The host community of St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle shined this past weekend, and the entire Diocese of Los Angeles and the West with it, as they came together for the annual Fall Gathering in Riverside, California. It was not just a weekend to celebrate and coordinate the life of the Diocese, but a weekend of rejoicing for the hosts in particular, as they broke ground for what will become their parish temple.
The attendees started arriving Friday night, as the weekend officially began with Vespers at the church with His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH presiding. The members and officers of the Antiochian Women, Fellowship of St. John the Divine and Teen SOYO discussed their plans for a busy and fruitful weekend, as well as make new friendships and renew old ones.
Though Saturday events started early for the Fall Gathering, things got started even earlier for Teen SOYO. They were in the parish kitchen at 5:15 a.m. to prepare meals for a local homeless shelter. Though they had a full day of events ahead of them, they sacrificed their sleep to help others. Once the cooking was done, the teens took the food and helped to serve it at the shelter.
The teens came back in time for morning prayers and Sayidna’s address to the Fall Gathering. His Grace reminded the clergy and faithful (numbering 216 registrants) that worship is the center of our time together, and that opening prayers and hymns that begin are business are not to be dismissed as ceremonial. Sayidna also exhorted them to say and do all things with the mindset of building up the Body of Christ in God-pleasing fashion. “This is the mindset we need to bring to the administrative and organizational activities of our diocese and our parishes,” Sayidna said. “It is only the degree to which we as individuals and as a body submit our minds, hearts and souls to our Savior that we can work together as His Holy Body and truly bear witness to His Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Second Coming.” Sayidna concluded by reminding all the participants to actively invite the Holy Spirit into their presence.
After successful organizational meetings in the morning, the attendees gathered together for Great Vespers on Saturday night. We commemorated the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, who restored icons to the Church after years of their destruction. Following a beautiful service, where the chanters of St. Andrew offered hymns in English and Arabic, and the faithful chanting with them, the parish served a fabulous barbeque dinner that was a hit with everyone.
Sunday morning, an overflowing crowd of St. Andrew parishioners and out-of-towners from throughout the Diocese witnessed a beautiful Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. It would be uplifting precursor to an historic event in the life of our host parish—the ground-breaking for their new temple. Sayidna asked the host pastor, Very Rev. Josiah Trenham, to offer the homily on this momentous occasion. “Moses became the shining light of the uncreated Light when he ascended Mount Sinai. Moses saw the heavenly temple and the nine ranks of angels,” Fr. Josiah said. “God told him to make a copy of what he saw up above. He built a tabernacle, made of the finest materials, with the engravings of angels.” Fr. Josiah used this inspiration for the construction of his congregation’s new temple. “We can now see God face to face through the witness borne in this temple. We build because we love God, even though nothing we build will come close to His glory. This temple will be for the love of our children, our grandchildren and for our community.” Even as times look desperate financially, Fr. Josiah reminded the flock not to lose faith, because throughout history, God has protected His people so that they can taste of that holy place, and He shows them that He always triumphs.
Following the Liturgy, the entire congregation walked over to the dirt lot that will become the new church named in honor of St. Andrew, the first-called Apostle. Sayidna JOSEPH led the clergy and faithful in the Service of Ground-breaking, as he blessed with holy water the cross that was firmly planted into the earth, which will sanctify and protect the future church and land from all evil forces. The choir sang the apolytikion hymn of their patron saint, imploring St. Andrew to constantly intercede with Christ God on the community’s behalf for the salvation of their souls. The faithful then took turns breaking ground and churning the earth, complete with golden shovels and construction hats!
Following a sumptuous lunch catered by Roger Layoun of St. Andrew Church, the attendees bid farewell to their hosts and their friends gathered for a memorable weekend, grateful for the time they had together and the celebration they shared with the Riverside community for its groundbreaking. They will be able to carry a renewed spirit of Orthodoxy back to their parishes, and await our next Diocesan gathering at the Parish Life Conference in Santa Clara, California in May.
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 Josiah and Deacon Elie Khoury for their ministries. We cannot forget the Fall Gathering chairman, Mike Claypool, and “publicist” Lucy Hanna for their leadership over the weekend, all of their committees and the entire parish of St. Andrew in Riverside. May God grant them many years!
By Subdeacon Peter Samore