On Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th of February, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and the day when the Holy Church honors the Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers and Hierarchs ‒ Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom ‒ Bishop Theodosius of Seattle, first vicar of the Western American Diocese, paid his first archpastoral visit to St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Howell, NJ.
In addition to the hierarchal visit, the parish was blesed with another wonderful gift it had just received: a reliquary containing a piece of the Cincture (Belt) of the Most Holy Theotokos. Faithful from other churches in nearby cities and states came to share in the joy of the feast with the cathedral’s clergy and parishioners, as well as to pray before the holy relic.
On the evening before feast, the clergy and faithful piously greeted the reliquary. Bishop Theodosius then officiated the All-Night Vigil. Serving alongside His Grace were: Archpriest Serge Lukianov (cathedral rector), Priest Joseph Farooq (rector of St. Michael the Archangel Mission in Pakistan), and Protodeacon Paul Drozdowski and Deacons Alexandre Sarandinaki and Dimitry Lisan (cathedral clerics).
Singing at the service was the male choir under the direction of Alexandra Lukianov.
The light grows dim. Bishop Theodosius and the clergy go to the center of the church and prayerfully stand before the reliquary. According to the rubrics for the Sunday of the Prodigal, the sessional hymn "Thy fatherly embrace" is sung during the All-Night Vigil. The hymn takes us into the midst of that Gospel story – we are almost near the end of the younger son’s ordeal: after his long wanderings, he returns to his father, who greets him with outstretched arms. In the sessional hymn, the moment of meeting has not yet taken place: rather, it is the subject of our prayer. Identifying ourselves with the foolish son, who left his father’s house for a far country, we acknowledge both the weight of our own sins and the shortcoming of our repentance – and therefore pray that the merciful Father open unto us His fatherly embrace.
On Sunday morning, Bishop Theodosius celebrated Divine Liturgy. In addition to the clergy who served the evening prior, other cathedral clerics and visiting clergy concelebrated with His Grace: Archpriests Vasily Andrejuk, Rafael Melendez, Boris Slootsky & Luka Novakovic, and Priest Anthony Williams (cathedral clerics).
Singing at the service was the parish choir under the direction of Inna Iavtouhovitsh.
The rector, Fr. Serge, presented Bishop Theodosius with a commemorative jubilee cross and panagia with an icon of the Holy Right-Believing Great Prince Alexander Nevsky.
The church was filled with worshippers, most of whom communed of Christ’s Holy Mysteries.
Upon completion of Liturgy, Bishop Theodosius addressed the faithful with a sermon on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and also noted that, as a consolation to the faithful, the reliquary with the piece of the Cincture of the Most Holy Theotokos will now remain in the cathedral, already home to many holy icons and relics.
"The Cincture itself is located in the Vatopedi Monastery on Holy Mount Athos. Its deputy abbot, Archimandrite Ephraim, often travels with the Belt to various countries, where people stand for many hours to venerate the holy relic. Men and women alike stand, as healing and strength are given both to the male and female sex. Young women who cannot have children often pray before the Cincture of the Most Holy Theotokos. At Vatopedi Monastery it has even become customary to give out small belts with icons of the Mother of God and a prayer for those women who are living in a pious marriage, so that they can have a child. And the Mother of God always fulfilled the desires of those who turned to her in prayer."
His Grace called on the faithful to pray and ask for the protection of the Mother of God over our country, over Russia, and over the suffering Ukraine, as well as to ask the Three Hierarchs "not to forsake us in their prayers, to nourish us with the crumbs of wisdom, books, and instructions, which they left for us during the time of their earthly lives. And the Mother of God will not forsake us, but will shelter us with her omophorion and our faces will once more become radiant, as they are after confession and Communion."
Fr. Serge thanked the hierarch and clergy for their joint service, and presented Bishop Theodosius with a donation of $5,000 toward Sts. Cyril & Methodius High School, in memory of Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov.
All were then invited to a festal "Bliny" luncheon in the church hall, where informal interaction continued between the clergy and parishioners.
The following day, Bishop Theodosius visited nearby churches: St. Vladimir Memorial Church and St. Vladimir Cemetery in Jackson, NJ, and St. George Cossack Church in Howell.
Howell, NJ: Bishop Theodosius of Seattle pays Archpastoral visit to St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - 02/12/23
Photos: Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese - T. Veselkina