Pastoral Conference of the Diocese of Eastern America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

The Orthodox people of Washington will long remember the Third week of Great Lent. A Pastoral Conference and Lenten Retreat for clergy of the Diocese of Eastern America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was held at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Washington, DC, from March 7 to 9. On Sunday, March 11, they also witnessed two ordinations – one to the priesthood and another to the deaconate – as well as a tonsure to the rank of reader. (Those events are described in a separate article.)

On March 7, 45 clergymen who had come from many different states throughout the East Coast of the USA gathered in fellowship, to pray together, to repent of their sins, to listen to lectures and to have an exchange of ideas. All of the Conference sessions and Divine Services were held under the direction of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, and his Vicar, His Grace Bishop Gabriel of Manhattan.

The Conference began with a moleben before the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, Indicator of the Path for the Russian Diaspora, and the Miraculous Myrrh-streaming Icon of Holy Righteous St Anna, brought from Philadelphia by its curator, Archimandrite Athanassy (Mastalsky).

After opening remarks by His Eminence and His Grace on Thursday morning, the first talk was presented by Mitred Archpriest John Townsend, rector of the Church of St Mary of Egypt, Roswell, GA, on the topic Guidelines for performing the Holy Mystery of Baptism. Fr John spoke on the importance of carefully preparing those who are to be received into the Church by the Mystery of Holy Baptism, as well as those who are preparing to participate in the Mystery. Fr John handed out to the attendees copies of a brochure that he had prepared, and that he hands out to people who are preparing for Holy Baptism.

Fr John's presentation evoked an animated response. The priests shared their experiences and their approaches to people who did not understand the spiritual meaning of the great Mystery. A request was made to have the ROCOR ecclesiastical authorities publish an ukase directing a consistent approach with respect to preparing people for Baptism. With the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, the Conference participants elected a three-member committee to study Fr John Townsend's guidelines for preparation for Holy Baptism and to make their recommendation at the Fall meeting of the Holy Synod. Committee members included Archpriest John Townsend, Archpriest George Zelenin (St Michael Cathedral, Patterson, NJ), and Priest Seraphim Gan (Parish of St Seraphim of Sarov, Sea Cliff, NY).

Protopriest Victor Potapov, Rector of the Cathedral Church of St John the Baptist in Washington DC, presented a talk after lunch. The lecture, entitled “Christ is in Our Midst!” was devoted to the topic of pastoral service at the beginning of a new century.

The speaker emphasized that the primary function of his talk was to remind the participants in the pastoral conference and retreat [ goveniye ] taking place during Great Lent, of the pastor's principal responsibilities.

When He was sending His Apostles out on their mission of service, the Savior pointed to three principal responsibilities of the pastor: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations [i.e. the responsibility to teach], baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost [i.e. the responsibility to perform religious rites], teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you [i.e. the responsibility to provide direction] (Matthew 28:19). Thus, pastoral service encompasses teaching, performing religious rites, and providing spiritual direction to the flock.

Further, Fr Victor developed the idea as it applied to the conditions of life today, and in conclusion reminded the conferees of something of great importance to pastors of Christ's Church that had been enunciated by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh:

“At the Dread Judgment, each of us pastors will stand before the Lord, the Chief of all Pastors, Who preached not with words alone, but with His life. Then we will hear: ‘how much truth did you utter, what profundities did you draw from the Gospels, from the teachings of the holy fathers – and did you live in accordance with the words that so amazed you to the depths of your heart, and that you preached to the people?... It is frightening to think of the fact that each time the priest pronounces the Word of God, God's Good News regarding salvation, he stands before the Judgment of God, and is either justified or condemned before Christ for how he lived.”

During the Conference in Washington, the clergy took part in all of the appointed Great Lenten Divine Services, which were served in Slavonic and English.

On Thursday evening, the Prayer Rule in Preparation for Holy Communion was read, and during matins, all of the participants went to confession. After the evening meal, Priest Seraphim Gan, personal secretary to His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, provided some details about the upcoming trip to Moscow for the formal signing of the Act of Eucharistic Communion between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the morning on Friday, the Feast of the First and Second Finding of the Honorable Head of St John the Baptist, the clergy assembled for the service of the Great Lenten Hours, Thereafter, the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts was served according to the hierarchical rite; 45 clergymen served at that Liturgy.

After lunch and speeches of thanksgiving, Protopriest Theodore Shevzov, from St Nicholas Parish in Stratford CT, shared some of his personal reminiscences about Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) ROCOR's founder. As a child, living with his family in Sremski Karlovtsy, Fr Theodore had served as an acolyte at services performed by Metropolitan Anthony.

It was of great importance to the conferees to hear the speaker tell of the prayerful spirit that Metropolitan Anthony brought into prayer in the church.

Fr Theodore said, “Thanks to Metropolitan Anthony, despite the outwardly humble simplicity of of the Russian Church in Sremski Karlovtsy, the overall atmosphere within the church, particularly in the Altar, was marked by a spirit of reverence and piety…"

One of Fr Theodore's most vivid recollections had to do with how Vladyka Anthony served the Holy Eucharist: "During the singing of the Divine Liturgy, at the chanting of 'To Thee we sing' and during his reading of the prayer, ‘O Lord, Who didst send down Thy Most-holy Spirit…' there were tears streaming from his eyes. I remember asking Fr Theodosius [for years, Metropolitan Anthony's cell attendant – Ed.], ‘Why is Vladyka crying during the service?' He replied, ‘Perhaps, Fedya, you will understand when you grow up.' Fr Theodosius was right; however, it was 50 years later that I began to remember it especially vividly, when I myself began to serve the Divine Liturgy.”

* * *

With thanks to God, and inspired by all that they had seen and heard, the participants in the Pastoral Conference and Retreat departed for their own parishes.

Photographs: © Alexei Tolchinsky: For photos, contact: mail@alexeytolchinsky.com


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