Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Diocesan Assembly

First, I want to say Protection of the Holy Theotokos Parish/St. Serephim Church did an amazing job hosting the Assembly. The food was almost too good to be true. I especially want to call attention to the dolmas, the the chocolate torte, the falafel, and the mussel,clam, and rice dish. They were all made from scratch in the church's kitchen and were amazing. There was much else: pork loin, chicken, a salad with, I think, candied walnuts, much wine, beer, first rate coffee, fresh fruit, olives, cheeses, and very yummy cookies. But what made it all so good, was not just the food. It was the hospitality. Real hospitality, not the kind you pay for at a fancy restaurant. Every bite said "I love you. I'm glad you are here." Our brothers and sisters in that parish found every need and made sure it was met.

The main building was beautiful. It is not often one gets to step into an artist's workshop and see sketches on the walls for the soon to be painted frescoes. Currently, only slightly more than half of the east wall (including all of the altar) and part of the west wall and two pillars are finished. All the rest is whitewashed concrete. One of the most beautiful things is the interior of the dome. It is still white concrete but all the icons have been sketched in sepia-tones. I can hardly wait to visit the church again in the future and see all the frescoes completed. Of all the icons that have been painted so far, I think the most moving might be that of St. John of Damascus. Something about it seems thankful.

The services were beautiful, as one wold expect with two bishops, 14 archpriests, three deacons, and two of the best trained and most experienced sub-deacons in the history of the Church (Yes, I mean Subdeacon Johann Morse and Subdeacon Dr. Dimitri Solodow) serving. Also I think I should mention the choir. It was small but perfect. Every voice did exactly what it was supposed to do, to the Glory of God. (This reminds me of something else about this temple I loved: Almost all the light was natural from the sun, from oil lamps, or from beeswax candles. Even the lights on the choir's music stands was candle light: There being 5 candles set in the right hand edge of each stand.

One of the services was changed by Bishop Benjamin. A vespers service had been planned but at the last minute he changed it to a Panikida (sp?) for two recently reposed priests and Mat. Barbara Sokolov. For this service a choir of priests was formed. The beauty of their voices beseeching Gods mercy on those three beloved members of our family was heart rending.

As for the business of the meeting, well, there wasn't much.
1. Bishop Benjamin said to his Priests, "Holy Unction is not just a prayer for the sick! It is a Sacrament! Confession before Holy Unction is required. So if you need to educate your people, do it."
2. We have some very poor parishes (It seems that some of our priestly families are living below the poverty line), and Bishop Benjamin would like the parishes with money to help those that don't have money. Toward that end he had some laymen introduce a bank that would be funded by Orthodox parishes and institutions that would loan money to parishes for capital improvements. I really liked the idea until I found out that the bank board would be self continuing and not appointed by the church. That will have to be looked at very closely. History shows that many institutions are formed for one purpose and wind up serving another. I mentioned Harvard University having been formed for the propagation of the Gospel but how it now does everything but that. My comment was well received by the Assembly. I think Bishop Benjamin might be worried about the same thing. Simple solution: Parishes with money just need to give to those that need it. We are one diocese, aren't we?
3. The diocesan budget is balanced and was approved (after some questions) by the Assembly.
4. Bishop Benjamin asked for the opinions of the members of the Assembly on many issues and we gave it. I was astounded by the unanimity of opinion. That my opinion on so many matters would be the same as that of an old woman ascetic, a very cosmopolitan priest from a big city, a fairly recent (three years) convert from L.A., a hipster chick (You should have seen the boots she was wearing!), matushkas young and old, a horde of priests, and a handful of nuns can only be ascribed to the Holy Spirit. Whether or not Bishop Benjamin and the rest of the Holy Synod follow our advice almost seems beside the point.
5. Robert Kondratick is still suing us and if he wins will bankrupt the Orthodox Church in America. So far, defending against the suit has cost $500,000. The bishops are unanimous that they will never reinstate him to the holy Priesthood, which is, I think, what he really wants. I am proud of our bishops.
6. We all had such a good time with each other that we asked Bishop Benjamin to schedule the next Diocesan Assembly in the summer so we can bring our families, or perhaps, have another meeting, where we can all get together.

Funny line. When discussing whether or not to do away with the Church Growth Department in the Metropolitan's chancery one woman said: "Church growth department? We have a church growth department? Would somebody please tell me, when did we become Protestants?" Pretty much, the Assembly recommended the elimination of all departments at the Metropolitan's Chancery except external affairs (it is required by the Holy Canons), clergy pensions, and the seminaries. Also, the church planting grants were deemed a worthy and successful program. Everyone seemed to think that program should stay at the Metropolitan's Chancery. Everything else should be done at the diocesan level with the following exceptions:
Christian education should be done only by the OCEC, big foreign charity works should be done only the IOCC, and foreign missions should only be done by the OCMC, all of which are agencies of the SCOBA. All we need the Metropolitan to do is provide links to these agencies on his website.

I was greatly honored to meet the woman who runs Martha and Mary House. Sometimes we encounter people we are not worthy to even look at, let alone converse with. She is one of those people.

Oh, one more very cool thing. I got to hear the new abbot from the St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Monastery preach. WOW!!!!!

I hope I get to go to the next Diocesan Assembly.


Mimi said...

Our parish hosted the Assembly many years ago - it is a lot of work, but what a wonderful blessing.

I enjoyed reading this report, thank you. Your parish was well served by having you as a delegate.

Philippa said...

Thanks for sharing this Matt. Very informative and helpful. I wish our Diocese had a Bishop who was as "on top of things" as yours, and one who really followed through with his words - which ring empty and echo with incompleteness.

Mary and Martha House is a place I'd like to volunteer. To bad I live on the wrong coast.