Honorable Fathers, Brothers & Sisters:
Christ is Risen!
We have gathered during these Paschal days for the first time in five years. I am glad we are able to meet and hope that we will be able to discuss our diocesan affairs for the benefit of all.
There have been many developments over the past five years, including those that were divinely blessed, and some that have caused great concern or sadness. The coronavirus pandemic lasted for two years, interrupting many of our plans, including our liturgical life in some churches, where we were forced to switch to an online mode, whereby our clergy continued to serve, to perform the divine services while observing medical protocols, but our parishioners could only watch these services remotely and pray at home.
Since February 24, 2022, we have witnessed a bloody conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Many of our brothers and sisters in the Faith were forced to flee their homeland as it was being torn apart by military combat, and to seek refuge outside of Ukraine throughout the dioceses of the Russian Church Abroad in Europe and America, including our own.
I thank the clergy and laity of our churches for their wisdom and kind behavior, for providing all feasible financial and moral assistance to refugees, to those who lost relatives and friends, and to those with family members remaining in Ukraine.
We are also very aware of the events surrounding the Kiev Caves Lavra; during the recent Lenten retreats in Jordanville and Atlanta, the clergy of the northern and southern parishes of the Diocese adopted resolutions (Northern, Southern) expressing our pain and concern over the ongoing persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and called upon the U.S. Congress to take all possible actions to protect the religious freedom of the clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
A year ago, we suffered a tremendous loss – after a lengthy illness, Metropolitan Hilarion, the faithful archpastor of the Church Abroad, our intercessor and father, reposed in the Lord. On the first anniversary of his death – May 16 – we will pray for the repose of his bright soul. I ask our clergy who cannot celebrate divine services on that day to perform a memorial panihida service for the ever-memorable Metropolitan Hilarion on Sunday, May 14.
Dear brothers and sisters!
Eight months ago, the Lord entrusted me with the obedience of being First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This is my first general diocesan meeting as First Hierarch and as Ruling Bishop of the Eastern American Diocese. Today, we will analyze what we, as a diocesan community, have accomplished in the past five years; we will talk about the issues that we face, and will discuss what we hope to achieve with God’s help.
A NEW BISHOP
Church life in our Diocese has included many significant events over the past five years.
On December 28, 2018, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church approved the candidacy of Archimandrite Luke (Murianka) to become Bishop of Syracuse, vicar of the Eastern American Diocese. The clergy of our Diocese, most of them graduates of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, know Vladyka Luke well as a wise spiritual father, and now an archpastor, who for many years has been laboring in, and is now heading, the monastery and seminary.
Among the many events of the past five years, several are of significant importance to us. On the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, May 17, 2022, we celebrated the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion. And on March 16 of this year – the 15th anniversary of the repose of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus (+2008) – he, together with Patriarch Alexey II, put an end to the deep discord and division between the two branches of the Russian Church.
Now, I will cite statistics for our Diocese for the years that have passed since our last Assembly.
As of May 1st of this year, we have 123 parishes and missions, 10 monastic communities, and 9 chapels in the Eastern American Diocese. Over the past period, two churches have been consecrated with the great rite: the Church of St. Mary of Egypt in Atlanta, GA (2020), and the Protection of the Mother of God Church in Rochester, NY (September 2021).
From 2018 to 2023, 15 churches and missions were opened in the Diocese. These include:
- Three Hierarchs Church in Hollywood, FL, and the Church of the Assumption in Stafford, VA (which joined the Diocese)
- Holy Innocents & St. Nina Church in Bristow, VA
- Luke of Crimea in Pompano Beach, FL
- Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God in North Port, FL
- Andrew the First-Called in Tallahassee, FL
- Demetrios of Thessaloniki in Spotsylvania, VA
- Elizabeth the New-Martyr Mission in Cullman, AL
- Peter of Krutitsy Church in Lebanon, TN
- Polycarp of Smyrna Church in Sanford, ME
- Holy Protection Mission in Marigot, Dominica
- Thomas Church in Tobaccoville, NC
- Seven Youths of Ephesus Church in Morris, NY
- Timothy the Apostle Mission in Hickory, NC and
- Thecla Church in Kensington, MD.
The total number of clerics of the diocese is 308, including 191 priests and 117 deacons.
There are 162 priests and 100 deacons serving in the parishes of the Diocese, totaling 262 clerics.
The clergy serving in monasteries are 29 priests and 17 deacons, totaling 46 clergy.
We should also note the church anniversaries and various celebrations which were marked by hierarchal services, led by myself and by the ever-memorable Metropolitan Hilarion and by Bishop Luke.
2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the martyrdom of New Martyrs Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara. In Rocky Hill, NJ, we celebrated this memorable date with a Divine Liturgy.
In 2019, the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Erie, PA, celebrated its centennial. Celebrating their 70th anniversaries were St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC, and Holy Dormition Convent "Novo-Diveevo" in Nanuet, NY; celebrating its 90th anniversary was St. Nicholas Church in Stratford, CT; marking its 50th jubilee was Sts. Theodore Church in Buffalo, NY; and it was the 20th anniversary of St. Tikhon Church parish in Blountville, TN.
In 2020, New Kursk Root Hermitage in Mahopac, NY, marked its 70th anniversary.
In October 2021, Holy Virgin Intercession parish in Glen Cove, NY celebrated its 70th.
2021 marked the 85th anniversary of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Howell, NJ.
In 2022, St. Mary (Dormition) Church in McKeesport, PA, celebrated its 105th anniversary, and the Church of the Holy Protection in Vineland, NJ, its 75th jubilee. The Convent of the Mother of God "Quick to Hear" in Richfield Springs, NY marked the fifth anniversary of its founding.
In April of this year, the 65th anniversary was celebrated by St. Panteleimon Church in Hartford, CT; the 85th anniversary will be celebrated this year by St. Vladimir Memorial Church in Jackson, NJ. We take part in St. Vladimir’s Day Celebrations every year and prayerfully remember our ever-memorable hierarchs – the founders and first hierarchs of the Eastern American Diocese.
Through the efforts of the rector, clergy, and faithful, St. Michael Church moved to a new location. In Wayne, NJ a traditional Orthodox church was built with a beautiful iconostasis.
Holy Myrrhbearers parish in Harrisonburg, VA held their first services in their newly built church on the Sunday of the Cross.
I note with regret the 20 clergy and matushkas who have passed away in the Eastern American Diocese in this period. These include:
- Deacon Andre Zavalin (June 1, 2019)
- Matushka Marina Girard (June 12, 2019)
- Archpriest John Moses (July 25, 2019)
- Matushka Barbara Townsend (September 23, 2019)
- Archpriest Konstantin Fedorov (December 2, 2019)
- Matushka Slavica Milosevic (December 16, 2019)
- Priest Ilya Gun (April 15, 2020)
- Archimandrite John (Erikson; July 31, 2020)
- Deacon Jonathan Yerkes (March 3, 2021)
- Matushka Anna Crowley (March 5, 2021)
- Matushka Irina Korolenko (March 9, 2021)
- Archpriest Victor Tseshkovsky (March 15, 2021, former cleric of the Diocese)
- Matushka Claudia Burbelo (May 27, 2021)
- Protodeacon Nicholas Lukianov (September 27, 2021)
- Archimandrite Job (Kotenko; November 6, 2021)
- Archpriest Stavros Rousos (January 3, 2022)
- Protodeacon Nicholas Trepatschko (November 2, 2022)
- Priest Eugene Solodky (December 19, 2022)
- Matushka Mary Ann Oselinsky (January 31, 2023) and
- Matushka Galina Tkatschow (April 6, 2023).
Let us sing "Memory Eternal " to our ever-memorable hierarchs, deceased clergy, and matushkas.
MONASTERIES AND SEMINARIES
I will talk briefly on the situation of our holy monasteries. Thank God, our Holy Trinity, Holy Cross, Novo-Diveevo, and Iveron monasteries, the Convent of the Mother of God "Quick to Hear," the English-language monasteries of St. Dionysios the Areopagite and of Great Martyr Demetrios of Thessaloniki carry out their prayerful service and continue to implement new construction projects.
In October 2020, the community of the Optina Elders in Atlanta, GA, received the status of a monastery. Now they have four priests and two novices, and all customary monastic services are performed daily.
This year we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Holy Trinity Seminary, providentially located in our oldest monastery.
Throughout the years of its existence, Holy Trinity Seminary has been inextricably linked with the Diocese and has played a prominent role in diocesan life. Its graduates now comprise the majority of the clergy of both the Diocese and of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia as a whole.
Today, the seminary has 23 teachers and 70 students. In the past four years (2019-2022), 19 students graduated from the seminary, while another 10 are expected in 2023.
A number of seminarians receive scholarships from the Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov Memorial Foundation. This helps them cover the financial costs of their education in preparation for ordination to serve the Holy Church. Over the past five years, 82 seminarians have received these scholarships. There are other scholarships, as well; For example, the Prince Vladimir Galitzine Scholarship of the Fund for Assistance supports the Master’s Program.
I would like to remind you that newly appointed parish clergy should not be isolated. Training, nurturing, and assisting young priests and deacons must be a primary concern of our experienced parish pastors and our deans.
In recent years, due to quarantine restrictions around the world, we had to cancel all pilgrimages abroad with the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, but the icon still comforted the faithful of New York and the Eastern American Diocese.
In September 2020, we celebrated the 725th anniversary of the miraculous discovery of the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora. That year – in the midst of the pandemic – on May 13, Mid-Pentecost, we made an aerial procession from Sea Cliff over the city of New York and over many counties of the States of New York and New Jersey to invoke the blessing of the Mother of God on our land and its inhabitants.
With the easing of quarantines on the East Coast, we had the opportunity to make pilgrimages with the Kursk Icon to parishes of the Eastern American Diocese: in July 2020, the icon attended the St. Vladimir’s Day Celebrations at the Memorial Church in Jackson, NJ, and during the "Royal Days" – July 17-20 – the icon was at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. The Kursk Icon also visited the church of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women in Brooklyn, NY, and the patronal feasts in Lakewood, the New Kursk Root Hermitage in Mahopac, NY, and St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington. In December, the celebration of the feast day of the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York took place.
With the lifting of restrictions on international travel, the icon recently visited Europe: the UK, Switzerland, and Germany.
The myrrh-streaming Hawaiian Iveron Icon traveled to our Diocese – in October and November of 2019, September and December of 2021, as well as during the Youth Conference in Salt Lake City, UT, in 2022. Last year marked 15 years since the icon appeared. Its custodian, now a priest, Fr. Nectarios Yangson, started traveling with the myrrh-streaming icon to parishes and monasteries with the blessing of the Synod of Bishops.
Let us pause briefly on the missionary service of our clergy.
Every good deed starts humbly. This is what characterizes our missionary parishes. Lacking great resources, and more often in dire need of funds, our missions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Pakistan continue their work and prayers step-by-step. The Diocese tries to help them and intercedes for them before the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Now in the city of Les Cayes in southern Haiti, a church is being built in honor of St. John of Shanghai & San Francisco. In March 2018, new mission parishes opened in St. George’s, Grenada and Rockaway, NY.
The Orthodox mission in Puerto Rico is growing steadily. A project for the construction of a church is under development. In August 2021, I visited the mission and consecrated the site where the new church is planned. The architectural drawings of the temple are in the style of the Cemetery Chapel at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. The Mission in Puerto Rico brings the Faith to the locals in their own language. The Dean of the Spanish Missions, Archpriest Peter Jackson, has done a great job, gradually translating the liturgical texts into Spanish, which have been immediately put to use at the services.
The mission needs all the liturgical books in Spanish to be a full-fledged parish community. They also need Spanish translations of the writings of the Church Fathers. We ask those who know where to find such source material, to send it or to contact the mission. We also ask that those who are ready to offer their services as translators contact Fr. Gregorio Justiniano.
I would like to thank the clergy who have been providing administrative and pastoral assistance to our missions for many years – Archpriests Daniel McKenzie and Peter Jackson from Miami.
Reviewing the life of the diocese over the past five years, I cannot help but comment on youth ministry, which is especially important for the growth and strengthening of the diocese.
For many years, we have been successfully working with the Synodal Youth Department and the St. Prince Vladimir Youth Association, the Diocesan Youth Choir, St. Herman’s Youth Conferences, scout organizations such as St. George Pathfinders (ORUR), Camp NORR, and the English-language St. Seraphim Camp.
2023 marks the 50th anniversary of our annual St. Herman’s Youth Conferences, the first of which – then just a youth pilgrimage – was held with the blessing of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Laurus (in 1973 in his capacity as the Bishop of Manhattan).
Unfortunately, the quarantine restrictions on gatherings and movement related to Covid postponed the traditional All-Diaspora Youth Conferences, the 50th anniversary of which was observed last year.
However, with the easing of restrictions, the Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department, Archpriest Andrei Sommer decided to hold a major event for young people in the United States and Canada. Preparation and registration were successful and from June 13 to 19, 2022, the North American Youth Convention was held at the Snowbird Tourist Center (Salt Lake City, Utah), with the participation of about 100 people.
For six days, the participants held focused discussions and developed plans that showed how they would set up the church and their parishes to utilize the talents of young people. The participants heard from speakers with practical experience, building, outfitting, and contributing to the development of parishes. The conference included the active participation of Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal & Canada, Archbishop Peter of Chicago & Mid-America, and Bishop James of Sonora, vicar of the Western American Diocese.
I urge our pastors to continue to encourage and support every endeavor to work with our parish youth, and to encourage your own parish youth to actively participate in events such as conferences, symposia, and camps.
We live in very difficult times. Let us beseech the Lord for wisdom and help. I ask you, dear fathers, to fervently offer the prayer for peace in Ukraine at each Divine Liturgy, to pray for the abatement of evil in the world, and to call for such petitions in the home prayers of your parishioners. I ask you to continue to illuminate and comfort your flock, as they are in great need of this in the current circumstances.
Let us continue to follow the precepts of the founders of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and our First Hierarchs – to combine compassion and love with a firm stand in the truth, let us work in a spirit of brotherly love and mutual concern for the Diocese.
Let me remind you of the words of St. John of Shanghai: "Try to be useful wherever you can, fraternally helping with your advice, where necessary, and especially with your own example of standing in the truth and defending it."
I invoke God’s blessing on your further labors.
Truly Christ is Risen!