My wife and I, accompanied by our parish deacon, Fr. Deacon Kevin Kirwan took off from Eppley Airport in Omaha, for Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York, just after 6:00 AM on Monday, October 9th.
We coordinated our travel with Fr. Samuel Seamans, rector of St. Thomas Orthodox Church in Mountain Home, Arkansas, who met us in Detroit, Michigan where we boarded our connecting flight. Fr. Samuel was a bishop in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) before entering the Orthodox Church and we had served together in the same diocese.
While we were still in the air that morning, Fr. Deacon Abraham Fortier of Holy Archangels Orthodox Church in Waterville, Maine was ordained to the presbyterate and Subdeacon Michael Hoernschemeyer of St. Genevieve of Paris Orthodox Church in St. Charles, Missouri was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch (Primate) of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia at the Synod headquarters in Manhattan.
A former traditional Roman Catholic and a seminary graduate of the traditionalist Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, Fr. Deacon Michael had visited our parish and we played a small part in his reception into the ROCOR Western Rite Communities. It was a tremendous blessing to see him serve as a deacon at his first Mass on Tuesday morning, October 10th.
Check-in at the retreat centre in Wappinger Falls, New York took place on Monday afternoon, with the Conference beginning at 5:00 PM with Vespers. Dinner in the refectory followed at 6:00 PM.
Compline was prayed in at 7:00 PM, and then four confessors heard the confessions of the clergy, their wives and the lay people in attendance. Later that evening there was a reception in the refectory with wine and cheese.
Two traditional Anglican priests (ACNA) from Quad Cities Anglican Radio, Fr. Thomas Janikowski, FSAC, and Fr. Eric Vowles, SSC, attended the entire Conference, broadcasting both presentations and interviews. I really enjoyed visiting with these men and getting to know them. Their broadcasts from the Conference are now podcasts, and can be viewed here: http://www.qcaradio.com .
On Tuesday morning the Conference began in earnest. The days began early, with a bell awakening everyone at 5:00 AM. Lauds was sung at 5:30 AM, with Holy Mass at 6:00 AM.
Breakfast in the refectory was at 8:00 AM. From 9:00 to 11:30 AM there were presentations, followed by Sext (the Mid-day Office) at 11:45 AM. Lunch was at noon, with presentations or other scheduled activities from 1:00 to 4:00 PM. Vespers was at 4:15 PM, followed by dinner at 5:00 PM. From 6:00 to 7:45 PM there were more presentations, followed by Compline at 7:45 PM.
Each evening at 8:00 PM there was a reception in the refectory with wine and cheese. These receptions were a wonderful time of fellowship with old friends and confreres, and an opportunity to meet new colleagues and build relationships. There were, as at all of our Conferences, visiting clergy who are interested in Western Orthodoxy. While I was able to meet most of the visitors, I was able to spend time with four of the visiting priests — three from traditional Anglicanism and one from traditional Roman Catholicism. We also had a number of Antiochian Western Rite clergy with us, making the Conference something of a pan-Orthodox Western Rite Conference.
It was a real pleasure for me to have had an opportunity to renew my acquaintance with His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah. I first met him in the summer of 2014, when I had the honour of concelebrating with him at St. Benedict’s Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City on that parish’s feast day. I had breakfast with His Eminence on Wednesday morning, and spoke with him at length during the reception on Wednesday evening. We spoke about the ongoing development of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities, and about Orthodox church planting in general.
The various presentations were excellent, and were made by a variety of well qualified speakers. Presentations included, Reading and Chanting Gregorian Notation, by Fr. David Kinghorn ( ROCOR Western Rite Communities); The Psalms, by Prior Theodore, OSB (Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate); Ancestral Sin vs. Original Sin — A Lecture on Orthodox Salvation Theology, by Fr. Matthew Joyner (OCA); The Three Pillars of Orthodox Spirituality, by Metropolitan Jonah (ROCOR); Orthodox Ministry to the Incarcerated, by Fr. David Straut (ROCOR); and The Gallican Liturgy, by Fr. Lev Smith (ROCOR Western Rite Communities). I presented on Church Planting and Church Growth. If anyone would like a free electronic copy of my text, A Guide to Western Rite Orthodox Church Planting, you can request it from me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
In addition to Holy Mass and the Divine Office, the presentations, and fellowship, there were other activities as well. On Tuesday afternoon there was a ROCOR Western Rite Clergy meeting. While the Western Rite clergy were meeting, His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah hosted an Inquirers Q & A meeting for the visiting clergy in attendance. During these clergy meetings the clergy wives enjoyed an outing together.
On Wednesday, October 11th, there was a ladies luncheon, and a ROCOR Western Rite clergy meeting with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion and His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah. Later that evening Metropolitan Jonah and Fr. Mark Rowe made their closing remarks. I was then called upon to read aloud four Proposals for the further development of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities that had been submitted to Metropolitan Hilarion by the Western Rite Advisory Board with the blessing of Fr. Mark Rowe, and that had been approved by our Ordinary, Metropolitan Hilarion, for adoption.
Among them was a change in title for Metropolitan Hilarion’s vicar for the Western Rite, Fr. Mark Rowe. As a rapidly growing and expanding nationwide and international body, the ROCOR Western Rite Communities have far outgrown a mere Deanery and the title of Dean has become anachronistic. Therefore, Fr. Mark Rowe’s title has been changed to that of Vicar General of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities, and the position of Vicar General shall be that of a Mitred Archpriest.
With the continuing numerical and geographical growth of the Western Rite Communities in America and abroad the Vicar General may now establish Deaneries as needed for administrative purposes, with senior priests presented to the Metropolitan for his approval to serve in the capacity of Deans.
In addition, Fr. David Kinghorn, rector of St. Cuthbert Orthodox Church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, who has long been informally assisting Fr. Mark, has been formally appointed assistant to the Vicar General.
The organizational structure of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities has been fleshed out, positioning us to become even more effective in advancing the Work of the Great Commission, opening new local churches, and rebuilding the Western Church.
The Ordinary of the ROCOR Western Rite Communities is Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Vicar General is Fr. Mark Rowe, a priest of long experience and a former Anglican Archdeacon, The Vicar General is assisted by Fr. David Kinghorn, as well as by a Western Rite advisory Board — on which I serve, an Administrative Council that looks after the temporal needs of our Western Rite Communities, and an Ecclesiastical court.
In the coming year we plan to hold a youth camp, and to organize a pilgrimage to the Cathedral in San Francisco that contains the tomb of St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (d. 1966). It was St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco who said, “Never, never, never let anyone tell you that, in order to be Orthodox you must be Eastern. The West was fully Orthodox for a thousand years.”
Thursday morning, October 12th, began as usual, with the Rising Bell at 5:00 AM, Lauds at 5:30 AM, Holy Mass at 6:00 AM, and breakfast at 8:00 AM. Around 9:00 AM we received a final blessing, and Conference attendees began to pack up and to leave for home.
I spent a lot of time with inquirers during the Conference. Each one I spent time with told me that they had never experienced such a meeting within their own ecclesial community. I can echo that. This year Holy Cross parish celebrated our fifth Pascha (Easter) as an Orthodox church. We have entered the fullness of the Faith and the fullness of grace. We are now part of the Church established by Christ Himself, rather than a splinter from it. A splinter, no matter how well intentioned and sincere, is still a splinter. We have preserved the fullness of our Western cultural, liturgical and spiritual heritage and patrimony in full sacramental communion and visible unity with the 300 million-member Orthodox Catholic Church. We are fully Orthodox and thoroughly Western. We have lost nothing, and gained everything. Who could ask for more?
80% of the visiting clergy at the ROCOR Western Rite Conference last year have entered the Orthodox Church and are now serving in the ROCOR Western Rite Communities. I suspect that we will have similar numbers this year. In just over a week since the 2017 Western Rite Conference closed two of the visiting clergy have either already submitted an application for reception or will do so this week.
The 2017 ROCOR Western Rite Conference was a tremendous success. It was an incredible spiritual event. The brethren in attendance were fully united and were renewed and energized; and, God willing, the coming year looks bright indeed. The Western Church is being rebuilt, Church history is being written, and you can have a part in it. Orthodox minded clergy and laity are welcomed home with love and open arms. We love being Orthodox. You will too. Come and see!