It’s not just for “delegates” any more. The annual Diocesan Fall Gathering (formerly known as the Fall Delegates Meeting), gathered clergy and laity from all over the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West to discuss and plan for the spiritual growth of our lay organizations and parishes, while preserving and enhancing the unity of our Diocese. The Gathering from October 19-21, 2007 took on additional meaning for the Host Parish of St. Athanasius Church in Sacramento, California, as both parish deacons received the sacrament of ordination to the Holy Priesthood.
His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH presided over the weekend, which began with Great Vespers on Friday evening, followed by a light supper and fellowship hour at the church. We had the chance to meet new people and renew old friendships. People affiliated with The Fellowship of St. John the Divine, Teen SOYO and the Antiochian Women gathered to partake of this blessed time together.
Participants and local parishioners started uncharacteristically early on Saturday morning with a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, but for a special occasion. Sayidna JOSEPH ordained Deacon Stephen Howell, who has faithfully served St. Athanasius for 20 years, to the holy priesthood. By no means a reward, the ordination will prove that Father Stephen can offer greater, more specialized service to the Holy Orthodox Church, as he can now consecrate the Holy Communion, and fill in for other priests when they are called away from their parish to serve elsewhere on a particular Sunday.
Following Liturgy, Sayidna JOSEPH officially addressed the assembly on two aspects: the purpose of the weekend, and the holy priesthood. Sayidna reminded everyone that we are gathered to conduct the ministry of the Church and determine ways to be most effective. Sayidna says he does not “vote” at any of the organizational meetings, but he is there to provide his love, support and guidance as the lay ministries perform their outreach. Sayidna said of the priesthood that it has to be blameless, and the men who serve in it have to keep themselves in this fashion. They must be seen as venerable as the saints who fill the holy icons of the Church.
Following a brunch hosted by St. Athanasius, the participants went across the street to Florin High School for their organizational meetings. Classrooms were set up for the organizations to conduct their individual agendas for upcoming retreats, events and activities. These rooms gave us plenty of space to hold our meetings, while freeing up the patio area at the church so that meals could be prepared and served on time. Bishop JOSEPH visited all three meetings, addressing us on several issues that can enhance our Diocese, and then he answered some questions.
After a short afternoon break, the participants and host parishioners gathered at the church for Great Vespers, served by Father Stephen for his first time as a priest. Near the end of the service, His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH held Trisagion Prayers for His Eminence, the Most Reverend GABRIEL (Saleeby), Archbishop Paris and Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of Western and Central Europe. Sayidna GABRIEL had faithfully served the Holy Orthodox Church for 41 years as a bishop, before being called to the Heavenly Kingdom at the age of 82.
After Vespers, St. Athanasius provided a fantastic barbeque underneath the stars, complete with tri-tip beef, grilled chicken and all the fixings. Afterwards, the parish hosted Compline, and people spent the rest of the evening catching up with each other after that.
Sunday morning began with Orthros, followed by a second Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. This time, Sayidna ordained Deacon Polycarp Whitcomb to the holy priesthood. He, too, had served as a deacon for 20 years at St. Athanasius, and now he stands worthy to stand before the Holy Altar and consecrate the Holy Gifts. Father Polycarp will serve other parishes, as necessary, when another priest is unavailable.
In celebration of Father Stephen and Father Polycarp, St. Athanasius hosted a festive banquet at Frasinetti’s Winery and Restaurant, which is the oldest winery in Sacramento. Each priest spoke fondly of his ministry in the Deaconate, and how that was their true life. Their service is full indeed, as Fathers Stephen and Polycarp served as youth and altar boy instructors at St. Athanasius; in missionary activities at various parishes surrounding Sacramento; and, of course, at each side of the holy altar. Very Rev. Fr. Richard Ballew, the Host Pastor, spoke in appreciation of these two spiritual brothers, and how he is grateful that they are now his brothers in the priesthood.
Sadly, the weekend came to an end, and everyone left for their homes, enriched by the Gathering that reveals the unity of the God-protected Diocese of Los Angeles and the West. Sayidna reminded us to take the spiritual and fellowship gifts we have received, and share them with our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in our parishes. Time and space cannot separate the love of Orthodoxy that we all share, and we anticipate being together again at our Parish Life Conference in Los Angeles in July.
The Organizations and the entire Diocese of Los Angeles and the West are indebted to our host parish for all of their efforts to make this a comfortable and enjoyable weekend for everyone. Special thanks and congratulations go to Father Richard, Father Stephen and Father Polycarp for their ministries. We cannot forget the co-chairpersons for their leadership over the weekend: Khouriyee Lisa Whitcomb, Ronald and Kathy Zraick, and to all of their committees. May God grant them many years!
By Subdeacon Peter Samore