The start of February, 2014 in New England came with a reprieve from the cold weather and storms which had punished the northeast this winter. The climate instead was perfect for the newly organized innovative program, "Diocesan Family Day." The tagline on the flyers for the event read "bringing together our finest...our people and our traditions" and it certainly came true. For many years in the Diocese of Worcester and New England, the Antiochian Women have sponsored the pre-Lenten retreat, and for five years running young people from the parishes have gathered for Youth Day. So the thought this year was, why not combine them, and why not add more events so everyone in the diocesan family can participate? The Family Day, held at the church of St. John of Damascus in Dedham, was, in a word, "fabulous!"
Pulling together the various elements of Family Day could have proved a challenge, but from the outset the Antiochian Women and the Mission Council of the Diocese worked seamlessly to encourage registrations, organize lunch, provide speakers and insure that everyone went home spiritually rewarded. One hundred twenty people, including His Grace Bishop John, clergy and laity—young and old alike—gathered at noon for a homemade lunch, prepared by the Ladies of St. John's and St. George in Norwood. The Very Rev. Chad Hatfield, chancellor and CEO of St. Vladimir's Seminary, addressed everyone during the meal on the topic of mission. Father Chad then led the retreat portion of the afternoon, which  was not just for the ladies, but open to everyone. The title for the retreat was "Mary, Mysteries and Mission: Rediscovering our Christian Identity."
As the retreat began in the big hall, the church school students, teens and young adults broke into four groups for their afternoon activities. Nancy Close, the Sunday School director in Dedham, provided the younger crowd with an afternoon of amazing lessons and crafts. The other groups, divided by age, rotated among three presenters for discussions. Father Chris Nerreau from Emmanuel Church in Warren, MA spoke on "Life In God —A Journey From Legalism to Liberty." Rev. Father Benjamin Kjendal from St. Stephen Church in Springfield, MA spoke on "Beauty, Holiness, and Hope: A Journey to Christ." The third presenter was Chrysanthy Tiggas, a St. Vladimir's graduate who is on the staff of St. Methodios Camp & Retreat Center (GOA) in New Hampshire; the title of her presentation was "Salvation: Smoking or Non Smoking." The only downfall to the activities was the time limit; the groups had to be encouraged to wrap up one session and move on to the next.
As the day ended, everyone gathered in the church for a big group photograph, followed by Great Vespers with Litia and Artoklasia for the Feast of the Meeting in the Temple. Bishop John presided, the clergy all served and everyone else sang. It was a glorious end to an enlightening and upbeat day. Just hours after its conclusion, people were already putting their heads together talking about next year. Not only did the speakers do an excellent job of inspiring the faithful but the very notion of the whole diocesan family coming together for fellowship and prayer was a hallmark of the day.