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Diocese of Charleston News

2016 Diocese of Charleston/New York Parish Life Conference

The 2016 Diocese of Charleston and Diocese of New York Parish Life Conference will be hosted by St. Mary Church (Johnstown, PA) and St. Michaeal Church (Greensburg, PA), and will be held at the Antiochian Village. Dates are Wednesday to Sunday, June 29-July 3, 2016.

Please check back for more information.

Statement from Bishop Thomas Regarding Same-Sex Marriage

His Grace Bishop Thomas writes:

June 28, 2015
Feast of Ss. Cyrus and John

Beloved in Christ,

May God bless you always. 

On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision that effectively defines "marriage" as legal between any two consenting adults throughout our country, regardless of their biological sex, a decision that will no doubt have sweeping effects in our society, not just for these couples but for children, families, churches, other religious organizations and all people of faith.

This action by the Court attempting to redefine marriage is deeply wrong, but it gives us an opportunity to reiterate for ourselves and also for our whole country the unchanging, timeless teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church regarding marriage and sexuality.

With the creation of marriage by God for Adam and Eve, the first human bond was instituted. This bond preceded all the other social bonds of humanity, including not just governments but even the covenants that He Himself instituted. It is fundamental to human nature that marriage consists of one man and one woman in a lifelong, exclusive bond. Marriage is therefore not about private desire but about the complementary, conjugal bond of family, as created by God and blessed by Him.

It is only within that blessed bond that sexuality finds its proper expression. All other sexual behavior—whether between a homosexual couple, an unmarried heterosexual couple, multiple people, a person by himself, or anything else—is sinful, meaning that it distorts our relationship with God, each other and ourselves. Yet such actions, including their sanction by entering into one of these new legal unions, which are not truly marriages, can always be repented of. No one is a lost cause. No one is our enemy.

Metropolitan Joseph Condemns Charleston Slayings, Calls for Prayer

The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America issued a statement yesterday condemning the racially-motivated shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, in historic Charleston, South Carolina. His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph expressed his great sorrow and offered his prayers for the nine victims, their families, and the entire community.

"I learned of this tragedy from across the ocean in Lebanon, and am deeply saddened that, in this land of freedom and opportunity for all people, we still find such hatred and racism," noted His Eminence. "May the sacrifice of the nine victims who gathered to do nothing more than pray to the almighty God and study the scripture, inspire all of us to work to eradicate racism from our great nation."

Ready, Set, Go! Village Kicks off First Camp Session

Staff training week at the Antiochian Village in Bolivar, PA, is complete, and Session One has started! Meet the 2015 summer staff on the Village's website. 

The Village's Facebook page reported on Day One this way:

Three words to describe Monday's weather: hot, humid, and rainy. But such could not dull the spirit of our campers, as they were active as ever. We started off the morning with breakfast, giving everyone an extra hour to sleep in. This provided them with the energy they needed to remain attentive in their first sessions of morning program! Some attended "Ask Abouna," doing a Q & A with our lovely session priests, Abouna James King from St. Mary in Livonia, MI, and Fr. Noah Bushelli from St. Philip in Souderton, PA. Our chanting cabins went to the Conference Center for their morning practice, and the rest of the campers were scattered about the camp, and the challenge course.

Bishop Thomas Visits St. George Church in New Kensington, PA

Over the weekend of May 15-17, 2015, St. George Church in New Kensington, Pennsylvania was blessed with a visit from His Grace Bishop Thomas. The parish's church organizations gathered in fellowship with His Grace on Friday evening.

Several church school children enjoyed time with the bishop on Saturday morning as they asked him questions and answered questions he posed to them. Bishop Thomas encouraged the children to pray before all activities each day, to regularly partake of the sacraments, and to learn about and ask for intercessions from their patron saints who are model examples of our faith.

After a beautiful Saturday Vespers service, Bishop Thomas, the Parish Council and Order of St. Ignatius members and their guests met with the His Grace at “Tables on the Green” at Brackenridge Heights Golf Course.

30th Anniversary of the Sacred Music Institute

The Department of Sacred Music is thrilled to announce the Thirtieth Anniversary Sacred Music Institute (SMI), which will be held at the Antiochian Village from July 8-12, 2015. This year is promising to be the best ever! Whether you love Byzantine or 4-part choral music, there is something for everyone, from theoretical classes to private lessons in voice, chanting, conducting and vocal technique; instruction in Byzantine chant and choral conducting; special presentations and concerts from the Sacred Music Chamber Choir and the Sacred Music Byzantine Chamber Choir; and even our 30th Anniversary Musical Review!

The Sacred Music Institute has it all. This very special and memorable weekend will be attended by our Keynote Speaker His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph.

2015 Dioceses of Charleston and New York Parish Life Conference

The 2015 Dioceses of Charleston and New York Parish Life Conference will be hosted by St. John the Baptist Church of Levittown, New York. Dates are Thursday to Sunday, July 1-5, 2015.

Early bird registration deadline: Extended to May 13th!

stjohnorthodoxchurch.com/plc
Download Flyer (PDF, Rev. 4-15)
2015 Diocese of NY PLC on Facebook

Accomodations are at:
Upsky Long Island Hotel
110 Motor Parkway
Happauge, NY
877-736-4313
Deadline for group rate reservations is May 20th.

To register for the PLC, purchase PLC event tickets, to place a message in the Souvenir Journal and for Sponsorship any of the events go to www.stjohnorthodoxchurch.com/plc.

For more information, please contact Father Boulos 516-457-5451, Chairperson Ramzi Kaywood 631-796-3844 or Vice Chairperson Imad Farhat 516-984-9047 or email: Stjohn2015plc@gmail.com.

Mission Potential—Franklin/Floyd Counties, VA

His Grace Bishop Thomas has requested that the diocese be notified about this mission opportunity. Contacts have been made with individuals living in the vicinity of Roanoke and Salem, Virginia, concerning the possibility of an Antiochian mission effort for the surrounding area which would include Franklin and Floyd counties at a minimum. Familiarity with the Roanoke Valley area could include the possibility of widening the mission effort to include the Blacksburg/Christiansburg area (home of VPI—Virginia Tech), centering the mission effort along I-81 between Roanoke and Blacksburg.

It is hoped that an initial meeting with be held with interested families within the next few weeks. Estimation of the number of people involved at the moment is around twenty (20). Fr. Olof Scott, Dean of St. George Cathedral in Charleston, WV, is the primary contact for the diocese. He can be reached at frolof@stgeorgecharleston.org and by phone, 304-346-0106 (office); 304-925-0101 (home); 304-552-5545 (mobile).

The local contact for this effort at the present time is: Reinhold (Ron) Basil Winnemuth, 9543 Sugar Run Road N.E., Copper Hill, VA 24079; phone 540-524-8452; rwinnemuth@gmail.com Anyone with contacts in the target area or with roots in that area of Virginia should notify Fr. Olof.

Pascha 2015 at St. George Cathedral, Oakland, PA

Photos courtesy of Christopher Humphrey Photography.

2015 Paschal Greetings from Bishop Thomas

His Grace Bishop Thomas writes:

GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA 2015

Beloved brother Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, God-fearing Monastics, and all my Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ our True God:

Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!

There is nothing after Christ and nothing other than Christ. If you are not an extension of Him or an expression of Him, then you are nothing. At Pascha, I become Him or I am nothing. If I have loved Him, then I grow through Him and I grow in Him. I do not want anything in His place because He is everything. All the saints are in Him and unto Him, and if you look at their faces, do not look for them. Search for the face of Jesus traced upon them. How should I conduct myself at Pascha? My only affair with my soul is to bring it to the Lord. With Him it comes into existence. The Father is the beginning and the end and in Him the Christ of history pours forth. I am nothing if I do not become a person of Pascha, one who looks to the Father, the end point.
– Metropolitan Georges (Khodr) of Mount Lebanon, "Who Shall I Be at Pascha?"

As we celebrate Holy Pascha, we also each ask, "Who shall I be at Pascha?" This feast defines who we are, not just as a climax or triumph of the liturgical year, but as the very core of our life and, indeed, not just the core, but the whole of our life. Our task as Christians is to become an "extension" or "expression" of Christ, to become so like Him in communion with Him that the face of Jesus is also traced upon us.

Warming to our Calling: St. Philip Church, Souderton, PA

Father Noah Bushelli of St. Philip Church, Souderton, PA writes:

"Bless the Lord, you winter cold and summer heat, sing and exalt Him unto all ages!" (Song of the Three Holy Youths, Daniel 3:67)

As our diocese thaws from the brutally cold and snowy winter of 2015, the hearts of Orthodox Christians at St. Philip's, Souderton, PA are continuing to warm to the great calling of our life in Christ! "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works!" (Ephesians 2:10). Here's a little glimpse of the flowers opening up to bloom in God's garden in South Eastern Pennsylvania.

Memory Eternal! + Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, 75, dean emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York, and noted Orthodox Christian priest, theologian, preacher, and speaker, fell asleep in the Lord on March 18, 2015.

Father Thomas was the beloved husband of Matushka Anne [Schmemann] Hopko. They were married on June 9, 1963. Together, Fr. Thomas and Anne are the parents of five children, sixteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

"Father Thomas was a good friend of the Archdiocese," reflected Vicar-General and St. Nicholas Cathedral Dean Fr. Thomas Zain. "He helped educate many of our clergy over the years, and often gave lectures and led retreats in our parishes throughout the country."

Bishop Thomas Delivers Guest Homily in North Port, FL

His Grace Bishop Thomas delivered a guest homily at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in North Port, Florida on Sunday, March 15, 2015.

Annual Orthodox Homeschooling Conference at the Village is April 23-26

Homeschool conference attendees from a previous yearHomeschool conference attendees from a previous yearAnother year has rolled on by and it's time, once again, for the St. Emmelia Orthodox Homeschooling Conference, hosted by Antiochian Village. The 2015 conference dates are set for April 23–26, and registration materials are available on the Village's website.

The evening Keynote Speaker is Fr. Andrew Steven Damick, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, PA, author of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and An Introduction to God, and host of the "Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy" and "Roads from Emmaus" podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio. Other distinguished speakers and workshop leaders are: Lori Peterson Branch, professor of English at the University of Iowa; Theodore (Ted) Federoff, homeschooling dad and a board certified emergency medicine physician currently working in Jersey Shore, PA; Shell Keim, experienced homeschool mom and the Director of Education at All Saints Orthodox Church in Raleigh, NC; Andrew Kern, founder and president of the CiRCE Institute; Charlotte Riggle, of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, Tacoma, WA and seasoned home educator; Dr. Christopher and Anna Veniamin from St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary and Mount Thabor Publishing; and Barbara Shukin, art professor and gallery director.

View the list of topics and download the reservation form.

Eastern Dioceses Fellowship of St. John the Divine Scholarship

The Eastern Dioceses Fellowship of St. John the Divine offers scholarships to qualified college students from parishes in the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic, and the Diocese of New York and Washington D.C.  For more information, contact Maria Abdalah at:

Send all completed applications to:
Maria Abdalah
2 Lydia's Path
Westborough MA 01581

Deadline for all materials: June 1, 2015

For questions on this application:
Call 412-916-4772
E-mail Laxg25@yahoo.com

Download the 2015 Scholarship Application (PDF)

On the New Martyrs of the Middle East: An Orthodox Christian View

“The Decent into Hades” or, “The Harrowing of Hades”. The artist is unknown. Tempera on wood, from the Novgorod School of Russia and thought to be painted in the 13th century. The Icon is provided by Uncut Mountain Supply www.uncutmountainsupply.com“The Decent into Hades” or, “The Harrowing of Hades”. The artist is unknown. Tempera on wood, from the Novgorod School of Russia and thought to be painted in the 13th century. The Icon is provided by Uncut Mountain Supply www.uncutmountainsupply.comby His Grace Bishop Thomas (Joseph), Ed.D., The Word, May 2015

In recent months, images and stories of Christians being killed for their faith in the Middle East have flooded our news sources and dominated our social media. We see beheadings and shootings, sometimes available as gruesome videos on the Internet that are intended by their makers to inspire some to join their cause and others to cower in fear. We have seen bishops kidnapped, priests shot in the street as they ministered to the suffering, and innocents lined up and had their heads sawn off with knives.

Christians are not the only ones suffering in the Middle East—Muslims, Druze, Yazidis and others are also being targeted by the armies of takfirism. They are also dying for their faith, and even though we Christians do not share their religion with them, we still suffer with them in solidarity, because Christ still died and rose from the dead for them, even if they do not believe it.

We ask God, "Why?" We ask each other, "What can be done?" We wonder what kind of response there can be to this horrifying new reality, the spirit of takfirism, the mindset that makes religious accusation of others into a way of life, enforced by death and suffering for those who do not measure up to the ideology of these armies that sweep across that ancient, sanctified land.

How are we to understand what is happening? There is no shortage of analysis in the news and debate among our political leaders. But their answers do not satisfy, do they?

Christians who belong to the Orthodox Church are well acquainted with martyrdom, even if we ourselves do not live in places where our family and friends are being killed for Christ. Martyrdom forms the whole narrative shape of our history. Our calendar of saints is filled with thousands of martyrs' names, and there are millions more whose names we do not know. It was martyrdom itself which gave rise to our whole concept of having publicly venerated saints.

Photos from OCF Retreat with Bishop Thomas in Frederick, MD

Students, clergy and His Grace Bishop Thomas recently enjoyed an Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) retreat in Frederick, Maryland. Photograph is courtesy of Victor Lutes: visit his website to see a complete gallery.

OCF is the official campus ministry organization of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.

The Gift of Remembrance: The Many Beautiful Faces of Balamand

by V. Rev. Jason DelVitto, Ph.D.

Almost one year ago, from May 20th through May 28th, 2014, I had the distinct honor and pleasure to accompany His Grace Bishop Thomas (Joseph) to the Balamand Monastery of the Dormition of Our Lady the Virgin Mary, the Balamand University, and the St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology. Balamand is located in the region of Al Kourah, approximately 45 miles north of Beirut. This was my second trip to Lebanon, the first being the occasion of the consecration of our three new bishops for the Antiochian Orthodox Church in North America, 2011.

As our beloved hierarch Metropolitan Philip of thrice-blessed memory had recently fallen asleep in the Lord, His Beatitude Patriarch John X had called for a meeting at Balamand of the Local Synod of Antiochian Bishops in America and members of the Board of Trustees of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

On this soon to be one-year anniversary, I would like to offer a reflection on our trip, sharing my impressions regarding a unique opportunity for which I remain eternally grateful. As a start, as I traveled with Sayidna Thomas, I was afforded the opportunity to gain a sense of the work and life of the students of the Theological School of St. John of Damascus and to meet with its administrators and students and instructors. I was greatly edified by the people that I met there and the work that is being done at the University and School of Theology.

March 29: Syrian Relief Fund Raising Dinner in Pittsburgh, PA

On Sunday, March 29, 2015 the IOCC Pittsburgh Metropolitan Committee plans to hold a prayer service and fund raising dinner that will benefit our Syrian brothers and sisters in Christ. This Syrian Relief gathering will be held at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh, PA. We would like to cordially invite your parish to attend, and support IOCC's aid efforts in Syria.

The recent conflict has been devastating. It has resulted in the displacement of numerous Orthodox Christians that are now hungry, homeless, and lacking essential items.

Last year Archbishop Melchisedek, Metropolitan Silouan, Metropolitan Savas, Bishop Thomas, and (former) Archbishop Theodosius led our Syrian Relief gathering. This year we are hoping to more fully engage all of the Orthodox jurisdictions and faithful in this Orthodox offering of love, prayer, and mercy. Please join us!

New Lenten Evangelism Series, with Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

Starting with the first Sunday of the Triodion, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick has been releasing weekly installments of a 10-part sermon series on evangelism and the Lenten Triodion. The meditations are available in audio form through his Roads from Emmaus podcast, or as posts on the blog of the same name.

Father Andrew, who serves in the Antiochian Archdiocese, says in his introduction, "For the next ten weeks, from today through Palm Sunday, we will be discussing evangelism. Each Sunday of the Triodion has a different theme to it, usually based in the Gospel reading, and all of them have something to say about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. The Gospel is like a great jewel with many facets, each sparkling with its own light, and each drawing us into the depths of the beauty of this most precious gift. So from now until Palm Sunday, we will be looking at different facets of this gem of evangelism."

The pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, Fr. Andrew is the author of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and An Introduction to God (available at Ancient Faith Publishing). He is also the host of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts, both hosted on Ancient Faith Radio.

Read the text of the Lenten evangelism sermons, or listen to the podcast.

Transitions for the St. George Cathedral in Charleston

The Rev. Christopher Eid was named Dean of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Charleston, WV in 2014. He will assume the role in late July of 2015, when The Very Rev. Olof Scott retires. Archpriest Olof has faithfully served at the St. George Cathedral for 39 years. The Cathedral is the episcopal home of His Grace Bishop Thomas.

A native of Syria, Fr. Christopher was raised in an Orthodox home among the clergy members of his family. He attended and served at the Bosra Horan Archdiocesan Chancery Church of St. George in Syria before moving to the United States. While working full-time after arriving in the U.S., Fr. Christopher also attended the City University of New York (CUNY), obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in International Criminal Investigation.

After completing his professional training, he established a career in executive protection security and investigation. However, his love for the Church compelled him leave his job; with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip of blessed memory, he enrolled in St. Vladimir's Seminary and completed his M.Div. degree in May of 2010.

After graduation, Fr. Christopher was ordained to the Holy Diaconate on September 8, 2011 and then to the Holy Priesthood on September 11, 2011.

Immediately following ordination, Fr. Christopher was given a temporary assignment to serve alongside Fr. Elias Bitar at St. George Orthodox Church in Little Falls, NJ, before moving to Houston, TX to serve at St. George Orthodox Church from December 2011 to December 2014.

OCF Spring Retreat in Maryland + March 7, 2015

Prepare your hearts and minds during this Lenten Season, and join us for a retreat led by His Grace Bishop Thomas of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic.

Sacred Monastery of St. Nektarios
8704 Hampton Valley Road
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
Hosted by the Orthodox Christian Fellowship of the University of Maryland at College Park

This one-day retreat is offered free of charge to all OCF members and other interested college students. However, free-will offerings to cover food and other costs are greatly appreciated from any other attendees.

Please register by Tuesday, March 3, 2015 using the following link: http://goo.gl/forms/AsFgzwLtIO

For more information, please contact ocf.umd@gmail.com.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Features Metropolitan Joseph Enthronement

On the eve of the Enthronement, Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph and His Beatitude John X of Antioch and All the East for an article titled "Antiochan Orthodox installing new leader: N. American diocese celebrates its roots." Published on December 6, 2014, reporter Smith explained that those under 50 years of age cannot remember the last enthronement of an Antiochian metropolitan.

"This event means to us a lot — joy for the faithful in America and the homeland," Patriarch John was quoted as saying in the article, adding, "We are one family."

The Gazette reporter also noted that Metropolitan Joseph believes that he is "on equal footing with the newest of converts. 'Even though I was born in the faith, I have to convert to the faith daily by practicing the faith and doing virtuous and Christian actions,'" His Eminence explained.

Read the full story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bishop Thomas Lists Youth and Education Resources

His Grace Bishop Thomas has reminded the faithful of several important resources for youth.

1. 2015 Orthodox Christian Camp and Youth Worker Conference 
The theme is "Walking Alongside Our Youth" and the keynote addresses will be delivered by Fr. Bogdan Bucur and Dr. Stefanie Yazge. More details will follow. We will also be posting this information to the Orthodox Christian Camping Association.

2. In addition, there will be a College Retreat the weekend of Orthodoxy Sunday, February 27—March 1, 2015. The topic is "Standing at the Foot of the Cross and the speakers are Fr. Anthony Yazge, Marek Simon, & Chris Shadid. Please register online at www.avcamp.org.