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Orthros and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy - 10/23/2005

Modesto, California

The Ordination of Subdeacon Dionysius Seib to the Holy Diaconate.

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Great Vespers - 10/22/2005

Modesto, California

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This past weekend, the parishioners of Saint James Antiochian Mission of Modesto, California, received a visit from His Grace, Bishop Joseph, and experienced one of the most joyous and memorable events of the mission's young history. This celebration was made even more complete in that it incorporated not one, but three important occasions in the life of our parish - events which involved our past, present, and future.

1) Our Past. The Feastday of Saint James, Brother of God, and First Hierarch of Jerusalem - October 23rd. Of course it can never truly be said that the celebration of a patronal feast day is a commemoration of the "past." The Church constantly calls us to enter into the eternal "NOW" of her existence. As we commemorate the saints, or various events of the life of the Church, or the life of Christ, we approach them not as events in a history book or as persons in a mausoleum, but as living and powerful testimonies of a greater reality which constantly draws us to itself. Yet at the same time, we remember that the saints - like Saint James of Jerusalem - were real people, living in particular historical times, and geographical locations. Saint James was indeed the "Brother of God." Perhaps he was a son of Joseph by his first marriage. Others say he was the son of Joseph's brother Cleopas and his wife Mary, who was first cousin of the Theotokos. St. James was appointed as the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and accounts of him can be found in the Book of Acts. Of course, we hear his own words in the New Testament epistle which bears his name. Many say that St. James never ate meat or rich food, but subsisted upon bread and water for the majority of his life. His nickname was "Camel Knees" because of the many hours he spent in prayer before God, entreating for the salvation of those entrusted to him. Saint James of Jerusalem was martyred around the year 63 AD - cast from a pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover after preaching powerfully to his hearers, and converting many to the Christian faith. His memory was honored throughout the Orthodox world on October 23rd.

2) Our Present. We were deeply honored to entertain a visit from HIs Grace, Bishop Joseph on this important occasion in the life of our parish. His Grace, accompanied by Subdeacon Michael Habib, stayed in our community from late Friday evening through our feast day luncheon after Divine Liturgy on Sunday. After meeting with various individuals throughout the day on Saturday (including a luncheon with the clergy of Saint James: Father Thomas Zell and Father Joseph Tanguay, Subdeacon Dennis Seib, and Reader Terry Swehla), and speaking to the parish council on Saturday afternoon, His Grace presided at Great Vespers with Litia on Saturday night, and presented a short teaching following the service. His topic was, of course, the life of Saint James, and he included many practical admonitions from this godly saint, applying them to our own parish life here in the Central Valley of California.

On Sunday, we were again honored to have His Grace with us for Orthros, followed by Divine Liturgy. The small rented "strip mall" building which has served as our Church home for over three years was filled nearly to capacity. We were also grateful to have with us Father John and Kh. Jani Finley from Southern California, and Deacon Polycarp and Lisa Whitcomb from Sacramento who came to assist in the services, and to share in the joy of our celebrations. Father John is now working full time with the Department of Missions and Evangelism, and was one of the "front line" workers who helped to establish the mission here in Modesto.

3) The Future. Finally, the Saint James community rejoiced at the ordination of our FIRST local deacon. At the laying on of hands of His Grace, Bishop Joseph, Subdeacon Dennis Seib became Deacon Dionysius. From this day forward, he will join Father Thomas and Father Joseph at the Holy Altar, and serve both liturgically and in every other capacity as the mission moves ahead toward the future. Deacon Dionysius and his wife Debbie have already played a central role in the life of the parish, cheerfully helping out in numerous areas - catechism, AOCWNA, hospitality, and in countless hours of dedicated service. What a joy it was to witness the sacrament of Holy Orders take place at our humble little church home, and to be witnesses and participants in this deeply moving sacrament as it took place at the hands of Bishop Joseph. Along with the many parishioners, friends, visitors, and well-wishers, we say once again: Axios! Moustahek! He is Worthy!

By the grace of God, our mission is becoming a reality. We are slowly, but steadily moving toward the place of full "church" status, and are even planning toward the time when we will have our own sanctuary - a beacon to the many men and women in this area who are looking for the Historic Faith - as it has existed from the beginning. This weekend represents a true milestone for us, and we rejoice and celebrate God's mercy and grace for a wonderful, fulfilling time together. Thank you, Sayidna, for your presence, and for all that you have done to make this day a reality!

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