Archive for October, 2009

Tenth Anniversary of the Youngstown SSJC

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

The Society of Saint John Chrysostom in the US started at the first Orientale Lumen Conference in 1997.  Our volunteer co-patrons were Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos, of blessed memory, and Bishop John Michael Botean, who continues in that capacity.  The society was one of many outcomes from that first OL Conference in Washington, and has spread to several local chapters in various cities around the country.

The Youngstown chapter has been meeting regularly for the last ten years at both Catholic and Orthodox parishes, with many lay persons and clergy supporting their programs.  I have been invited to speak on a few occasions over the years, but this past weekend they celebrated their Tenth Anniversary with a wonderful dinner and invited me to give an overview of the history of the society and OL Conferences.

Their usual 25-30 persons showed up and we had a great time.  I gave the highlights of the past conference, remembering special events and exciting “firsts” that have occurred.  Not passing up the opportunity to tell some stories, I told of several other memorable ecumenical events that I have witnessed over the years, especially those with Archbishop Vsevolod who was an inspiration to us all. I recounted Vladyka’s historic Divine Liturgies at the tomb of St. Peter in Rome in 1999 and 2006, the audiences with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, and the many trips and private discussions with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, almost annually for the last 14 years.

I congratulate the Youngstown Chapter on their continual efforts to bring people together to learn about the Eastern Churches and to foster dialogue among Orthodox and Catholics.  I also commend the other chapters who meet regularly – in southern California and Baltimore – and hope that others may spring up in different places in the future.

Year for Priests Video Recording

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

In support of the Year for Priests as declared by Pope Benedict XVI, OLTV has undertaken a project to record answers to a set of questions about personal calling, ministry and priesthood from various church leaders and pastors.  The questions asked of each person are: To start, we would like to learn about your beginnings in becoming a priest.  We know that God works in many different ways.  Sometimes a word, a comment, something very small can have a profound life-changing effect on a person.

1.  What first awakened in you the realization that God might be calling you to the priesthood?

2.  What were your initial emotions and hopes as you began to think more deeply about your vocation?

Priests have a significant impact upon a man’s vocation and his response to this calling.  Their influence and support make up an important part of a man’s discernment.

3.  Did you have the support and encouragement of priests when you were thinking about entering the seminary?  What did these priests say or do that most helped you?

There are many aspects of formation for priesthood.  Through prayer, study, relationships, and pastoral experience one grows and develops in deepening his commitment to this vocation.

4.  As you look back upon your years of formation, what moments stand out that confirmed and strengthened your understanding of your vocation to priesthood?

5.  Did you have the support and encourage of family members, especially parents, and friends when you entered the seminary?  What did they say or do that helped you the most? We long to give our lives and our hearts to something that really matters.  We are in a search for God.  At the same time, we want to share with others what is deepest within our being:  our experience of God’s goodness; and the richness of bringing people to God and God to people through Word and Sacrament.

6.  What are the experiences or moments in your priesthood that most deeply nurtures and sustains your relationship with God?

7.  Describe a time when you knew that your experience of God had to be shared – you just could not keep it inside you or remain silent.  Tell the story of this time, and what most helped you to share the story of your encounter with God.

Even though a vocation to priesthood is given to an individual, it is lived out in relation to the Church – priests give themselves to the Body of Christ and to the People of God.

8.  Describe an experience when you felt a true sense of serving the Church, a time when you and others were truly living the Ecclesial life of the Church.  What did people say or do that most helped to bring about this experience?

Priests live their lives in persona Christi.  They live out the message of the Gospel, witness the Good News in their compassion and service to others and bring God’s presence and grace into the lives of others through the celebration of the sacraments.

9.  Describe a time when you experienced a profound sense of serving in the Person of Christ – even in the midst of struggles or tragedies.  What did people do or say that most helped you experience this reality?

Knowing that a joyful life is the most powerful witness, priests need to speak about the joy and meaning of their vocation with others.

10.  What do you value most about your vocation to the priesthood?  What has made your choice of a vocation “worth it” to you?

11.  What would you say, from your own experience, is the most compelling reason that a young man should consider a vocation to the priesthood?   Recorded interviews of about a dozen priests and bishops were made during October and are being edited into a complete show for OLTV.  Watch this space and the OLTV website for further information when they will be available.

Visit with Metropolitan Kallistos in Oxford

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

On my return from Constantinople and the celebration of Prokrov (Protection of the Mother of God) in the Blacherna Church and my audience/lunch with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, I spent several days with Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia at his residence in Oxford.  He has an enormous study/sitting room lined on three walls by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves built into the walls.  By rough estimate, there are 25 books per shelf, 10 shelves per case, and about 12 cases around the walls – totaling over 3000 books.  And those are the ones that can be SEEN – many shelves have a second row of books behind the first! 

His Eminence meets with students and parishioners in this room, and on this visit, I recorded several more videos of lectures on the topic of “Heaven on Earth:  The Inner Meaning of the Eucharist.”  The talks were wonderfully uplifting and educational.  I am so happy that we captured the essence of His Eminence’s keen wit, scholarship and theological understanding.  They will be a wonderful tribute to him for generations in the future.  These in particular, I feel are examples of his great ability to boil down complex theological principles and ideas of the Church Fathers into easily comprehensible chunks of the Faith.  I truly thank His Eminence for sharing them with me, and recording them for all to view and learn.  The first full lecture is available to view on and the complete set of six lectures are available to purchase from the online catalog of as CD or DVD recordings for parish or personal use.

A Weekend in Constantinople

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

For the past several days, I’ve been enjoying some special events in Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey.  Back in the spring, I requested an audience with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to further discuss details for the Orientale Lumen EuroEast III Conference scheduled for July 5-8, 2010.

Rather than come during the feast of St. Andrew at the end of November, as I have in the past, I thought it would interesting to be here in the Queen City for the feast day of the Protection of the Mother of God, October 1, instead.  This feast commemorates the vision of the Theotokos holding her veil over the people of Constantinople in the 10th century when invading armies were knocking on the city walls.  The invaders were repelled and the people of the city remembered that event on October 1.  The vision appeared in the church of the Blachernae which is a functioning Greek Orthodox church today about 2 miles from the current offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but not the same building from centuries ago.

The answer to my request was not only a “yes” to the audience, but to also join His All Holiness for lunch over the weekend.

So I arrived last Wednesday evening from London (see previous post of my weekend with the Ukrainians there) and spent Thursday meeting with staff of the Patriarchate, preparing for my audience with the Patriarch, and meeting with the travel agent and hotel representative to work out more details for our conference and other tours.  To be more convenient (and because the IMF has just about every affordable room in Istanbul already booked for their three day annual meeting!), I took a room in a small three star hotel called the Daphnis just two blocks from the patriarchate’s compound.  Being so close, I could come and go easily, without worrying too much about taxis this trip.

On Friday morning I went the short distance to Blachernae Church for the Divine Liturgy and found a small gathering of local residents singing Orthros or Matins for the feast.  In addition to the cantor who travels from Ankara to sing every weekend in three churches of Istanbul, the local bishop of the Fener neighborhood (in which the patriarchate is located) were singing away.  I set up my three cameras and when Matins concluded, they moved directly into starting the Divine Liturgy.  About 15 minutes into the liturgy a bus load of Romanian Orthodox visitors arrived, said some prayers, wrote petitions for the liturgy on slips of paper, and took small bottles of water that come from a spring under the church and which is considered holy.  They all left before the Gospel was proclaimed.  The bishop invited me for coffee and he, the cantor and I had a short chat.  I promised to send them a DVD of the liturgy as a remembrance of my visit.

Although I was supposed to have lunch with His All Holiness on Friday after the liturgy, his schedule changed and so it was moved to Sunday.  On Saturday I went up the hill to the area of Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and all the tourist shops surrounding Sultanemet Square.  I went to visit my long friend, Turgut the carpet shop keeper, and had lunch with him.  Although I promised myself to not buy a carpet this trip, I couldn’t refuse his selling skills and picked one up anyway – now to find a place for it in my home that’s already full of Turgut’s carpets from my previous 12 visits here!

On Sunday morning it was raining, but not heavily, and I walked the few blocks from my hotel to the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint George.  As I walked up to the front gates I heard the bells ringing, signaling the arrival of His All Holiness in the church.  I missed his entrance, but again, Matins went on for another 45 minutes before the Divine Liturgy started, so I had plenty of time to set up my cameras.  I recorded the end of Matins, the entire Liturgy, and then a memorial service for the dead which took place at the end, along with the line of faithful who come forward for blessed bread from the hand of the Ecumenical Patriarch.  He is the main celebrant of the Liturgy only a few times during the year, and presides from the throne of St. John Chrysostom dating from the 4th century.

After the liturgy, I was escorted up to the third floor of the patriarchal offices, where I had a private meeting with His All Holiness to discuss the OL conference.  It lasted about 20-30 minutes, we agreed when he would participate, and discussed other general items, including his upcoming trip to the US at the end of October.  I jokingly invited him to my home for “steaks on the grille” if he had time during his 3-4 days in Washington, but he thanked me and said he would certainly be too busy.  I guess I don’t quite have the clout of President Obama or other Greek Orthodox hierarchs and contributors whom he will visit!  Besides, I can’t imagine what the Fairfax City police would do if a motorcade of limos and security vehicles turned up on University Drive!!!  He also gave me a signed copy of his recent book Encountering the Mystery which I look forward to reading on the flight home.

I then joined him in the private dining room with a few other clergy and guests, all who spoke Greek, and enjoyed the lunch of soup and mixed grille of beef and lamb.  I said my goodbye after some dessert and coffee, and received his blessing.  All in all, it was a great visit!