Diocese of Charleston News


Bishop Thomas' Nativity Visit to St. George Cathedral + Pittsburgh PA

On December 24, 2013, St. George Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was graced by the presence of His Grace Bishop Thomas to celebrate the feast of the Nativity. The cathedral celebrated the Hours of the Nativity, followed by the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil on the morning of Christmas Eve. Later that evening, His Grace celebrated Matins and Divine Liturgy for the feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, a blessed service in which Bishop Thomas ordained two men from the parish, Michael Janakis and John Norman, into the sub-diaconate.

During the service, Sayedna Thomas spoke about the significance of the feast, and the importance of being spiritually awake and keeping Christ as the true meaning of Christmas instead of other worldly ideas of the holiday. At the end of the service, Bishop Thomas inducted three very dedicated and inspired people into the Order of St. Ignatius. The congregation broke the fast together downstairs with a meal and much love and joy.

Nativity Greetings from Bishop Thomas

NATIVITY 2013

Beloved in Christ,

Greetings in the name of our incarnate God and Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ!

Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest! Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die! Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small! Glory to the Power Who did straiten His greatness by a form, His unseen nature by a shape! With eye and mind we have beheld Him, yea with both of them.

Bishop Thomas Makes Annual Visit to Chambersburg, PA

23-24 November 2013

The weekend before Thanksgiving, His Grace Bishop Thomas visited St. Mary Church in Chambersburg, PA. He was welcomed at his arrival on Saturday afternoon by the pastor, Fr. Theodore Pulcini. That evening members of the parish community assembled for Vespers, at which Sayidna presided. Afterwards the Parish Council and their spouses gathered at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Nagib Khalifa for a reception to welcome His Grace as well as Mary Winstanley-O'Connor, North American Chair of the Order of St. Ignatius, who was also visiting the parish that weekend.

The next day, after Orthros, His Grace celebrated the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, assisted by Fr. Ted, Dn. Evangelos Prieston, Dn. David Jacobs, Sdn. Ben Daniel, and the parish's acolytes.

Bishop John Visits Holy Trinity Mission + Lynchburg, VA

His Grace Bishop John visited Holy Trinity Mission in Lynchburg, Virginia over the weekend of November 23-24, 2013. After an unexpectedly prolonged sojourn at the Charlotte, North Carolina airport, Bishop John arrived in time to preach at Vespers after his solemn reception. On Saturday evening, His Grace was guest of honor at a dinner with the lay leadership of the mission. At Sunday Matins and Liturgy, His Grace eloquently wove all the Scripture readings together into their theme of Eucharist, answered questions at a festive coffee hour afterwards, and later treated Fr. Alban Waggener and Kh. Helen to dinner. It was a joyous weekend. We are greatly blessed with Bishop John's leadership and charisma as the overseer of the Western Orthodox churches of the Archdiocese.

Bishop Thomas Visits St. Philip in Souderton, PA

View the photo gallery of His Grace's visit

Being Orthodox means having a rich liturgical, spiritual, ministry life. It also means being part of the One, Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church. When our bishops visit, they remind us that our parish is part of the Church that Christ's established and gave into His apostles' hands for safe-keeping and spreading. St. Philip Orthodox Church in Souderton, PA recently had the great blessing of our bishop's visit to mark some very important occasions in our the life of our parish and to encourage us along in our life in Christ.

First, he presided over our patronal feastday for the Holy Apostle Philip. In his stirring sermon he reminded us to "be like the bee, rather than the fly" in our relationships.

Monessen, PA: St. Michael Commemorates 100 Years of Ministry

Bishop Thomas elevates Fr. FredBishop Thomas elevates Fr. FredThe first weekend in November was more than a normal weekend for the congregation of St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church in Monessen, PA. The parish began the celebration of their 100th anniversary, first celebrating Great Vespers on Saturday evening. Bishop Thomas, Auxiliary Bishop of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic, spoke after the service, encouraging us to honor our forefathers' and mothers' memories by working to keep the parish a healthy Orthodox presence in Monessen. On Sunday, Orthros and a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was concelebrated by Bishop Thomas and Bishop Basil, Auxiliary Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America. Following the Liturgy a 100th anniversary luncheon and program was held at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Hellenic Center.

St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church was founded in 1913 by Syrian and Lebanese immigrants as a place where Orthodox Christians were able to worship and seek salvation. The church was one of many that owes its organization to then Archimandrite Raphael Hawaweeny (St. Raphael).

Bishop Thomas visits St. Paul and Eastern Pennsylvania

During October 12-16, His Grace, Bishop Thomas made his annual pastoral visitation to St. Paul Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, as well as making other stops in the Eastern Pennsylvania area. During his visit to St. Paul's, His Grace presided over the divine services, including the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. While there, His Grace noted the numerous upgrades and expansions to parish life that have been made during the administration of the current pastor, the Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, who was assigned to the pastorate of the parish in July 2009.

Since 2009, St. Paul's population has grown by 46%, and annual pledges have grown by 180%. During this time, multiple weekday services (including, in many cases, daily) have been instituted, as well as a vigorous program of adult education.

Bishop Thomas Visits St. Andrew Mission + Lewes, DE

Fr. Boniface Black writes:

His Grace Bishop Thomas was welcomed to the Mission of St. Andrew the Apostle in Lewes, Delaware by an enthusiastic congregation for Vespers and the Sunday Orthros and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy the first weekend in October, 2013. The parishioners were also blessed to celebrate Sayidna's Name Day, commemorating the Apostle Thomas, on Sunday, October 6. MANY YEARS, SAYIDNA!

Our beloved Bishop congratulated the parishioners on progress since his last visit. New pews were in place, along with an imposing Bishop's Chair. Outside, the parking lot has been paved and landscaping was in place. Sayidna again spoke of the need to bring Christ and Orthodoxy to southern Delaware. St. Andrew is the only Orthodox Church in Sussex County and there is a great opportunity for sharing the Good News.

Bishop Thomas Visits St. Mary, Wilkes-Barre

September 27-29, 2013

Bishop Thomas recently visited St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  His Grace's visit began on the day of the parish’s Annual Golf Outing. Sayidna came to the game at the Sand Springs Golf Course in Drums, and after talking with some of the parishioners, launched the tournament at 1 p.m. by blessing all of the golfers. During the afternoon he enjoyed the beautiful Pennsylvania weather and foliage, and was escorted by The Very Rev. Fr. David Hester, the pastor of St. Mary, to watch the golfers play.  Neither Sayidna nor Fr. David are golfers, but that did not stop them from noticing how well—or poorly—the play was going.  At the end of the day there was a meal in the clubhouse, at which Sayidna blessed the food.  Sayidna even discovered that one of the golfers, John Charles, was a Wilkes-Barre high school classmate of his mother.

On Saturday, September 28, Sayidna made his annual visit to his family’s hot dog restaurant, Abe’s on Main St., and he saw both family and parishioners in the very busy and popular restaurant.

Annual Brotherhood Synaxis Provides Clergy Fellowship

The priests of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic gathered together for their ninth annual Brotherhood Synaxis, held at the Antiochian Village from October 1-4, 2013.  Bishop Anthony of the Diocese of Toledo and the Midwest was the guest speaker. His excellent talks addressed the need for parish priests to be aware of the challenge that the secular worldview presents in ministering to their flocks. In addition to Bishop Anthony’s lectures, the clergy had a supplication service for St. Raphael, whose tireless efforts brought about many of the churches of the diocese, and who is buried on the grounds of the Village Camp. 

Additionally, His Grace Bishop Thomas inspired his priests on several occasions with discussions on activities in the Orthodox world, the archdiocese, and the diocese; he also counseled them to be diligent and prayerful in all of their efforts.

Middle School Winter Retreat at Antiochian Village

Registration is open for the annual St. Herman Middle School Retreat, convening at Antiochian Village on the feast day of St. Herman of Alaska.

  • Who: Students in grades 5-8
  • Where: Antiochian Village Conference Center, December 13-15, 2013
  • What: interactive presentations and discussions, weekend liturgical services (with an outdoor supplication service to St. Herman), games, crafts, meals and snacks, sledding, geocaching, stargazing, guided night hike, a campfire
  • Why: The distraction-free environment of the Village and the spiritual emphasis of the retreat offer a wonderful opportunity for middle schoolers to focus on their faith 
  • How much:  $96/person for lodging and meals  
  • Download the registration form or visit the Antiochian Village's list of upcoming events for more information.

20/25 Anniversary Event for Holy Cross and Bishop Thomas

Clergy at the 20/25 Anniversary celebrationClergy at the 20/25 Anniversary celebrationBy Archpriest Gregory Mathewes-Green

The clergy and faithful of Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland, welcomed His Grace Bishop Thomas to our Patronal Feast of the Elevation of the Cross from September 13-15, 2013. Along with His Grace Bishop Melchizedek (Orthodox Church in America), over twenty visiting clergy and many other well-wishers joined us in commemorating both the 20th Anniversary of the founding of Holy Cross as well as Sayedna Thomas' 25th year of ordination. The weekend also saw the ordinations of Lt. Col. Kelvin Gardner (chaplain, USAF). In total, four services and a banquet were held. Also included in the weekend was the annual retreat of the deacons of the Eastern dioceses with renowned scholar Dr. Christopher Veniamin, professor of Patristics at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary.

A Reminder from Bishop Thomas: Clergy Retreat is Almost Here!

Fr. Anthony Yagze at a previous retreatFr. Anthony Yagze at a previous retreatSeptember 26, 2013

An important reminder from Bishop Thomas for all clergy:

Next week is the Annual Clergy Retreat for the Dioceses of Charleston/Oakland and New York/Washington. This retreat is open to all Orthodox clergy, regardless of diocese or jurisdiction. The speaker will be His Grace Bishop Anthony  (Michael) of the Diocese of Toledo. To register, please call (724.238.3677) or email Fr. Anthony Yazge, Antiochian Village Heritage and Learning Center, Ligonier, PA. 

Metropolitan Philip Announces Three Appointments for the Convent of St. Thekla in Glenville, PA

Mother EisodiaMother EisodiaHis Eminence Metropolitan Philip has announced the following three appointments for the Convent of St. Thekla in Glenville, PA. The Convent of St. Thekla is a monastic community of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

Effective immediately, Mother Eisodia is appointed the Acting Abbess of the convent, and Sister Kathrina will join the community. Effective September 1, 2014, Very Rev. Mark Sahady is appointed the Chaplain of the Convent following his retirement from the Air Force.

Mother Eisodia is a native of Los Angeles, California, and she attended college in Portland, Oregon. She has worked in the secular world as an engineer, and was raised in the Presbyterian faith. Her journey to Orthodoxy was fulfilled with her reception  into the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.  She received her monastic formation in Greece, and later moved to the U.S. She has travelled to Orthodox monasteries in Romania, Greece, Great Britain, France, and Mexico.

2013 Labor Day Weekend at St. George Cathedral

Fr. Olaf Scott writes:

St. George Cathedral in Charleston, West Virginia, welcomed back family and friends for the 2013 Labor Day Weekend. The two-day event included haflis, a banquet, raffle, and special coffee hour. The St. George Choir also performed "The Star-Spangled Banner", "Eye on the Sparrow", and "He Lives" before the banquet. His Grace Bishop Thomas, who served the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday, was in attendance for several of the events.

Sanctified Schooling: Working out Salvation Within Education

Christ the Savior Academy, WichitaChrist the Savior Academy, WichitaBy The Right Rev. Bishop Thomas (Joseph), Ed.D.

The Orthodox Christian faith is growing on our continent and, with it, awareness of the challenge of raising and educating our children in a way that is shaped by that faith. On many occasions I have been asked my opinion, as both a hierarch and as an educator, as to my preferred educational option, whether parents ought to favor public schools, private schools, homeschooling or some other approach.

It has become clear to me, though, that there can be no "one size fits all" approach; each circumstance requires careful and prayerful consideration and exploration of options. Parents must decide based on their particular situation what will be the best preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven for their children, how their children's schooling can be not only educational, but sanctifying. "Sanctified Schooling," as I've come to call it, means finding the best educational fit for students and their families to grow in sanctity as they grow physically, intellectually and emotionally.

Sacred Orthodox Music Concerts in New York and Washington DC

The Patriarch Tikhon Choir, a unique choral ensemble made up of professional singers from Russia and North America, under the direction of renowned Moscow conductor Vladimir Gorbik, will perform a premiere concert of Orthodox sacred choral works entitled "Their Sound Hath Gone Forth," Monday, September 16, 2013, at St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church: The Actor's Chapel, 239 West 49th St., The Actor's Chapel, in New York City, at 7:30pm. Tickets (General: $35, Students: $15) can be purchased in advance and at the door.

The program includes works from the Orthodox All-Night Vigil and Divine Liturgy ranging from austere, centuries-old Znamenny Chants to sumptuous polyphonic works by such Russian masters as Dmitry Bortniansky, Alexander Kastalsky, Pavel Chesnokov, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Sergius Trubachev. Also featured on the program are compositions and arrangements by contemporary American Orthodox composers; several will be concert premieres. In keeping with the choir's multi-cultural approach, the program will be sung in both Church Slavonic and in English.

51st Archdiocese Convention Kicks Off in Houston

The city of Houston, and Fr. James Shadid and the parish of St. George Orthodox Christian Church, are hosting the Antiochian Archdiocese Convention this week at the Hilton Americas hotel. The largest legislative body of the Archdiocese, the General Assembly meets in convention biennially. In addition to the business meetings, liturgical celebrations, exhibits, youth activities, and department meetings  are central to each convention as well.

There will also be special events that emphasize the uniquely Southern character of this year's gathering. Families will enjoy the Country Western Dinner and Dance on Thursday evening, while on Friday evening convention goers can attend the Mardi Gras Masquerade Dinner/Dance; visits to several of Houston's tourist venues are planned. The culmination of the week is the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday with Metropolitan Philip and all eight Auxiliary Bishops of the Antiochian Archdiocese presiding. 

Memory Eternal! + Helen Thomas

It is with saddened hearts that we inform you of the passing of our sister and aunt, Helen Thomas. Surrounded by family and friends, she died peacefully in her Washington, D.C. home Saturday morning, July 20, 2013.

Helen Thomas devoted her nearly 70-year career in journalism to the pursuit of the public's right to know. She was a champion of the First Amendment, fervently advocating for the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. For years, she proudly occupied her front row seat in the Press Briefing Room at the White House, considering it the people's chair in the people's house. She always acknowledged the privilege of being the eyes and ears of the public, and she boldly and unabashedly asked the hard questions to hold our leaders accountable.

Maryland Newspaper Features Western Rite Parish

Fr. James Hamrick (photo: David Frey)Fr. James Hamrick (photo: David Frey)Journalist David Frey recently wrote about St. John the Baptist Mission, Lewistown, MD, for the Frederick News-Post. "In an old red brick church down a winding road," begins the article, "Gregorian chants and incense rise up to the bell tower.

"'Kyrie eleison,' the congregants intone, while at the altar, a retired cop-turned-Orthodox priest performs rituals as old as Christianity. When he steps down to face the crowd, he delivers a sermon like a country preacher, sweat beading on his forehead. 'Some of us here are former Methodists,' says the Rev. James Hamrick, wearing white vestments over a black cassock, addressing two-dozen worshippers scattered sparsely through the pews. 'Some of us were former Lutherans. Some of us were former Episcopals. Evangelicals. Non-denominational Christians. Pentecostals. But the one single factor that is common to all of our journeys — no, not where we come from — is that fact that we pursued the truth of God’s self-revelation.'"

Read the full article here.

Daily Photo Updates Chronicle Camp Life at Antiochian Village

Antiochian Village announces that "Session One of camp is underway and the campers are loving it...all thanks to God. This year we are using a new website for our photography and we are excited to provide the campers and parents, per request, with many more photos from every day this summer! At present we have our 2013 Family Camp album and our Staff Training Week album full uploaded. The Session One Album is up and running and we are keeping it updated with hundreds of pictues every day!"

View the Family Camp Album

View the Staff Training Week Album

View the Session One Album

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Thomas Lists Educational Resources

June 26, 2013

Beloved in Christ,

May God grant you many years!

I wanted to remind you about some excellent Orthodox educational opportunities that are presently available to you and the beloved of your dioceses. Next week there will be a Parish Life Conference in Eastern Pennsylvania. I strongly recommend that you pass this on to the faithful. If they have the opportunity to participate, they will never regret it.

Information about the conference
Information about the speakers 

Secondly, there are a number of Orthodox parochial schools and camping programs that are available to your young people in the United States. The number is surprising. If you're interested in looking into this in the future, a list can be secured from Fr. Joseph Purpura (frjoseph@orthodoxyouth.com) or through the Department of Camping.

Antiochian Heritage Museum Exhibits Feature Art and History

Byzantine 1, by Tatiana Nikolova-Houston; acrylic, 2011Byzantine 1, by Tatiana Nikolova-Houston; acrylic, 2011The Antiochian Heritage Museum welcomes two new exhibits this summer! Gracing the center wall of our museum is "Sacred Illuminations," a colorful exhibit inspired by Byzantine and Slavic manuscript design and the Bulgarian heritage of the artist, Tatiana Nikolova-Houston. Inspired by the elaborate and colorful designs of Slavic and Byzantine illuminated manuscripts, as well as the folk art of her native Bulgaria, Nikolova-Houston's artwork is rich in spiritual and cultural tradition. A scholar of religious studies and library science, Tatiana earned both a Master's degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a member of St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband and daughter. After discovering little-known fourteenth-century manuscripts deteriorating under poor conditions in a monastery in Sophia, Bulgaria, and thanks to a generous grant from the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Tatiana was able to spend a year there, working to preserve these rare treasures.

Bishop Thomas Visits St. Nicholas Church in Beckley, WV

His Grace, Bishop Thomas meeting with members of the Women of the Holy Myrrhbearers of St. Nicholas Church, Beckley, WVHis Grace, Bishop Thomas meeting with members of the Women of the Holy Myrrhbearers of St. Nicholas Church, Beckley, WVServe the LORD with gladness; Know that the LORD, He is God! (Psalm 100: 2-3.) The Faithful of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Beckley, West Virginia welcomed His Grace Bishop Thomas during the weekend of May 17 – 19, 2013 for his annual pastoral visit. The weekend was marked by glorious worship to our Lord with His Grace presiding, and many opportunities for meaningful fellowship.

After dinner on Friday evening, Sayidna Thomas met with the members of the Parish Council in the parish conference room. During the meeting, there was an important and informative discussion in which Sayidna provided an update on his activities in the diocese and a very informed perspective of the situation in Syria and our suffering Antiochian Patriarchate. The Parish Council members updated His Grace on the various activities of the parish, parish council and especially the charitable outreach activities of the Women of the Holy Myrrhbearers. Other topics of interest to the local parish were also discussed, as Sayidna answered questions from each of the Parish Council members.

Memory Eternal! + Doreen Essey

Doreen Essey + June 8, 2013
Doreen E. Essey, of Monessen PA, died June 8, 2013, at the age of 77. She was the daughter of the late George and Eva Nyrhinen Stofka. Doreen is survived by her husband of 58 years, George Essey, the choir director and cantor at St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church: a son, George (Marian) : daughters Lori and Susan: eight grandchildren: eleven great-grandchildren: sister Donna Dudas (Richard): brother-in law Samuel Essey (Elmunda). Besides her parents, she was preceded in death by her in-laws, Esper and Rashida Essey: brothers-in-law Norman and Gerald Essey: niece, Linda Essey.

After graduation from Monessen High School with the Class of 1953, Doreen worked in the Darling Shoppe and then became a full time homemaker. She loved and adored her children, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and excelled in the art of Syrian cooking until her stroke in 2005. Mrs. Essey was very active in her church, St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church of Monessen, PA, serving as secretary and treasurer of the Ladies Society, and a member of the Parish Council during the purchase of the present church on Patton Ave. Friends were received at the Robert Billick Funeral Home, Monessen, on Tuesday,  June 11. Trisagion services were held at 7:30, with The Rev. Fred Pfeil officiating. Funeral services were held at St Michael AOC. 1201 Patton Ave., Monessen, Wednesday, June 12, at 10:30 AM.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggest that memorial donations be made to St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church, c/o 189 Pacific Blvd, Monessen, PA 15062.