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More than 80 participants took part in the second Orthodox Advanced Leadership Conference, titled “Faith and Business Synergy” and hosted by the Orthodox Vision Foundation [OVF], at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary [SVOTS] September 28-30, 2018.  The inaugural conference, called “historic” and “groundbreaking” by many attendees, was held in 2017.

The pre-selected attendees included bishops, priests, deacons, monastics, and lay leaders from several Orthodox Christian jurisdictions and across North America.  Notably, speakers included His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon; His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; and His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.  His Grace, Bishop John of the Antiochian Diocese of Worcester and New England was also a participant.  Other distinguished participants and speakers included Chick-fil-A President, Tim Tassopoulos; well known authors Priest Josiah Trenham, Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, and Rod Dreher; former Exxon Mobile executive and SVOTS Trustee Emeritus Protodeacon Peter Danilchick; and several SVOTS faculty members and alumni.

Metropolitan Tikhon welcomed his brother hierarchs to the conference and addressed all of the participants in his opening address.

“I am encouraged by the fact that the initiative and unbounded energy of [OVF Founder] Mr. Charles Ajalat has allowed us to meet again this year for this most excellent and important gathering,” said Metropolitan Tikhon in his opening address.  “The lands of North America are the desert in which we labor and strive to serve Christ, and they are perhaps not so far removed from the desert into which the Holy Apostles journeyed after the resurrection and ascension….  If there is a plan for us in North America, it should be this: to make this place a special place by our special care for it.  This is not a new plan, but something that we, as Orthodox Christians, have been doing already.”

Metropolitan Tikhon went on to offer several examples. Specifically, he made mention of this year’s 250th anniversary of the arrival of Greek immigrants in Saint Augustine, Florida; the 225th anniversary of the arrival of Orthodox missionaries in Alaska and the 155th anniversary of the establishment the first Greek Orthodox community in North America in New Orleans, both of which will be celebrated in 2019; and the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Syrian Benevolent Society and the 50th anniversary of the glorification of the first American Saint, Herman of Alaska, both of which will be celebrated in 2020.

“The Church faces great obstacles and tremendous change in the world as she makes her way through the 21st century,” Metropolitan Tikhon continued.  “This sometimes frightens us, especially if we look at our shrinking populations, the youth that we are losing, and the cultural changes that are taking place.  Our mind automatically jumps to the creation of plans, strategic plans, financial plans, and so forth.  Perhaps we ought rather to ask ourselves some more basic questions: Do we love the people of our lands, and do they love us?  Do they voluntarily accept baptism and smash the idols that are provided to them by the shamans of our age?  Can we, as the Church in North America, genuinely sing along with the paschal hymn: ‘Lift up your eyes, O Zion, round about and behold.  Lo, your children like divinely shining stars assembled, from the West and from the North, from the Sea and from the East, to bless Christ in you forevermore?’”

Among those participating in the gathering was Hank Hanegraaf, also known as the “Bible Answer Man,” who said that “the people who are speaking at this conference come from a wide range of leadership capacities; the spiritual input, the leadership principles, and the way that these principles are being disseminated I think is just top notch.”

The Orthodox Vision Foundation was founded by Charles and Marilee Ajalat, whose son, Richard Ajalat, is a 2013 STOTS alumnus.  The organization funds a broad range of issues and organizations that tackle everything from feeding and equipping the homeless and working poor, to spreading the Orthodox Church’s worldview, to church governance and policy issues, to ongoing education for our clergy and lay leaders, and launching new ministries.