His Grace Bishop Thomas came to visit St. Raphael of Brooklyn Church  in Chantilly, Virginia on the weekend of December 15-16, 2012, and presided at Vespers on Saturday evening, as well as Orthros and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday.
This was the culmination of another successful year for the mission, which was established in 2006 and located 20 miles west of our nation’s capital. The mission has grown from 20 members to its present 140 under the leadership of Fr. Thomas Palke. The congregation has made the transition from setting up for Sunday liturgies in an established location that offers a sizable sanctuary, nave, and narthex, plus classrooms and a social area. During the past two years the parish has built an iconostasis that can be expanded as the congregation grows. A lovely platytera icon adorns the wall behind the altar, and the nave is surrounded with a complete set of festal icons.
After vespers on Saturday, Bishop Thomas met with the church council and other parish members at the home of Sue Garbarino. Bishop Thomas has been an enthusiastic supporter of our mission and offered excellent advice on how our congregation can increase its membership and expand its ministries. Using several personal and anecdotal stories, he was able to relate his views to our particular situation. He offered us several suggestions on ways to move forward to the goal of a establishing a permanent location and a full-time priest.
His Grace recounted the history of his ministry, and emphasized the need for unity in purpose and action in the parish. He also addressed the role that each parishioner can play in growing the church. He recounted the story of several individuals who had been involved with the Orthodox Church, but who had never been asked to join. In one instance, a pharmacist, whose child was enrolled in the parish parochial school, had expressed interest in Orthodoxy. This man frequently attended services with his spouse for 20 years. When Sayedna (then Fr. Thomas) asked him why he had never joined the Church, he replied that nobody had asked him. His Grace reminded us that we have a responsibility to bring the Word of God to people and to bring people to the Church.
Bishop Thomas also recounted a story of a man who wanted to join the Orthodox Church, but whose wife was opposed to the idea. After the man prayed at the tomb of St. John of Shanghai, asking him to pray that his wife would accept his conversion, his wife later told him that she wanted him to join the Church.
Bishop Thomas emphasized the importance of prayer and underscored the importance of the intercession of saints. He noted that several saints, specifically St. John and St. Basil of Ostrog in Montenegro, still appear as they did in life. And in the case of St. Basil of Ostrog, his slippers need to be changed regularly, since they get worn out.
At the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, His Grace spoke about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. He reminded the flock that we are the church of the resurrection. Heaven really is in our midst! We are the recipients of true life, both now and forever. At the conclusion of Liturgy, Sayidna offered a two-year memorial service for Subdeacon Michael (Robert) Rudloff, who faithfully served our mission from its inception. The Sunday School children presented a program about the Forefathers of Christ and sang several Orthodox Christmas hymns. His Grace then answered questions from the members of the parish. The morning concluded with a “fast food” potluck meal (the food tasted so good, we almost thought we weren’t fasting!). Joining His Grace at the services were Deacon Peter Maris and Subdeacon Ben Daniel.
We left church that day with hearts that were full of joy--because Christ was in our midst!