Dean of the Cathedral, Fr. Paul O’Callaghan. Both the Fellowship of St. John and the Clergy Brotherhood presented His Grace with gifts: the Fellowship coordinated the gift of a Life Membership in the Archdiocese’s Order of St. Ignatius and a check for use at the bishop’s pastoral discretion, and the Clergy Brotherhood likewise presented His Grace with a monetary gift to use as he sees fit for the needs of the Diocese. Fr. Paul O’Callaghan read greetings from those not in attendance, notably Patriarch IGNATIUS IV, Metropolitan ELIAS of Beirut, Metropolitan SABA of Hauran, Bishop DEMETRI of the Antiochian Archdiocese, and Archimandrite Kyrill, Abbot of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England (where His Grace was tonsured). Dr. George and Fr. Paul both commented how if they had been told years ago of the change that would affect the Archdiocese, they both would have said this was just a collection of someone’s hallucinations.

When His Eminence stood to make the keynote address, he mused that he had indeed been the one “hallucinating” during the last two decades and that Fr Paul, Fr Constantine, Dr. George Farha, Bishop BASIL, et al., were all part of this “hallucination.” His Eminence went on to relate the life and pastorate of Bishop BASIL from his youth up. He connected these events with the broader visions he has had as Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese, all of which have materialized as concrete developments of the Church from sixty-five parishes in 1966 to over two-hundred fifty today – “and still going strong,” in his words. Specially noted by His Eminence was the reception of two-thousand, seven-hundred Evangelical Christians into the flock of Antioch in 1987. This was his example of a fulfillment of the Lord’s command to us to “’Go and make disciples of ALL nations,’ not just Syrians, Palestinians, Jordanians, Russians, Greeks.” He emphasized that he looks forward to the day when fifty bishops, not only two or three, gather on the American Continent to pray to the Triune God. “Why not,” he said. “Why not?” With this he turned to highlight the missionary work continuing in the Wichita Diocese, saying that we are not called merely to “preserve” the faith, but to spread it. He earned a hearty laugh from his hearers when he said we sometimes are so preoccupied with talk of “preservation” we are in danger of becoming pickles! He said preserving the faith is not our chief purpose. We preserve the faith so that we may obey the Lord and spread it, “Our Lord did not tell us to preserve the faith, but to spread it!”

Finally, His Eminence displayed for the edification and blessing of the faithful the engolpion, or pectoral icon of the Archangel Raphael, which he wore that evening. He told them that it was the very one worn by St. Raphael a century ago, and worn by himself at Bishop BASIL’s ordination to the priesthood in 1980 and consecration to the episcopacy in 1992.

With that the benediction was given and the faithful departed with much joy, having participated in an event that was not once-in-a-lifetime, but truly once in history, never to be repeated. We have all been enriched by this gift of grace given to us in the form of a God-fearing bishop who presides over an equally God-protected diocese. So we do well to keep ever in mind the exhortation of the Apostle: “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).”

To BASIL the most pure and right reverend, chosen by God, Bishop of the See of Wichita and Mid-America, our Father and Chief Shepherd, many years!

Submitted this 20th day of December,
the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, 2004,
by the most unworthy Rev. Fr. Paul Hodge,

Secretary of the Diocesan Council of Presbyters.