Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Episcopal Weekend

Last weekend, four of us went down from Jordanville to Mercer, Pennsylvania for the Spring meeting of the Orthodox Inter-Seminary Movement. This semester, Christ the Savior Seminary hosted. Since the seminary is under the Carpatho-Russians I was really curious to find out about their traditions. Moreover I heard that their hierarch, Gregory of Nyssa (yes, really), was going to be here during the weekend, so I was looking forward to that as well.

Since the seminary itself is very small, we stayed instead at their camp, Camp Nazareth. We unpacked our bags at the staff lodge and met Bishop Gregory, who was already chatting in the living room with the other people who arrived from Holy Cross, where he was a seminarian.

Then we had a moleben at the camp chapel to St. Nektarios. The chapel reminded me of old Russian wooden chapels, with some obvious differences. For example, the cupolas looked more like pears than onions. The Carpatho-Russians sang in English in their style of chant known as prostopinje (“plainchant”), which is related to Znamenny chant. After the moleben we sat down and Bishop Gregory talked to us about his own seminary experiences, such as his difficulties with adjusting to the climate, being from the South. “Seminaries are hellish, but they’re beautiful hells, because they make beautiful priests,” he concluded. His Greek and Southern background added an interesting accent to his resonant bass.

We then had dinner in the large camp lodge. On the walls of the hallway hung past hierarchs of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese, including a bishop named John R. Martin. This was quickly called to my attention, and became the running gag of the weekend. After dinner, we had a group activity with Fr. Stephen Loposky, the camp director. Fr. Stephen split us into groups and had us analyze the agenda of a fictional parish council meeting, and minutes of the previous meeting. We had to identify problems, try to read through the lines, and adopt the role of the incoming priest. Fr. Stephen shared his own struggle being a new priest: “Everything you’re given in life—smarts, brains, brawn—will be required of you.” We discussed the various issues of this fictional parish, with Bishop Gregory adding many wise suggestions. We were so animated in discussion that we did not take notice of the time, and by the time we were finished it was already 11 o’clock. That night, I fell asleep very quickly.

The next morning, we had a brief (for ROCOR) Matins service in the chapel, and then a delicious breakfast served by Fr. Stephen’s Pani (Matushka), Terri. We had another group activity, in which we discussed our first home visits as new priests. We went over issues like scheduling, what to get out of the visit, what to do, what to notice, and who to start with. It was very eye-opening, and I learned quite a few “tricks of the trade” that probably won’t be covered in Pastoral Theology.

After that activity, Fr. Michael Ellis of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship gave a presentation on OCF, which has branches in many colleges in the United States. He explained the importance of working with the OCF and had us share our fondest memories. When it came to my turn (I talked about my first days at seminary) I said, “Hi. I’m John Martin. Like the bishop.” Laughter ensued.

“Eis polla eti Despota,” said Bishop Gregory.

After lunch we had our official OISM meeting. My compatriot Srdjan got elevated from Vice-President to President, and Will from CSS became the new Vice-President. I got to keep my job as Secretary. We also talked about trying to get fundraising for the seminarians from St. Herman’s Seminary in Alaska to come for a meeting, as well as for a possible exchange program between the different seminaries.

In the evening we had Vespers, after which we had dinner and a talk by Monk James from St. Vladimir’s about Orthodox involvement in the pro-life movement, including the annual March for Life. We then had a long discussion around the fireplace with Bishop Gregory and posed him many questions about heavy issues like abortion, homosexuality, adultery, the burial of suicides and non-Orthodox, the proper application of the canons, etc. He answered all our questions very well.

The next day we had Liturgy and then after brunch said our good-byes. I’m very happy with the course of this meeting because it seemed to be more focused on practical pastoral issues. I hope that there will be more of this at future OISM meetings. The next meeting will be held at St. Vladimir’s Seminary next Fall. I’m looking forward to it!

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