On Wednesday, March 14, the Lenten Retreat for clergy of the Eastern American Diocese and the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA concluded with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. In keeping with recent tradition, the retreat took place on the fourth week of Great Lent, following the Sunday of the Cross. The divine services, as well as the Retreat’s lectures and discussions, were held under the aegis of the Holy Cross of the Lord, as well as the myrrh-streaming Icon of the Mother of God "Softener of Evil Hearts," a special blessing for all of the participants.
In the morning, the clergy gathered at St. Alexander Nevsky Diocesan Cathedral in Howell, NJ to greeting the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York. At Liturgy, His Eminence was co-served by Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan (vicar of the Eastern American Diocese), Bishop Nikolai (Soraich; retired, Western American Diocese), and over 70 concelebrating clergy.
At the Little Entrance, Metropolitan Hilarion bestowed awards on diocesan clerics:
- Archpriests Michael & Brendan Crowley were awarded the jeweled cross;
- Priest Dimitri Jakimowicz was awarded the gold cross and elevated to the rank of archpriest;
- Priest Kevin Kalish was awarded the kamilavka; and
- Protodeacon Paul Giatas was awarded the kamilavka.
On the eve of and during the service, the faithful confessed their sins, and upon completion of the Liturgy, Retreat participants, parishioners, and guests communed of Christ’s Holy Mysteries.
Upon completion of the Liturgy, Metropolitan Hilarion addressed the gathered hierarchs, clergy, and faithful, saying, in part: "Your Graces, reverend fathers, dear brothers and sisters, I sincerely congratulate you with today’s celebration of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts by a multitude of pastors of our Eastern American Diocese. Today we would especially like to thank our dear guest, Bishop Nikolai, for his wonderful and instruction lecture yesterday… We also thank our other lecturer, Archpriest Gregory Joyce of the Mid-American Diocese, who also spoke yesterday about the meaning and theology of the divine services, and in particular about the Presanctified Liturgy. We wish you both health and many years of service in Christ’s Vineyard."
Metropolitan Hilarion then presented Bishop Nikolai and Fr. Gregory each an icon of the Holy Right-Believing Great Prince Alexander Nevsky, Heavenly patron of the diocesan cathedral, with commemorative plaques. He thanked all those who attended, as well as the organizers and volunteers who made the Retreat possible.
His Eminence then presented a diocesan gramota to Archpriest George and Matushka Deborah Johnson (the latter was not in attendance) in honor of the 25th anniversary of Fr. George’s ordination to the diaconate, as well as the 20th anniversary of the St. Romanos the Melodist Society, which was founded by the Johnsons to translate and set hymnography for use by church choirs.
Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov, dean of New Jersey and the cathedral’s pastor emeritus, shared some words of wisdom with those present, saying: "Yesterday and today have been so uplifting and wonderful… I think we, the pastors, are the most fortunate people in the world, to have been given this life of being a priest. It is not a privilege, it is a commission, and we have to perform it. Yesterday I was in the altar; it was quiet, dark. And suddenly I felt the presence of being in a holy place, as I have never in my life felt before. I have to share this with you: I wept, out of deep gratitude to our Lord for allowing this to happen, to be in the Church. May God bless our dear Vladykas, who have such a difficult task today, to run the Church, to lead the faithful in these very difficult times, to care for all of us. They do it out of love. I have seen generations of archpastors: metropolitan, archbishops, and bishops. Each time it was the same thing: the love of a father for his child.
"We have gathered here and we achieve something extraordinarily special – when we meet, we are an association of priests, a group of people who serve the Lord and the people. But only when we all confess our sins, when we all come to each other, as we did last night and today, with a truly open heart and spiritual purity, what do we become? Not an association or a group, but now, in this moment, after Holy Communion, we have really become brothers in Christ. We can say this with a heart full of love and truth. May God give us the grace and the help to maintain this as long as possible in our hearts, so that our dear Orthodox Church may grow stronger by the day, spreading throughout the Diaspora and the world."
Concluding the pastoral Retreat, a group photograph was taken of all of the participants. They then proceeded to the church hall for a farewell luncheon, during which Fr. Valery spoke once more, offering edifying words as the Church Abroad’s senior cleric.