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His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, presided at the 76th annual Commencement of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary [STOTS], South Canaan, PA on Saturday, May 26, 2018, in conjunction with the 114th annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage to Saint Tikhon’s Monastery.

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The day opened with the celebration of the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Monastery Church of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.  Concelebrating with Metropolitan Tikhon were His Eminence, Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey, STOTS Rector; His Grace, Bishop Thomas of the Diocese of Oakland, Charleston and the Mid-Atlantic of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, a seminary trustee; and His Grace, Bishop David of Sitka and Alaska.  During the Divine Liturgy, Metropolitan Tikhon ordained Deacon Michael Shepherd, a first-year seminarian from the OCA Diocese of the South, to the priesthood, while Bishop David ordained Subdeacon Timothy Kolb, a second-year seminarian from the OCA Diocese of Alaska, to the diaconate.  Second-year seminarian Moses Locke from the OCA Diocese of New England was tonsured to the order of Reader.  He and monk David were then ordained to the subdeaconate.  Bishop Thomas delivered the homily, in which he spoke of the remembrance of death and the future resurrection.

Metropolitan Tikhon opened the commencement exercises with a prayer, after which Archbishop Michael offered opening remarks and introduced Archpriest Steven Voytovich, STOTS Dean.  Receiving Master of Divinity degrees were Priest Tesfalem Beraki Mezenghy, who delivered the Valedictorian Address, and Deacon Rony John, a student from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

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“Father Tesfalem had quite a representation from the Eritrean Church, including Father Athanasius Habtu Ghebre-Ab, Director of External Relations of the canonical Eritrean Church,” said Father Steven.  “It was Father Athanasius who first approached Saint Tikhon’s about placing their students for theological studies several years ago.  The gathered Eritrean faithful broke into song following the conclusion of graduation exercises!”

Receiving a Certificate in Diaconal Formation was Monk David [Armstrong].  Awarded a Certificate of Pastoral Studies was Priest John Segvich of the OCA Diocese of the Midwest.  His Grace, Geevarghese Mar Coorilos, Metropolitan of Mumbai of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church delivered the commencement address.

Seminarian Joseph Sharman, together with the graduates who made the selection, presented the Father Alexander Atty Award for Community Service to Father Steven in recognition of his countless efforts as STOTS’ Dean.

“All came together after the Vigil for the Feast of Pentecost for a graduation dinner at the Scranton Hilton Hotel,” Father Steven added.  “May God grant many blessed years to all our graduates!”

The 114th annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage to Saint Tikhon’s Monastery opened one day earlier, on Friday afternoon, May 25, as Metropolitan Tikhon welcomed the Hawaiian Myrrh Streaming Icon of the Iveron Mother of God at the monastery entrance arch.  A Service of Prayer was celebrated before the icon in the monastery church.  Thanks to the generosity of Subdeacon Nektary, the icon’s guardian, the icon was present for veneration throughout the four-day pilgrimage.  The day closed with a presentation by Priest Theodore Petrides of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, Stroudsburg, PA, titled “Pilgrimage as a Way of Life,” which helped to set the right spiritual tone for the weekend.

Coinciding with the Pilgrimage weekend was the Saint Tikhon’s Choir Festival, a weekend workshop for choir directors and singers that provided its nearly 30 participants with instruction in vocal technique, conducting, and liturgical reading.  Facilitating the program were Benedict and Maria Sheehan, Paul Kappanadze, and Anastasia Serdsev.  Festival participants joined the Monastery Mixed Choir which sang the responses for the celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost celebrated on Saturday evening.

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On Pentecost Sunday, May 27, Metropolitan Tikhon presided at Divine Liturgy in the monastery church.  In his homily, Bishop David spoke of the need for those who have received the Gift of the Holy Spirit to share this treasure with a world lost in darkness and ignorance.  During the Liturgy, Metropolitan Tikhon ordained Monk David to the diaconate.

On Sunday evening, Saint Tikhon’s Monastery Chamber Choir, conducted by Benedict Sheehan, presented its third annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage concert at Saint Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre, PA.  The ensemble performed Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil and other selections for an enthusiastic audience of 300 people.

On Monday, May 28—Memorial Day—Metropolitan Tikhon concelebrated the Divine Liturgy at All Saints of North America Bell Tower with Archbishop Michael, Bishop David,  Archimandrite Sergius, 20 priests and eight deacons.  Metropolitan Tikhon preached about the peace brought by the Holy Spirit as the only true antidote to the turmoil the world is experiencing today.  [The text of Metropolitan Tikhon’s homily appears in its entirety below.]  During the Liturgy, Reader Roman Ostash was ordained to the subdeaconate.  The liturgical responses were sung by the members of the Monastery Chamber Choir and Saint Tikhon’s Festival Choir.  A Lity was celebrated at the grave of the late Metropolitan Leonty, and memorial prayers were offered for departed veterans.

Memorial day afternoon as filled with a number services and activities, including an Akathistos in honor of Saint Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, whose relics are enshrined in the monastery church, and a Service of Prayer in honor of the Mother of God.  Children enjoyed a number of activities, including a flower potting table, a monastery treasure hunt, and a face painting booth.  Representatives from SVS Press, Ancient Faith Publishing and other vendors provided liturgical goods, artisan crafts and a variety of food.  A lecture titled “A Renewing Ministry: Orthodox Christian Witness and Ministry in This Secular Age” by Priest Andrew Stephen Damick, Rector of Saint Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church, Emmaus, PA, rounded out the day before the Pilgrimage drew to a close with the celebration of Vespers and Matins.

Homily of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon
Saint Tikhon’s Monastery 114th Memorial Day Pilgrimage Divine Liturgy
Monday, May 28, 2018

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

These words of the Lord from today’s Gospel reading perfectly speak to our gathering here today during this last, great, and holy feast of Pentecost, sharing in the blessings of this 114th Annual Pilgrimage to the sacred monastery of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, in the grace of the Mother of God, and in the life of the Holy Spirit.  Even though we have recently stood with the Apostles as Christ ascended into heaven, bearing our human nature up to sit at the right hand of the Father, He is nevertheless in our midst, through His promised gift of another Comforter, given to us through the sending down of Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and upon us.

Christ tells us today: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

We both gather in the name of the Trinity and seek the life of the Holy Trinity.  God is both the goal of our pilgrimage and our companion on the way.  Just as Christ is both the receiver and the received, the One Who offers and the One Who is offered, so the Holy Spirit is a gift that we both long for and have already received.  As the Apostle Paul exhorts us in today’s Epistle: “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

We come in pilgrimage to leave behind the drunkenness and dissipation of our worldly existence so that we might find the true refreshment and strength of God’s grace and the love of our fellow pilgrims.  Glory to God that we have been granted the blessing to assemble once again in the joy of Pentecost here, on the grounds of the oldest Orthodox Monastery in North America, as we celebrate this Divine Liturgy, which marks the culmination of the 114th Annual Memorial Day Pilgrimage.  We are blessed to be here with so many hierarchs, clergy and faithful to receive the hospitality of the Monastery Brotherhood, to be strengthened by the presence of the Myrrh Streaming Iveron icon of the Mother of God and to be lifted up by the angelic voices of the beautiful psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs offered to us by the magnificent choirs we are hearing.

Is this not why come in pilgrimage?  To marvel at the miracle of life given to us through the coming of the Holy Spirit; to find renewal, regeneration and new life; to ponder the remarkable words of the Lord, Who tells us “if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

“If anyone keeps my word he shall never see death.”

Is this not why we come in pilgrimage?  To hear these words and to receive them as encouragement and strengthening for our own lives, which are filled with joy and sorrow, with temptation and with relief from temptation, with anxiety and with peace?  Is it not these words which provide the balance to the ups and downs of our journey on the sea of life?

“If anyone keeps my word he shall never see death.”

The Kontakion for Pentecost speaks about the overcoming of death and earthly divisions:

When the most High came down and confused the tongues,
He divided the nations;
But when he distributed the tongues of fire
He called all to unity.
Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit!

It is in this unity of the Holy Spirit that this Pilgrimage has taken place, and it has been at once peaceful and full of activity, perhaps just as the Apostles felt when the Holy Spirit descended upon them in the form of fiery tongues.  In that moment, the confusion of the tower of Babel, and of the entire old covenant, is resolved by the restoration of peace, unity and light.

How can this be?  It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, by Whom we have communion with the Father and the Son.  The path to receiving this gift is clear: to follow Christ, to read the Gospels, to learn what our Lord says and does, to make the Gospels our own;, and to prepare our hearts to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And then, when we are indeed filled with that Holy Spirit, we will be able to say, like Saint Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me,” or to say, it is no longer my earthly heart that beats, but the Holy Spirit Who fills me with life.

Regardless of the specific nature of our calling, every one of us is called to be an Apostle, a witness, a martyr for our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.  We can be apostles whether we are planted somewhere, or whether we are moving.  Our lives may not be as dramatic as the Apostles’, but in many ways, their lives mirror our own, which are also filled with ups and downs, good days and bad days, successes and tragedies, joys and sorrows.  Their lives also serve as an instruction for us to remain grounded in Christ, and to remember that it is His sayings that course with life, His commandments which are a light unto our feet because they point us to the One Who is our rock, to the One Who is our firm foundation in the midst of the turmoil of life.

All of this is accomplished by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit, as a divine person, is both incomprehensible, ineffable, and beyond our understanding, and yet intimately close to each of us.  This is why the Holy Spirit was divided over the Apostles when He descended in the form of fiery tongues—not because the Holy Spirit can be divided in any way, but because the fullness of His gifts cannot be contained by any single human being, even one of such stature as an Apostle.  Each of the Apostles received the same Holy Spirit, but each then took that gift and offered their own gift in return: going forth as servants, messengers and apostles of the resurrection to the ends of the earth.

It is the same for each of us.  We all receive the Holy Spirit on this Feast of Pentecost, as we do at Holy Baptism and Chrismation, but we apply that gift in a unique way.  Not all of us are gifted with the talent of knowing foreign languages, but all of us are capable of sharing the message of life of the Gospel, to share with others the transformation that takes place in our own hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Once, the saintly Orthodox nun, Mother Gavrilia, was criticized because, in her missionary activities, she did not learn the local languages and dialects of the people she was addressing.  It was said that, because of this, she was not only a poor example of a missionary, but also a bad Christian.  But after prayerful reflection, she replied to her critic that she in fact knew five languages and explained: “The first is the smile; the second is tears.  The third is to touch.  The fourth is prayer, and the fifth is love.  With these five languages I go all around the world.  With these five languages you can travel the whole earth, and all the world is yours.  Love everyone as your own — without concern for religion or race, without concern for anything.”  These are fitting words for us to reflect upon today.

If we look beyond our own personal and family lives, we find ourselves in the swirl of a global environment that is full of anger, war, conflict and persecution.  We are buffeted back and forth between extremist groups of every conceivable agenda who will not rest until their position has the dominance, even at the cost of human lives.  Even in our own country, as we commemorate today the brave souls of our military servicemen and women, those who died in defense of the democratic values of freedom, honesty and honor, we are confused by the political extremism of competing political parties, where no one seems to be offering the truth of Christ, the unity of Christ or the peace of Christ.

And yet, in the midst of all of this turmoil, we still have the gift of peace of the Holy Spirit, which is the same peace that Christ offers us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

In the midst of turmoil and war, of persecution and partisanship, of anger and jealousy, may we all return to the peace which passes all understanding, the life and love of the Holy Trinity, revealed to us by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, both now and forever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.


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