Almost 120 bishops and priests from across the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) participated in the National Clergy Retreat from October 17-20, 2023, at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake Conference Center in Mundelein, Illinois. The retreat was sponsored by the OCA Office of Pastoral Life as an opportunity for fellowship, prayer and education for priests and bishops. Between sessions, clergy enjoyed conversation, fellowship and the beautiful grounds of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.
As His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon indicated in his remarks at the last dinner, “We are participating in a banquet — a very long bench of close to 130 bishops and priests, brothers with one another and co-servants of the Lord and Master of the table, the one who offers and is offered, the one who accepts and is distributed, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We gather as this bench of brothers and concelebrants, sharing wisdom with one another, consoling or commiserating with one another, bearing one another’s burdens and thus fulfilling the law of Christ — which is the law of love.”
The clergy retreat began the evening of Tuesday, October 17, with an opening prayer led by His Eminence Archbishop Daniel of Chicago and the Midwest. His Eminence welcomed bishops and priests from across the OCA to the Diocese with an overview of its history, identity and the saints who have ministered in the middle of America.
On the morning of Wednesday, October 18, Very Rev. Archimandrite Dr. Maximos Constas, began his exploration of the Prayer of the Heart in priestly ministry with an overview of The Philokalia and its place in Orthodox Identity. During the afternoon session, Fr. Maximos offered insights into how to practice the Jesus Prayer. The day concluded with Daily Vespers.
On Thursday, October 19, participants made their way to the historic Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago. His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon presided at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Concelebrating with His Beatitude were Archbishop Daniel of Chicago and His Grace Bishop Nikodhim of Boston. Priests and deacons serving with the hierarchs included: Diocese of the Midwest Chancellor Archpriest Paul Jannakos, Archimandrite Maximos, Archpriest William Evansky, Archpriest John Kreta, Diocese of the South Chancellor Archpriest Marcus Burch, Diocese of the West Chancellor Archpriest Kirill Sokolov, Archpriest John Vitko, OCA Secretary Archpriest Alessandro Margheritino, Director of the Office of Pastoral Life Archpriest Nicholas Solak, Retreat Coordinator Archpriest Stephen Vernak, Cathedral Dean Priest Alexander Koranda, Protodeacon Alexander Kichakov and Deacon Andrew Bender. The choir was directed by Philip Sokolov. His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate, His Eminence Archbishop Melchisedek of Pittsburgh, His Eminence Archbishop Alexander of Dallas, the South, and the Bulgarian Diocese, His Grace Bishop Andrei of Cleveland, His Grace Bishop Gerasim of Fort Worth and His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos were also present.
Following Divine liturgy, a Memorial Service was held for Metropolitan Theodosius (Lazor) and Archpriest Sergei Garklavs on their anniversary of repose. Matushka Priscilla Shipley was also remembered during the Memorial Service to mark the 40th day of her repose.
After the Liturgy, His Beatitude blessed liturgical spears that were distributed to the retreat participants. Fr. Stephen Vernak noted that this gift was to be a reminder to clergy to pray for one another at the Divine Liturgy. Archbishop Daniel welcomed His Beatitude, his brother hierarchs and all of the clergy who gathered at the Diocesan Cathedral in Chicago. Words of guidance and encouragement were also offered by His Beatitude who reflected on the meaningful time the retreat afforded clergy. A delicious Mediterranean lunch was provided by the Holy Trinity Cathedral community and all enjoyed fellowship in the parish hall and on the cathedral grounds.
After lunch, clergy took advantage of their time in Chicago before they returned to Mundelein to gather that evening for a festive banquet. At the dinner, Archbishop Daniel offered a toast to the OCA’s clergy, clergy wives, and families and lifted up their faithful work in the life of the Church. Finally, His Beatitude recognized the dedicated work of the Office of Pastoral Life and its Episcopal Liaison Bishop Gerasim, as well as Fr. Nicholas Solak, Fr. Stephen Vernak and Fr. John Segvich on the planning and execution of the National Clergy Retreat.
On Friday morning, Fr. Maximos offered final thoughts on the Prayer of the Heart. In conclusion, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon summarized the retreat by turning to the well known ascetical work The Ladder of Divine Ascent. With the words of St. John of the Ladder and St. Nonnus of Heliopolis, His Beatitude exhorted the clergy present to take seriously the disposition of their hearts and to strive to purify them and to help the faithful they serve to do the same.
“This National Clergy Retreat was a wonderful opportunity for our clergy to strengthen our priestly brotherhood,” said Fr. Nicholas Solak, Director of the OCA Office of Pastoral Life. “The fellowship, talks by Fr. Maximos and time worshiping together are all very important to our priestly work. The Office of Pastoral Life strives to help good priests and priest wives become better in their ministries. This retreat was an important time together for our clergy.”
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