A Pastoral Conference of the Diocese of San Francisco and Western America is Held in Holy Trinity and St Nicholas Churches, Vancouver, BC

A Pastoral Retreat for the clergy of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia took place from October 24-27 this year in Vancouver, British Columbia. Clergy came from various states of the USA: California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and the Hawaiian Islands. They were joined by the clergy of the western part of the Canadian Diocese, from Vancouver itself and from Victoria, Calgary and Winnipeg. Thanks to the hospitality and organizational skills of our hosts, all of the guests were blessed with a sincerely joyous reception in that distant northern corner of the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in the history of the western portion of the Canadian Diocese was there so many clergy present (over 30).

Our schedule for the retreat was filled with Divine Services, work sessions, reports, discussions and brotherly interaction. The services and meetings took place in both the parishes in Vancouver: Holy Trinity Church and Saint Nicholas Church.

The Pastoral Retreat opened on Monday, October 24. At 12:30 pm we served a moleben íFor the Beginning of Every Good Deedì at Holy Trinity Church. The church building is tall and roomy, constructed in Orthodox style. There is a large icon screen built in several tiers. The parish priest, who has been the father rector now for over 14 years, is Father Sergei Overt, a graduate of Holy Trinity Seminary. His wife is Matushka Elena and they have a daughter, Ksenia, who is 4 years old. Beneath the church are a parish hall and kitchen. It is here that we were served with generous and delicious hospitality. In the Holy Trinity parish the memory of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco the Wonderworker is deeply venerated as is apparent by the several photographs of St. John’s visit to the parish displayed on the walls of the parish hall.

After the moleben we began our first working session of the retreat. Back in March of this year at the initiative of Archbishop Kyrill, six commissions were established with the purpose of enlivening and elevating church life in the Western American Diocese. During this session it was resolved to rename the commissions ídepartments.ì This complicated and very serious task of enlivening and structurally re-organizing diocesan life at times seems beyond our strength, but it is very necessary. We cannot overlook the material side of life in the diocese. It is unpleasant to admit that a series of measures depend directly upon the financial capabilities of the diocese. Yet these measures could aid the spiritual aspect of the life of the clergy and faithful of the Western American Diocese and the western part of the Canadian Diocese.

Archbishop Kyrill has expressed the desire that our Diocese produce an official diocesan newsletter or journal which would serve as a link between its clergy, parishes and the faithful. Vladyka is striving to develop work with the youth and also define where in the Diocese it is necessary to concentrate missionary efforts for both the new _migr_s from Russia and for the natives of this land as well. Parish schools need textbooks, learning materials and so forth that would create a standard program. It is important to have a Diocese-wide program for catechizing and preparing newlyweds. In this way, among other reasons, if people coming from another parish in the diocese approach one of our priests, he will have a relative picture of their level of knowledge and spiritual formation. In addition, Archbishop Kyrill established several other departments: íChurch Singingì for choir conductors and choir members and íRubricsì for the clergy. Vladyka is also striving to acquire group medical insurance and a pension plan for the clergy of the Western American Diocese.

Each Diocesan department is headed by a priest. During the retreat in Vancouver we heard oral reports from the chairmen of these departments on the work that has been accomplished this past six months. Tremendous ground has been covered. However, the work in some departments has been made more difficult in as much as not all of the parishes have responded to various questionnaires that were sent to them. Without the participation of all of the rectors and all of the parishes is it possible to speak of a common task?

Monday the 24th continued with the serving of vespers and matins and then supper. Then for the first time during a pastoral retreat of the Western American Diocese we conducted a panel discussion with the local parishioners. The invention of the panel discussion belongs to a local cleric, Protodeacon Christopher Birchall and was conducted with enormous success. The faithful of Vancouver had the opportunity to direct questions to visiting clergy about diocesan life and Orthodox spiritual life. A lively and soul profiting discussion arose and we have the intention of organizing similar panel discussions at future retreats of the Western American Diocese.

On Tuesday, October 25, Divine Liturgy was served at Holy Trinity Church in the morning and then we continued a discussion of the questions we had touched upon during reports heard from the various departments the prior afternoon. At this time we noted the importance of a correspondence theological school in the Chicago Diocese for the preparation of future clergy. We prayerfully remembered newly-departed Bishop Alexander (Mileant) who laid the foundation for this pastoral school of the Chicago Diocese. We resolved to send a letter of acknowledgement to Archbishop Alypy of Chicago, Bishop Peter of Cleveland and Priest Martin Swanson thanking them for their efforts in founding these pastoral courses.

After an abundant meal and a group photograph the meeting of the second day continued at Saint Nicholas Church, the second parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in Vancouver. The church stands high above the street on a hill in a residential district. In size it is a little smaller than the Holy Trinity Church. Adjacent to the church stands a new, spacious parish hall. Recently, Archbishop Kyrill has assigned a new, young rector, Priest Evstafij Hripunov. Father Evstafij is from Moldavia and has finished Kievan Theological Seminary. He has served several years in the Diocese of Western Germany. With him are his wife, Matushka Korinna, and their son Daniel (7 years of age). It must be said that the care exhibited by the parishioners of Saint Nicholas Church did not pale when compared to the care we received at Holy Trinity Church. We are grateful to both of the communities in the city of Vancouver for their hospitality and love.

After a lecture offered by Nicholas A. Ohotin, a representative of the Fundraising Arm of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (see, Priest Peter Shashkoff of Los Angeles showed the clergy several clips from two films he is preparing. The first film is dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of the founding of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville (God willing the film will be ready by the end of this year), and the second is about Saint John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco. There is hope that this second film will be ready by Spring 2006.

During the evening services on the eve of the feast of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, clergy of the Canadian Diocese served. The rest of the clergy sang antiphonally on the kliroses: on the right in Church Slavonic and on the left in English. During the polyoleos the Ruling Bishop of the Western American Diocese, Archbishop Kyrill, presided, anointing the faithful. With one heart the clergy of the Western American Diocese and the Canadian Diocese along with the faithful of Vancouver appealed to the Guardian of Athos and the Gate-keeper of the Iveron Monastery, Who also strikes fear in the enemies of the Russian land. All prayed that those who come to Her would receive mercy for their souls and healing for their bodies.

On Wednesday, October 26, the last official day of our retreat started with the Divine Liturgy. From one chalice, all of the clergy communed of the Sacred Mysteries of Christ. During the hours, Archbishop Kyrill tonsured two readers from among the parishioners of Saint Sophia’s Church in the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. At the small entrance the Rector of Holy Archangels Orthodox Church in Phoenix, Arizona, Priest John McCuen, was awarded the nabedrennik ("shield").

After a meal, the retreat continued. The Dean of the first deanery of the Western American Diocese, Protopriest Alexander Krassovsky, reminded the clergy of the importance of the reverent care of the Holy Things, the sacred vessels, the antimension, and about maintaining the general cleanliness and order in the sanctuary and the church. He recalled the pious regard for the holy things that Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco the Wonderworker, whom he had known personally, possessed.

In the beginning of October with the blessing of Archbishop Kyrill, the Rector of the Church of All Saints of Russia in Denver, Colorado, Priest Boris Henderson, was an official observer on behalf of the Western American Diocese at the annual diocesan assembly of the Western American Diocese of Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Father Boris told the participants of the Vancouver pastoral retreat about the extremely cordial regard shown by Bishop Tihkon of the American Autocephalous Church towards the representative of the Russian Church Abroad. Father Boris also shared his impressions about the organization of diocesan life in the American Church.

Protopriest Peter Perekrestov spoke of the work accomplished toward the posting of an official website for the Western American Diocese. With God’s help the site will be ready by the end of November. The address of the official site will be:

Protopriest George Primak, the Dean of the western portion of the Canadian Diocese had prepared a long list of questions about the relations between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church and about the upcoming IV All-Diaspora Council. During the course of two hours, Archbishop Kyrill and almost all of the clergy present provided thorough and well-grounded responses to theses questions. There is no doubt that the clergy welcome the process of rapprochement of the two parts of the Russian Church and with one heart support His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. At the end of the session Archbishop Kyrill thanked Protopriest George Primak for speaking candidly and for his love for the Russian Church Abroad. Father George in turn thanked Vladyka and all of the clergy for their participation and brotherly love. With one mind the participants of the retreat resolved to send greetings to the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Laurus, with the expression of our trust and prayerful and moral support.

After the session on the dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate the clergy of the Canadian Diocese discussed the election of two delegates from the western part of their Diocese for the IV All-Diaspora Council. Hieromonk Rafael (Vereschak) of the Holy Resurrection Church in Winnipeg is to represent the clergy and Victor V. Mihelson, church warden of the St. Nicholas Church in Vancouver is chosen from the laity of the Diocese.

The Pastoral Retreat of the Western American Diocese officially ended with a íThanksgiving Molebinì at 5:00 pm.

Thursday, October 27, was a joyous day. Archbishop Kyrill and the clergy that had remained after the retreat were invited to a local Serbian Orthodox church in honor of Holy Hierarch Sava, Enlightener of the Serbs. It was the day of commemoration of Holy Nun Paraskeva the Serbian and that day in the Church of Saint Sava an icon exhibit of the work of the local iconographer Svetlana Novko opened. Archbishop Kyrill was invited into the altar and the clergy of the Western American Diocese were requested to sing the Divine Liturgy.

After Liturgy Vladyka Kyrill, in concelebration with the two local Serbian priests, performed the rite of blessing and cutting the íKolach.ì That day four families of the parish were celebrating their íSlava.ì We, the clergy of the Western American Diocese, felt strongly the spiritual ties and brotherly love between the Russian and Serbian Churches! Thanks to the participation of Archbishop Kyrill, the singing of the clergy of the Western American Diocese and the prayers of the dean and clergy of western part of the Canadian Diocese, the clergy and parishioners of Saint Sava’s Church also felt spiritual joy. We were all invited to share in a common meal and fellowship. We hope that the Lord will send us many more opportunities to share in prayer and spiritual joy with our Serbian Orthodox brothers.

Thanks be to God for this fruitful pastoral conference and for the opportunity to become more closely acquainted with our northern co celebrants in the Canadian Diocese. Special acknowledgement goes to Protopriest David Moser, the organizer of the retreat from the Western American Diocese and also to the local Father Rectors, Priest Sergei Overt and Priest Evstafij Hripunov, as well as to Protodeacon Chistopher Birchell, Cecilia Agapayev, the Head Sisters of each parish and their many helpers.

A participant