On Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th of December, Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen; former Primate of the Orthodox Church in America) paid an archpastoral visit to St. Alexander Nevsky Diocesan Cathedral in Howell, NJ, where he led the resurrectional divine services.
Co-serving with His Eminence were the cathedral clergy: Archpriests Serge Lukianov, Rafael Melendez, Boris Slootsky, and Seraphim Chemodakov and Protodeacons Leonid Roschko and Paul Drozdowski, as well as Hieromonk Felipe Balingit (Dean of Missions in the Philippines) and Deacon Michael Pavuk (cleric of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Mayfield, PA).
The divine services were beautifully sung by the choir of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, directed by Deacon Nicholas Kotar. Also singing in the choir is Priest Ephraim Willmarth, the seminary’s Assistant Dean. Frs. Felipe Balingit and Michael Pavuk accompanied the choir from Jordanville, where the former is completing his master’s degree and the latter works as the seminary’s Director of Development.
On Sunday morning, Metropolitan Jonah celebrated Divine Liturgy, concelebrated by the above-mentioned clergy.
At the Little Entrance, with the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York, Fr. Felipe was awarded the right to wear the nabedrennik.
Upon conclusion of the service, Metropolitan Jonah thanked the choir for their singing, and lauded the seminarians as ones who had forsaken the world to serve the Holy Church, calling on the faithful to support them in this undertaking. He then addressed the gathered worshippers with a sermon, in which he said, in part:
"On this day, the appointed Gospel happens to be the one of the rich young man who comes to the Lord Jesus and says to Him, ‘What do I need to do to be saved?’ This is something each one of us has to constantly ask ourselves: ‘What do I need to do to be saved?’ Every situation in life that we face, every relationship, every opportunity, is something we need to submit to that question: ‘Lord, what do I need to do to be saved? What is the right decision in this case? How do I act, how do I decide? How do I follow Your will? Not my will be done, but Your will.’ And this comes with a price. The Lord said to the rich young man, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all you have and give it to the poor. And then you will have treasure in Heaven. And come and follow Me.’ Not everyone can do this literally; although those who serve the Church, especially the clergy, to a great extent, do wind up doing this literally, whether they intended to or not…
"What it takes to serve the Church is to be detached from all of our material needs, and to focus on Christ alone, to follow Him. As members of the Church, our responsibility is to enable people who have made that decision, whom the Church has blessed to follow that path, and to help them. It is not an easy thing to take up the cross of service to the Church. This is a path that is fraught with difficulties, with rejection, with sorrows – and not only one’s own, but the sorrows of one’s parishioners and spiritual children. Our pastors are the ones who are with us at all times, to be there and to help us, to guide us toward Christ, our only joy and consolation amidst sorrows.
"The rich young man was horrified when he heard what the Lord had to say to him. Go and sell everything? Just give it away? But this is what the Lord calls upon us to do. For some, it means a monastic path, which is a beautiful thing. But there is nothing in the Gospel that is specific to monks – not a single word addressed specifically to monks. It all applies to each of us. So for all of us, as Orthodox Christians, it means to focus our lives on Christ, on our service to Him and to the Church, and on our service of loving and helping others. This requires detachment from the things of this world; if we put ourselves and our egos and our comforts and all of the things of this world ahead of serving Christ and serving our neighbor, then we are not paying attention to the fundamental question: ‘Lord, what do I need to do to be saved?’ It is a very hard thing to renounce these things, the pursuit of money and comfort and the things of this world. And yet the richness that we receive in return, which we will receive not in this life, but in Heaven, is infinitely greater.
"For those who are called to a life of marriage, it is not about a complete renunciation of material things, because the Church blesses that in the marriage service, but only to the degree that we can use it to be generous to those in need. Let us think about this Gospel reading, about how hard it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, and thus how hard it is for a rich man – for one who trusts in wealth, whose mind is upon the pursuit of material things, on the pleasures and honors and comforts of this world – to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. In all things, let us look back on that first question: ‘Lord, what do I need to do to be saved?’ Amen."
Fr. Serge then thanked His Eminence for his service and words of instruction, and thanked the seminary choir for their visit and for adorning the divine services. On behalf of the parish, he presented the choir with a donation of $20,000, and announced that an anonymous parishioner was donating an additional $10,000. Fr. Ephraim received the donation and thanked the parish, and offered a brief word on the life of the seminary today.
After Liturgy and a group photograph, a luncheon was offered in the parish hall for the clergy and faithful.
Howell, NJ: Metropolitan Jonah celebrates Liturgy in Diocesan Center, sung by Holy Trinity Seminary Choir - 12/16/18
Photos: Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese - P. Lukianov