Serve 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.
Sayidna's visit with the Women of the Holy Myrrhbearers (ladies group) took place on Saturday afternoon, the day proceeding the Sunday of the Myrrbearing Women. The ladies were joyful with the brightness of the Resurrected Christ, and yet first on their minds was to ask Sayidna about our suffering Patriarchate, Bishops, and brothers and sisters in Christ in the middle-east. Our parish has kept our fellow Orthodox Christians and their struggles in their daily prayers. The women continued in conversation with Sayidna about a number of issues, chief among these was seeking guidance for the spiritual health of our church. Even our youngest myrrh bearer present, a dear 5-year old felt at ease sharing the experiences of her daily life with Sayidna. This gathering was punctuated by a delicious cook-out luncheon prepared by the ladies and hosted by Fr. Samuel and Kh. Loretta.
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm100:3). Bishop Thomas took care to attend to the needs of his flock during his visit, as our informal encounters with His Grace allowed him to be available to all members of his flock. The very youngest to the oldest member of our parish were comfortable visiting with our bishop. His Grace gave us spiritual direction in his greetings, his meeting with the parish council, with the women's group, in his sermon, and informal one-to-one conversations. He encouraged us to prepare ourselves by attending the services of the Church, and to increase our individual efforts to bring people to the church of True Worship. Sayidna asked that we commit ourselves to witness to others in our parish, by "sharing the gift of the kingdom" in our community, in our neighborhoods, and among our friendships. We are strengthened to do this work if each attends to the one thing needful (our salvation).
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4). It is a great blessing to experience firsthand the fullness of the church, as a Holy Father of the Church once proclaimed: where the bishop, clergy and faithful gather – there is the Church. Our church congregation is literally the embodiment of our Orthodox faith, and our bishop is our chief spiritual guide. Our church is mystically filled to overflowing each Divine Liturgy as earthly and heavenly beings unite, and our worship is completed with our bishop present. Several parishioners commented how glorious Divine Liturgy was that morning! We were indeed attuned to and uplifted by the grace of the Holy Spirit acting through our bishop, clergy, and faithful during the hierarchial divine services we experienced.
For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. (Psalm 100:5). Our hierarchial visit was nearing conclusion as we gathered together for a wonderful luncheon prepared by our parishioners. One small, loving thing remained to be done. Our church school children found the opportune moment to honor their beloved bishop with a "scroll" they had fashioned with their handiwork, containing art and words expressing their love for Sayidna. Our youngest children came forward unprompted to join in the gathering around Sayidna. It was a joy-filled moment for everyone, and a lovely conclusion to our visit with Sayidna.
May God continue to bless the work of each of His co-laborers in His vineyard, so that as Bishop Thomas often reminds us, our Lord will say to each of us on that glorious day: "Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord." Many years, Master!