With the blessing of His Grace Bishop Irinej, on Thursday, March 1st, parishioners from St. George church in North Canton departed for their 3rd annual Lenten Retreat to NewYork City. As in years prior, the group stayed in White Plains, north of the city, in close proximity to their retreat location at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Tuckahoe, NewYork.
Different from years past, the retreat began with a visit to the new Diocesan Residence in NewRochelle. Located just north of the Bronx, and within ten minutes of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, this residence is in a prime location for visitors and guests to enjoy the hospitality of the Eastern-American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The group was blessed with an official tour of the residence by their hierarch, His Grace Bishop Irinej. Every room was filled with items of great spiritual and historical value for all those in the Diocese, as well as Orthodox Christians everywhere. His Grace was a wonderful host, offering His time to the group and speaking with great knowledge about each item on display, providing the fascinating history behind the many icons, vestments, paintings, relics, fixtures, and furniture found in each room.
The retreat group was amazed that in such a short time, in the midst of the active work of the Diocese and the busy schedule of their Diocesan Bishop, the organizing the new Residence, including the unloading and sorting of the voluminous library and diocesan records, was well underway.
Highlights of the morning tour included Zora Pavichevich, age six, playing the piano for His Grace Bishop Irinej and the retreat group, as well as the group’s delightful conversation with His Grace in the conference room at the conclusion of their visit.
The Diocesan Residence will be a true center for the faithful of the Eastern Diocese – a place for visitation and pilgrimage – and a wonderful representation of the Serbian Church to visitors that pass through NewYork City from all over the world.
Following the tour of the Residence, the faithful travelled to nearby St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary to join the community for Presanctified Liturgy. Both the male and the mixed choirs sang magnificently, lifting the spirits of all those offering their solemn prayers during the service. Immediately after, the retreat group was invited to join the seminarians for a late-lunch in the refectory, which provided a wonderful opportunity for the parishioners of St. George to get to know the students they regularly pray for, and the community they joyfully support.
The group then enjoyed a tour of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, led by Deacon Larry Soper, a seminarian from the Eastern-American Diocese and former deacon at the parish of St. George in North Canton. The group embraced their former deacon with love and affection, and listened intently as he took them through the various campus buildings offering bits of history and information. The day concluded with a retreat group meal wherein Deacon Larry was happy to answer questions about life as a student and seminarian.
The following day, Fr. Aleksa Pavichevich offered a Lenten workshop entitled, “Forgiveness: A Miracle”, to clergy from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America. This workshop was unique in that the clergy were gathered at a retreat center in Pennsylvania, and Fr. Aleksa was with his St. George parish retreat group in NewYork. Harnessing the power and potential of social media, the distance between the two groups was bridged as the workshop was broadcast via Facebook Live. To the delight of both Fr. Aleksa and the group of Ukrainian priests, a number of participants from all over the world joined the live workshop and actively participated by asking and answering questions, joining in the discussion, and sharing their thoughts and feelings about “Forgiveness”.
On the final day of the Parish Lenten Retreat, the group of faithful from North Canton joined the St. Sava Pro-Cathedral community for Holy Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at St. Eleftherios Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan. His Grace Bishop Irinej presided, joined by many Orthodox faithful filling every corner of their functional parish space, and concelebranting clergy including the Very Rev. Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Dr. Zivojin Jakovljevic, Dean of the Pro-Cathedral; the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Aleksa Micic, currently attached to the St. Sava Pro-Cathedral; the Very Rev. Aleksa Pavichevich, parish priest at St. George in North Canton, Ohio; and Protodeacon Milos Zdralic, Diocesan Financial Secretary.
Following services, the Retreat participants departed for their home community of St. George in North Canton. The weekend, as in years past, offered the participants a chance to deepen their relationship with Christ, grow in their Orthodox faith, and make connections within their Diocese, and with community at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Glory be to God for all things!
Годишње духовне вежбе у Њујорку поводом Великог поста
По благослову Његовог Преосвештенства епископа Иринеја, у четвртак, 1. марта 2018. године, парохијани из цркве Светог Ђорђа у Норт Кантону ишли су поводом својих годишњих великопосног духовних вежби у град Њујорк. Као и претходних година, група је одсела у Вајт Плеинс, северно од града, у близини локације њиховог окупљања у Православној академији Светог Владимира у Такахоу, у Њујорку.
Другачије него раније, духовне вежбе су почеле посетом новој епископској резиденцији у Њу Рошелу. Смештена северно од Бронкса, и само десет минута од Академије Светог Владимира, ова резиденција је право место да посетиоци и гости могу уживати у гостопримству Источноамеричке епархије Српске Православне Цркве.
Група је имала благослов што ју је за време обиласка резиденције предводио архијереј, Његово Преосвештенство Иринеј. Свака просторија је испуњена предметима велике духовне и историјске вредности за све епархиоте, као и за православне хришћане уопште.
Група је била импресионирана што је за тако кратко време, усред активног рада Епархије, и густог програма рада њиховог Епископа, организација нове резиденције, са уношењем и сортирањем огромне библиотеке и владикиних списа, добро урађена.
Врхунац јутарњег обиласка били су сусрет са Зором Павићевић, 6-годишњакињом, која је свирала клавир за Владику Иринеја и групу из Норт Кантона, као и дивни разговори ове групе са Његовим Преосвештенством у сали за конференције на крају њихове посете.
Епархијска резиденција биће прави центар за вернике Источноамеричке епархије – место посете и поклоништва – прелепо представљање Српске Цркве посетиоцима који пролазе кроз Њујорк Сити из целог света.
После обиласка резиденције, верници су обишли Православну Богословску академију Светог Владимира, где су се придружили верницима на Литургији пређеосвећених дарова. Одмах после тога, група је обедовала са студентима у трпезарији.
После ручка група је била у обиласку Академијее Светог Владимира, а предводио ју је ђакон Лари Сопер, богослов из Источноамеричке епархије и бивши ђакон у парохији Светог Ђорђа у Норт Кантону. Дан је окончан вечером коју је ова група имала с ђаконом Ларијем, са којем се разговарало о животу једног студента богослова.
Следећег дана отац Алекса Павићевић је предводио великопосну духовну радионицу, под називом „Опраштање: Чудо“, пред свештенством Украјинске Православне Цркве у Америци. Ова радионица је јединствена у томе што се свештенство окупило у центру за духовне вежбе у Пенсилванији, а отац Алекса са својом групом при парохији Светог Ђорђа у Њујорку.
Последњег дана великопосних духовних вежби, група верника из Норт Кантона придружила се заједници Светог Саве на Божанској Литургији у грчкој православној цркви Светог Елефтерија на Менхетну. Његово Преосвештенство Епископ Иринеј је началствовао Литургијом уз саслужење свештенства: протојереја-ставрофора др Живојина Јаковљевића, настојатеља прокатедралног; протојереја Алексе Мићића, тренутно придруженог прокатедралној цркви Св. Саве; о. Алексе Павићевића, парохијског свештеника цркве Светог Ђорђа из Норт Кантона, у Охају; и протођакона Милоша Ждралића, епархијског секретара, у присуству великог броја верника.
После службе, учесници духовних вежби вратили су се у своју парохију у Норт Кантону.
Извор: Источноамеричка епархија СПЦ (са енглеског Информативна служба СПЦ)
On Tuesday, September 5th, clergy and faithful from throughout the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Deaneries of the Eastern-American Diocese gathered around His Grace Bishop Irinej at New Marcha Monastery in joyful celebration of their Hierarch’s Names Day. Services began with fourteen clergy greeting His Grace outside of the small monastery church of St. Archangel Gabriel. The clergy entered in solemn procession as faithful sang gloriously in the nave. Blue vestments were worn by all concelebrating clergy in honor and celebration of the Apodosis of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos.
During the Little Entrance, an additional and joyous moment was inserted into the Liturgy as His Grace elevated two of his diocesan clergy, Fr. Bosko Stojanovic, parish priest of Holy Trinity in Youngstown, and Fr. Aleksa Pavichevich, parish priest of St. George in North Canton, to the distinction of “Protonamesnik”. As he presented the two faithful servants to the congregation, His Grace offered his gratitude at the hard work and dedication of Fr. Aleksa not only in the life of his parish, but also in maintaining and improving the diocesan website. As he brought Fr. Bosko forward, His Grace not only thanked Fr. Bosko for piloting him from Ohio to North Carolina, but he also shared the challenging early days of Fr. Bosko’s ministry servicing the spiritual needs of the Serbian Diaspora in South America.
The 2017-2018 Church School year officially began on Sunday, September 17th with the blessing of the children, teachers, and parents. Immediately following Divine Liturgy, the children gathered around Fr. Aleksa Pavichevich in the center of the church and offered prayerful thanksgiving to the Lord.
Fr. Aleksa reminded the community that the true work of Christian Education takes place as a family at Divine Liturgy, and as a family at their home-church. It is there where the children are nourished and fed. The classes offered by the parents and stewards of the St. George parents are a supplement, meant to offer children an opportunity to explore their faith in new ways. If they do not reinforce those lessons at home in prayer, repentance, and love, modeled and taught by their families, then the lessons offered at church will struggle to form deep roots within them.
The following Wednesday, Fr. Aleksa and a few children from St. George joined the children of St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church in Akron, Ohio to begin a new season of Folklore and Church School education. Fr. Aleksa and Fr. Milan Pajic offer lessons to the Folklore children between lessons.
On Saturday, the children of St. George began their Serbian Language lessons. Parents and community members expressed a sincere desire to learn Serbian so that they might better communicate with faithful from other communities, and to prepare for a future pilgrimage to the holy sites and locales in Serbia. Under the direction of Mira Lazic, the children began learning the Cyrillic alphabet, along with beginning conversation.
On the following day the students had their first lesson on “Charity”. This year the St. George students will complete an OCEC curriculum with interspersed lessons on “the virtues”. They will not only learn about their faith, but they will also learn about how to practically live out that faith in a positive way.
Their first activity was to create donation boxes that they will use to collect money throughout the year. After the St. Sava break, our students will submit that money to a charity or cause that is important to them – and their families.
Many thanks to our church school instructors and volunteers including: Kathy Tobias (Pre-K organizer), Svetlana McCully (Elementary), Rajko Radonjich (Middle), and Mark Resanovich (High School and St. Sebastian). God-willing, this will be a wonderful year of Christian Education for the St. George parish community!
On Saturday, July 15th, the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church community held their third-annual Serbian Festival, “SerbFest”.
In the week leading up to the event, the community faced many challenges: a flood in the main hall, a malfunctioning PA system, an injury to the leader of the roasting crew, and more. Yet with great love for their church community, the parishioners of St. George Serbian Orthodox church rallied together and addressed the many challenges, waking-up Saturday ready to offer hospitality, entertainment and great food to their guests.
The day began with pastries in the main hall and shopping at the “Little Serbia Marketplace” in the lounge. The homemade baked goods covered multiple tables, and freshly made crepes (“palacinke”) were available with a variety of toppings. In the marketplace, this year a number of fantastic vendors offered a wide variety of goods for sale, including clothes, red pepper spread (“Ivar”), and Orthodox religious items and icons.
At noon, children’s activities opened for all of our young visitors. This year, children were able to enjoy multiple bouncy houses, pony rides, face painting, and more! Even when the children’s activities officially closed at 6pm, children stayed and played well into the evening. Families played soccer in the main field until dark and, to the delight of the youngest children, Ken Kozak spent the latter part of the day assisting the children in making fresh popcorn from a newly-donated popcorn machine.
Also opening at noon, the kitchen offered a diverse selection of roasted meats (including lamb, pig, and chicken) in addition to freshly grilled cevapcici, and other hot items (sarma, hot rice, and vegetables). As guests enjoyed the ethnic fare, live music was continuously provided by the tamburica band “Radost”.
In addition to activities at the hall and pavilion, Fr. Aleksa Pavichevich offered church tours from noon until the completion of Great Vespers. Well over 100 guests entered the church and heard a short introduction to the Orthodox church, and specific information about the art and architecture of the St. George parish, before engaging in wonderful question-and-answer sessions. The questions that the vistors posed were as diverse as the people that entered the church, including many in-depth discussions on history, spirituality and the liturgical life of the Orthodox faithful.
The evening’s events began with the folklore group “Gracanica”, based out of St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church in Akron, Ohio, taking the stage at 6pm. Their three groups (beginners, middlers, and advanced) performed a number of dances to the enjoyment of the standing-room only, completely-full church hall. Live music was played until close by Drago Micic.
It was a great blessing for the St. George community to once again share their faith, culture, and hospitality with their neighbors – and visitors from afar. God-willing, next year’s SerbFest will be blessed with continued growth!
On Sunday, June 4th 2017, the St. George Serbian Orthodox parish celebrated the Great Feast of Pentecost. The congregation reveled in the hymns of the Feast as the Boza Yoksimovich Serbian Singing Society of Canton joyously sang the responses after weeks of practice. In particular, their English version of the Festal Tropar “Blessed art Thou O Christ our God…”, sung in the Serbian tonal setting, was magnificent!
Those present also enjoyed the festive green of the Feast. The church was adorned with decorative fresh plants through the efforts of Ben Moretta and his son Ryan. They arrived very early to beautify the church, and to spread freshly cut grass so that the community might weave traditional crosses wreaths during the Vespers of Pentecost.
During the Divine Liturgy, Fr. Aleksa elaborated on a portion of the day’s Gospel message, John 8:12 – “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” Fr. Aleksa discussed the pervasive fear in which we seem to live, a fear that is rooted in death and darkness. He offered, however, that darkness cannot reach out its cold, gray hand and snuff-out even the smallest candle. Light, conversely, will always drive away darkness even in the blackest midnight, or in the depths of some earthly cavern. Therefore, by clinging to the light and life of our Lord Jesus Christ, darkness and fear can have no lasting power over us.
The parish rejoiced in its children following the kneeling prayers of Pentecost, distributing their 2017 Church School participation awards. On behalf of the Parish Council, Fr. Aleksa also offered a gift to this year’s High School graduate, Grace Breedlove. He also recognized college graduates Geoff George and Rachael Tobias. The parish also welcomed Mira Lazic, who will be joining the parish in the fall to offer Serbian language and culture classes to all interested children.
Immediately following Divine Liturgy, the community gathered around the church school rooms for pizza, cupcakes, and fellowship.
With the blessing of His Grace Bishop Irinej, on April 30th, 2017, the St. George North Canton community hosted a series of events in support of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, beginning first with an alumni gathering in their Event Center lounge sponsored by St. George Slava kumovi Ken and Jeanine Kozak. Surrounded by elegant decorations, priests came from parishes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to enjoy fellowship and share stories from their days at seminary. The lounge opened for a general reception one-hour later with other clergy and laity joining the St. Vladimir’s alums for pre-banquet fellowship and hospitality offered by the parish kumovi.
Shortly thereafter, the guests entered the main hall to begin the Gala Fundraising Banquet in support of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. The program began with the entrance of His Grace Bishop Irinej at 6pm, who was greeted by Kosovo Choir at the door. After a brief welcome from the Master of Ceremonies, host-priest Fr. Aleksa Pavichevich, the Kosovo Choir offered the day’s first performance. With powerful voices, they sang a selection of liturgical music and classic Serbian folk songs.
All guests were then given an opportunity to enjoy a meal prepared by the in-house caterers – Generations Catering. Named in honor of the generations of Orthodox servants who had long catered for the St. George community, the meal included a delicious selection of beef, chicken, sarma, and side accompaniments.
After the meal was finished, the program progressed to the first speaker of the evening, the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Michael Corbin, parish priest of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Canton, Ohio, and St. Vladimir’s alumnus. He began with a reflection on the humility he learned at St. Vladimir’s, which started with his first community service assignment – washing dishes in the refectory. His love for St. Vladimir’s was evident in his genuine and thoughtful reflection.
Fr. Michael then introduced the first keynote speaker of the evening, the Very Rev. Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Chad Hatfield, President of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Fr. Chad spoke of the historical witness that St. Vladimir’s has offered with regard to the development of Orthodoxy in this country. In particular, Fr. Chad emphasized the importance that the seminary has continually placed on maintaining rigorous academic standards in conjunction with a full and robust liturgical life. Together, Fr. Chad offered that the totality of the seminary experience is formational – St. Vladimir’s strives to form seminarians that will bear witness to Christ in the context of this challenging, ever-changing world in which we live.
The middle of the program featured a Romanian violinist Cornel Zotta, joined for a duet by his daughter Anna. They began with a classical selection with “Sonata No. 2” by Jean-Marie Leclair, before picking it up a little with the famous violin duet, “Concerto for 2 Violins” by J.S. Bach. To the delight of the audience, they closed their performance with three Celtic pieces.
The Very Rev. Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Dan Rogich, parish priest of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Canton, then offered an introduction of the second keynote, His Grace Bishop Irinej. Fr. Dan reflected on his experience at St. Vladimir’s while weaving in a beautiful reflection on His Grace’s seminary formation.
The audience then enjoyed a tremendous oration by His Grace, the Right Reverend Bishop Irinej. His Grace reflected on his personal encounter with both St. Tikhon’s Seminary and St. Vladimir’s Seminary. In a particularly profound moment, His Grace shared the story of a blessing he received from St. Nikolai Velimirovic while still in his mother’s womb. He then transitioned his oration to the impact of St. Nikolai on the life and development of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and, more generally, how St. Nikolai’s brilliant articulation and theology of ‘personhood’ impacted the great theologians of the modern age – and of the seminary. Although the talk was steeped in rich Orthodox theology, it was delivered in a manner that was accessible and impactful for all banquet guests.
His Grace Bishop Irinej was followed immediately by the Gracanica Folklore Group of St. Archangel Michael in Akron, Ohio, bringing their vigor and youthful energy to this gala event. Following their performance, while the children took a picture with their diocesan bishop, Gracanica’s choreographer Vinka Zoric was inspired to sing a beautiful Serbian folk hymn in a classic style. After His Grace explained the origin of this music to the audience, Vinka volunteered to lead a class in teaching this style of music to those in her parish community.
Fr. Chad Hatfield returned to the stage to present a hand-painted icon of St. Vladimir to the St. George parish community, a gift that reflected the deep bond that exist between the parish and the seminary. St. George sent four of its young men to St. Vladimir’s for their priestly formation: Fr. Pete Pritza, Fr. John Zdinak, Fr. Dan Rogich, and Dn. Larry Soper. In addition, the bond strengthens each year as the community makes an annual pilgrimage to St. Vladimir’s for a Lenten reflection. Church Board President Nick Pribich came to the podium and spoke about the impact the recent trip to St. Vladimir’s made on him and all those who made the journey.
The evening wrapped up with a summary by Alex Machaskee, Executive Chair of the St. Vladimir’s Board of Trustees. He thanked all those present for their support of the seminary, and he thanked His Grace in particular for his support in the continued growth of the seminary community. He highlighted the historic connection between the Belgrade Theological Faculty and St. Vladimir’s, noting that with the leadership and support of His Grace Bishop Irinej this connection would develop into a profound, working relationship.
By evening’s end, and through the generosity of those gathered and those who sponsored the event, the seminary raised a significant amount of money. Those gathered left with an abundance of love and affection for this institution that has long been a witness for Jesus Christ and Orthodox Christianity.
On Sunday, April 30th, His Grace Bishop Irinej made his first Archpastoral visit to his flock in North Canton, Ohio. The community gathered well in advance of the Divine Liturgy, prepared to welcome their hierarch as he entered the church. His Grace was first greeted by children from the parish who presented him with flowers, after which a procession of altar servers led him into the nave as the choir magnificently sang “The Angel Cried”.
After His Grace Bishop Irinej was vested, and prior to the start of service, parishioner Mark Resanovich was tonsured as a reader by His Grace Bishop Irinej. His Grace reminded Mark of the great responsibility of readers – to be clear in voice as they fulfill the responsibility of their office. Further, as the first step in ordained ranks, it is necessary for a reader to grow in Christ by engaging with Scripture daily. As Mark was then brought into the rank of Subdeacon, the community offered a resounding “Axios!” as the orarion was tied in cruciform around him.
Following Mark’s ordination to the Subdiaconate, Divine Liturgy began with the triumphant singing of “Hristos Voskrese”, the joyful proclamation of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout the Liturgy, in fact, the great joy of our Lord’s resurrection permeated everything – the triumphant singing, the reading of the Gospel, and the reception of Holy Communion by the nearly 170 people gathered in the church.
Of particular delight to all those present, His Grace Bishop Irinej delivered an inspiring sermon about the radiant joy that permeates the Paschal season. As he reminded the community, “if we have joy, people will know we are Christian – and that comes from the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
At the end of service, the community made their festal Slava procession around the church before cutting the Slavski kolac. This year’s kumovi were Ken and Jeanine Kozak, two individuals who have been faithful stewards of the St. George parish, and who are generous donors and benefactors to a multitude of Orthodox Christian charities.
When the service had completed, the celebration continued as His Grace Bishop Irinej bestowed Episcopal Grammatons on a number of individuals in the St. George parish. Many years had passed since the dedicated stewards of the community were awarded such an honor. Receiving Grammatons that day were Board President Nick Pribich and family, who routinely visit those who are ill and who helped carry the church through its one-year-absence of priestly leadership; Ken Kozak and family, caring Orthodox Christians who are not only generous stewards of their parish, but also of many Orthodox and Christian charities world-wide; Jaga Radosevic, the former head of catering at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, who together with her parish family gave many hours to raising funds for parish and hall operation; and Stephen Winovich, choir director since the age of 16 and dedicated organizer of services and rehearsals.
Serving with His Grace Bishop Irinej at this joyous service were the Very Rev. Protopresbyter-Stavrophor Dennis Pavichevich of St. Nicholas in Brookfield, IL; the Very Rev. Protpresbyter-Stavrophor Dr. Chad Hatfield, President of St. Vladimir’s Seminary; the Rev. Aleksa Pavichevich, parish priest of St. George in North Canton; and the Rev. Deacon Zeljko Jurisic of St. Archangel Michael in Akron.
This year’s Pascha at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church was a joyous celebration of our Lord’s resurrection! Beginning with Paschal Matins, the community gathered in a dark parish and solemnly began the Nocturn service, concluding with the singing of the 9th Ode of the Canon. When the congregation sang, “I shall arise”, the burial shroud of our Lord was lifted from the tomb and as Fr. Aleksa intoned, “When thou didst descend to death O Life Immortal…”, the shroud was taken into the sanctuary to remain on the altar until Ascension.
From the darkness of the Nocturn service, the community went in procession around the church singing of the Resurrection of Christ. Upon reentry, the fully-illumined church was adorned with flowers. Fr. Aleksa proclaimed “Christ is Risen!” in several languages as the Canons were being sung – the languages representing the various ethnicities of our very diverse parish.
The following morning, the church, full of the faithful, marked the conclusion of Holy Week by singing the festal troparion of “Christ is Risen” and receiving unity with Christ through Holy Communion. During his homily, Fr. Aleksa reminded the congregation that life has defeated death and, as a result, our lives and what we do with them now have meaning. What we do, and how we do it, no longer dies and turns to dust eternally – it is ours, and we keep it with us. The service concluded with a joyous celebration at coffee hour with the breaking of eggs and sharing of blessed baskets.
On the evening of Great and Holy Wednesday, April 12, the faithful of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church gathered for sacramental healing of both soul and body at the service of Holy Unction.
Those gathered were true participants in the service, with the entire congregation offering the necessary responses throughout the sacrament. From the community, seven different individuals volunteered to read the appointed Epistles.
Fr. Aleksa reminded the community that although healing does occur, the human body is still subject to the mystery of death. Lazarus, in fact, died after being raised from the dead. It is important, therefore, to never forget that aspect of Holy Unction that is to the healing of our souls. As he offered to those present, “In this life, it can seem as though we are treading water, constantly struggling against the multitude of our sins that threaten to pull us under the sea of life, dragging us into the deep abyss below… into death. Christ reveals himself as victorious over sin; as the conqueror of death; and that is revealed to us today in this great sacrament.”
At the end of service, the faithful came forward and received the oil of sacrament ‘unto the healing of soul and body, and unto life everlasting.’
On Saturday, April 1st, parishioners from several Orthodox churches in Stark and Summit Counties of Ohio gathered at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church for the 2nd annual Lenten workshop, sponsored by the parish’s women’s auxiliary group – the Circle of Serbian Sisters. This year’s theme was “Fasting in the Fast Food Nation”.
Participants began gathering around 9:30am, enjoying fellowship over a light, Lenten breakfast. The workshop began at 10am, with a discussion that offered a great deal of back-and-forth between the facilitator, Rev Presbyter Aleksa Pavichevich, and all those present.
The group started by discussing their experience with, and understanding of, fasting during their formative years. The group had a diverse experience with the fasting discipline, with some mentioning a strict fast that was related entirely to communion, while others grew up in non-Orthodox traditions where fasting was a completely foreign concept.
Fr Aleksa then allowed the group an opportunity to reflect on what ways fasting in this American context might be different than fasting in a predominantly Orthodox country. The group identified a number of different challenges unique to their American setting, including the predominance of non-Lenten options, the differing understanding of the Fast throughout various generations of Orthodox, the ‘abnormality’ of the fast to the average American friend or peer, and the ever-present ‘work’ that often pervades all aspects of life.
Before considering how we, as Orthodox, might face these issues, Fr Aleksa transitioned the discussion into a journey through the development of fasting. Looking at the Old and New Testament, the group identified the various ways in which the fast is utilized throughout the Bible. They then identified how the early church came to outline the fasting rules as we have them today. In a fun and oft-surprising exercise, the group tried to identify the rules as precisely as possible – as well as all the fasting and non-fasting days.
The conversation then turned to other aspects of the fast by looking at various quotes of the Fathers. As they discussed the wisdom of the early church, workshop participants reflected on ways in which the ‘fast’ was much deeper than food and rule alone. The talk culminated in the powerful words of St. Nikolai of Zica from Prayers by the Lake:
Fasting makes my body thinner, so that what remains can more easily shine with the spirit. While waiting for You, I wish neither to nourish myself with blood nor take life – so that the animals may sense the joy of my expectation. But truly, abstaining from food will not save me. Even if I were to eat only sand from the lake, You would not come to me, unless the fasting penetrated deeper into my soul.
After a short break, the group then synthesized all their workshop efforts in a challenging exercise. After breaking off into three groups, each team was given two real-life scenarios wherein their understanding of the ‘fast’ was put into a direct encounter with real-life in America. Each scenario offered a situation in which the participants had to respond to an encounter, or question from a peer, that dealt directly with the fast.
How would participants handle a friend ordering them non-Lenten food? What would they do if a well-meaning young person began fasting to the detriment of his health and body? How might they respond to an accusation that fasting is nothing more than a ‘work’ and that our ‘works’ don’t get us to heaven? What if they tried to fast with a child, grandchild, niece or nephew – and the child was not interested?
The groups formulated answers to their scenarios and presented those answers to the larger group. During each presentation, participants engaged in a lively discussion of the many ways to approach each scenario. The day ended with fellowship that lasted far beyond the scheduled conclusion as participants stayed to enjoy their light meal and continue their lively discussion.