The deacons of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic met with His Grace Bishop Thomas Joseph for their fourth annual retreat. This year, the retreat was held jointly with the annual Saint Thekla’s Pilgrimage at the Antiochian Village, September 21-23. For the first time, deacons from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America and the Orthodox Church of America also participated in response to Sayedna Thomas’ invitation to deacons from all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions who had received a blessing from their hierarchs to attend.
The Reverend Deacon Paul Zaharas from the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver served as retreat master with the blessing of his Metropolitan Isaiah. The deacons began their retreat Friday night praying Vespers and Compline with Sayedna Thomas, and on Saturday morning celebrated Orthros and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with him and the priests, Mother Alexandra of the Convent of Saint Thekla, and the laity who were participating in the Pilgrimage. In his Saturday afternoon sessions, Father Deacon Paul explored the particular nature of the diaconate and the challenge of cultivating a spiritual life. He began by observing that actually serving in the office provides the insights into the particular qualities needed to be an effective servant, even though the basic spiritual sources and expectations for deacons do not differ from those demanded of all Orthodox Christians. Still, since the deacon can easily become the “busy Martha” of the Church we need to be renewed in order to be able to serve the Gospel and to lead by example. Deacon Paul emphasized how the deacon is encouraged to serve with humility but also with confidence in the power of the office bestowed upon him by the Holy Spirit through the bishop’s laying on of hands. Like the priest, deacons differ from the laity horizontally, not vertically as the bishop differs, since our orders expect us to lead, to serve, and to do so in such a manner that when we do what is “right” it is not really noticed at all. In order to serve boldly in humility, he reminded the deacons, we would do well to recall the wisdom of the advice: “serve every Divine Liturgy as if it were your first—and your last.”
The deacon is called to live in a deep connection between serving at the Eucharist and as the herald of the Gospel and openness to whatever form of service presents itself in both parish and broader community. That readiness should always be first and foremost in the deacon’s mind and heart in order to be the icon of Christ the Servant. Those same encouragements came from Sayedna Thomas who contributed his own observations during the early afternoon meeting. The deacons also had the opportunity in a subsequent session to ask practical questions about how best to carry out their duties in the various services of the Church, and how to respond to questions and requests they encounter in their ministry from both Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Finally, Deacon Paul encouraged the cultivation of the “mindset, demeanor, and attitude”—the phronema—of service as the integrating characteristic of a life spent in unrelenting service to Christ and to others. That challenge can only be carried out with the critical role of a spiritual father, and every deacon needs such a guide, mentor, and resource. A question and answer period with Sayedna Thomas in conjunction with planning for next year’s retreat led to the Compline service that closed the Saturday sessions. On Sunday morning, the deacons again served with Sayedna Thomas and The Very Reverend Anthony Yazge at Orthros and the Hierarchical Liturgy before enjoying a final meal together and saying farewell in thanksgiving for the usual gracious hospitality offered by Paul Finley and his excellent staff at the Village. The pastor of the parish of The Holy Cross in Linthicum, MD, The Very Rev. Gregory Matthewes-Green has graciously invited the deacons to hold their retreat next year (September 13-15, 2013) at the parish during the 20 th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood and the beginning of the parish. Those events will coincide with the 25 th anniversary of Sayedna Thomas’ ordination to the priesthood. The parish and the deacons will thus have the opportunity to honor His Grace, as well. We look forward to a reunion with one another, more deacons from our own Archdiocese and other jurisdictions, and with our holy Master.
Deacon Gregory Roeber