Brotherhood of St. Joseph of Damascus Clergy Retreat + Sep. 24-26, 2008
Over twenty strong male voices filled Ss. Peter and Paul chapel with a heavenly sound as the clergy of the Diocese of New York and Washington DC, and the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid Atlantic gathered with Bishop THOMAS in late September for their fourth annual clergy retreat at the Antiochian Village.
The retreat’s theme was the spiritual development of our youth, as well as ministering to our parishioners with special needs. The retreat was led by the Village’s own pastor - the Very Rev. Anthony Yazge. During our first session, Father Anthony reminded us of St. Clement of Alexandria’s words that the Church must implant within each child’s soul an ability to know God from the earliest age possible. This is the activity that must animate the children’s ministries within all our parishes. Fr. Anthony also discussed the differences in how children within various age groups understand the Church, God and prayer, and what these differences mean from a pastoral perspective. The session ended with the clergy discussing the challenges and the rewards they face in establishing an environment within their parishes that nurtures the spiritual growth of their children.
The retreat’s other two sessions addressed the pastoral care of parishioners with disabilities and the challenges of ministering to those with special needs. Fr. Anthony shared his own personal experiences and that of his son, Mark, who has Downs Syndrome. We learned that disabilities do not discriminate and that disabilities affect people of all races, socioeconomic status, gender and age. In fact, people with disabilities comprise the largest minority group in the United States, with nearly 20% of all Americans (and youth) experiencing some type of physical or mental impairment. Through the sharing of actual experiences by many of the clergy, we discussed how to create a more welcoming and accepting culture within our parishes for those with special needs, and how we should talk to and minister to those with a disability. And above all, we were reminded through the strong pastoral examples of our Diocesan clergy of St. Paul’s admonition on the worth of our brothers and sisters with disabilities, “On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (I Cor 12:22)
About St. Joseph of Damascus
St. Joseph of Damascus, born in 1793, was one of the most important figures in the life of the nineteenth century Patriarchate of Antioch, and whose works contributed greatly to the renaissance of the Antiochian Church. He lived during a time of deep division within the Patriarchate, internally driven by the deep schism with the Melkites, and externally from the arrival of active and aggressive Protestants. And it was a time when many of our hierarchs were from foreign lands, not understanding the struggle of the Antiochian people. Into the midst of these challenges and dangers, we find St. Joseph. His life was full of fervor and godliness. He lived a life of poverty, dedicating all that he had to the ministry of his flock. He was a brilliant man, one of the most renowned scholars of his time. Due to his extraordinary preaching, St. Joseph was also known by many as the second John Chrysostom. He ministered to all his flock, with a pastoral care that served to create a missionary atmosphere within the church, motivating the spirits and moving the hearts of his brethren. His ministry touched a generation of souls, who generated fervor and revival within the Patriarchate. But St. Joseph is best known by his martyr’s death. On July 9, 1860, a great massacre of Christians began in Damascus, with many Christians taking refuge in the Patriarchal Cathedral (Al-Mariamieh). Following the tradition of the time, St. Joseph had kept his Communion kit at home. During the massacre, hiding the communion kit under his sleeves, St. Joseph went from roof to roof toward the Cathedral, where he spent the night strengthening and encouraging his flock, preparing them for martyrdom and the crowns of glory which awaited them. At daybreak, a mob attacked the Cathedral, robbing, killing and burning everything in sight. St. Joseph escaped from the Cathedral, but was recognized on the street by one who shouted, "This is the leader of Christians. If we kill him, we will kill all the Christians!" Upon hearing these words, St. Joseph consumed the remaining Body and Blood of Christ from his communion kit. He was killed by those who wielded their hatchets, mutilating his body. Binding his legs, his persecutors dragged him over the streets until he was torn into pieces. Although dying as a martyr, St. Joseph’s life and sufferings were a witness of his holiness to those who remained and for all of us today. Through the prayers of hieromartyr John the Damascene and his companions, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen. (Adapted from The Word, January, 1994, p21-26 by V. Rev. Fr. Michel Najim.)