BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, OH [DOM Communications] – The 60 Diocesan Assembly officially opened Monday evening, October 11. The evening began with a service of Thanksgiving served by His Eminence, Archbishop Paul. Following the service, all of the clergy and delegates enjoyed dinner and fellowship.
Just prior to the opening address from the Archbishop, Mr. Simeon Morbey, a member of the Diocesan Council, offered a toast to the Archbishop in commemoration of his labors and efforts bring stability to the diocese.
The evening ended with an address by His Eminence:
OCTOBER 11, 2021 DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY ADDRESS OF ARCHBISHOP PAUL
Dear Clergy and Lay Delegates of the Assembly
Glory to Jesus Christ!
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-3)
I don’t want to dwell on the Pandemic in this address, but it is clear that it has affected us. How do we get to point we can experientially, and not intellectually realize our unity in Christ? We have all been baptized into Him. I began with these words from Matthew because they offer us a way forward.
What is it about a child that caused our Lord to state we need to become like children if we wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? First children know and do; as adults we think and perseverate. Children know who their parents are; especially if they have been raised in an environment of love. Once they come to know who mom and dad are, what usually happens when a child is in trouble? They run to mom or dad and seek their embrace. They don’t need to think about it, they know and do.
Secondly children know that despite what up and down behaviors they exhibit that are part of being formed in Christ; they understand all that is good comes to them from those who created them. It reminds me of the words from Proverbs, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) With all our learning and schooling, it seems like everyone has a better idea. The challenge for us is to trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding. Lord knows we seem to have a hard time trusting anything else these days. I also would ask we focus on two other issues in the coming year.
First, let us learn to be good listeners. I notice in some conversations I have had with people the tendency is to interrupt someone before they can finish their thought. Let us give ourselves over to completely listening to someone without thinking about what I may want to say. Let us learn to listen and not judge the content of what is said before we respond. Let us always seek to clarify what someone says by repeating what you or I hear to make sure we have listened and understood. Then we can respond and not react to what is said.
Finally, I want to reiterate what a priest recently said to his son and daughter in law at their recent wedding. He told them to “fill their house with prayer.” Let us do the same driving away any enmity and discord from our hearts.
Having said this I want to speak on some of the good things that are happening in our Diocese even with what has happened since March of 2020.
Growth during Pandemic
I would like to report that in a number of our parishes, there have been reports of increased growth even during this pandemic. People have been visiting our parishes in the last two years and many of those visitors have converted to the Faith. People are joining some of our churches in substantial numbers (5 or more). Whether wearing a mask or not, the work of the Church continues, it is not hindered. I wish I could be more specific on actual amounts. I base this on conversations I have had with clergy throughout the diocese.
We have eight students in our seminaries; but upon graduating, one of them will be transferring to ROCOR. I think the reason for this good number is that we have been praying at our liturgies for our Lord to motivate and call people to the priesthood. We will continue to do so. We currently have two openings in parishes and I anticipate an additional three will open up next year. Let us continue to pray for vocations in our parishes.
St. Andrew of Crete Liturgical Music Ministry
A group of 8 or 9 people have been meeting this past year to develop this ministry. Several Zoom Meetings were held with a larger group from the Diocese to do some fact-finding and learn from this group what their parish liturgical needs are. Protinica Michelle Jannakos and Khouria Jennifer Sawchak have been co-chairing this effort. At today’s Diocesan Council Meeting, Khouria Jennifer presented a PowerPoint presentation on the St. Andrew Ministry outlining its scope and proposed a yearly budget of $22,000 for funding this ministry. Once the Diocesan Council signs off on this, a major effort will be made to introduce the ministry on our diocesan website and begin the actual work of supporting the liturgical music life in our parishes.
In the past year, I have had a number of conversations with priests from missions and parishes about being able to secure a loan from the Diocese for capital improvement projects. This is similar to the program in the Diocese of the South which has been in operation for over 10 years. We had meetings with people from the Diocese of the South several years ago but after reflecting on this I didn’t think we were set up for this.
But given the requests I have received for low interest loans, the idea of looking into OCCIF came up. We had several people come from OCCIF come to the assembly several years ago to share about the program. Fr. Paul Jannakos, Rob Koncel and myself met with the leadership of OCCIF via Zoom on July 27th of this year. OCCIF offers the opportunities for parishes to invest funds with them for the purpose of giving loans to OCA parishes at an interest rate lower than what a bank would offer. The three of us discussed the prospect of whether we could invest $250k from our funds in OCCIF with the idea that money would be returned to us after 5 years with interest (or we might consider reinvesting that amount for another 5 years). In all the years they have been in business there has been no defaults on an OCCIF loan.
The advantage of working with OCCIF is that they have their own vetting process for parishes/missions seeking a loan. OCCIF needs to be sure that that those loans can be paid off. The downside is that if we do for example, invest $250k, that can’t be designated for only DOM parishes. So, we need to have parishes/missions that would be willing to seek out OCCIF for these loans. If not, the money invested will go to other OCA parishes that are able to get a loan and demonstrate the ability to pay it back. The prospect of investing in OCCIF was discussed at today’s Diocesan Council meeting. I do hope we can proceed with becoming a partner with OCCIF. Brochures have been given to you to take home if you want to consider the prospect of having your parish investing funds in OCCIF, or do so individually. You can download and more copies of these brochures at OCCIF website: https://occif.org/news/
Clergy and Lay Initiatives
For the last year the Diocesan Council has been working with Bill Marianes to improve our vision and strategy to better improve our ability to follow through on what we say we want to do. We are proposing initiatives to take place in the next few years to better lend support to our clergy and lay people. Fr. Paul Jannakos will discuss this in his report tomorrow.
Hiring of new staff and other changes
I first want to thank Fr. John Zdinak for his many years as Chancellor. He was a constant during some difficult times. He also held the priests in our Diocese in high regard and advocated for improving upon their compensation. “Axios!” Fr. John for a job well done. Fr. Paul Jannakos became the new Chancellor of our Diocese effective February 1, 2021. Fr. Paul and I have gotten off to a good start and I look forward to our future work together. We said good bye to Mason Baker my Kellenik for the last two years. Mason moved to Michigan and recently got married. He was wonderful to have as an assistant and I do miss him. Mason thank you for your faithful service. May the Lord bless your new life with Elizabeth. Secondly, I had Justin Tatooles work with me after Mason left from late June to mid-August. Justin was wonderful to work with. He had to leave in late August to attend college in Nashville, TN. Thank you Justin for your help. We did hire a new assistant who will act as my driver and baggage handler. His name is Joe Jenkins from St. Luke in Palos Hills, IL. He is 29 years old and officially began work on October 1st. He will work one day at the Diocesan Office and on the weekends, drive with me to visits. He will transport me to the airport in the next month for flights. Eventually he will also travel with me when I fly as well.
I also wish to welcome Mrs. Angie Kladis who began work in June or July as our Diocesan bookkeeper. So far, she has been a great asset to our Diocesan Staff. It has been a pleasure to work with her. She comes in twice a week to work 2 to 3 hours each day to do her work.
I have also expanded our Diocesan Chancery Meetings to include Rob Koncel, Fr. Alexander Koranda, and Fr. Herman Kincaid to join myself, Philip, and Fr. Paul Jannakos to oversee administrative matters in the Diocese. We have been meeting once every 6 weeks. Many thanks to my Chancellor, Fr. Paul Jannakos, and my Secretary, Philip Sokolov and all who assist me in carrying out the task of overseeing the Diocese. I also wish to acknowledge and thank our Deans, Fr. Andrew Clements, Fr. Dusan Koprivica, Fr. Joel Weir, Fr. Alexander Kuchta, Fr. Paul Wesche, and to Fr. Timothy Sawchak for their assistance and support.
Status of Loan on Christ the Savior property and Archangel Michael Burbank Update
The good news to report is that the remaining balance on the loan at Christ the Savior property on La Salle St. has been paid off. Therefore, effective January 1, 2022, the property will be deeded over to Christ the Savior. May the Lord bless Christ the Savior as they now take on their journey as a parish where things are now clearly defined.
Unfortunately, things have not been going well at Archangel Michael in Burbank. Last March, the parish voted to sell the church and the hall, merge with St. John Chapel in New Lennox and to buy property in the Mokena area where a new church could begin. However, this never materialized and membership has continued to dwindle at Archangel Michael with people leaving and going to other parishes. On October 17th the remaining members of Archangel Michael will vote on closing the parish. If that happens, I will close Archangel Michael and the deed of the property will be signed over to the Diocese. The Diocese in turn will sell the hall and property. I would like the Rectory to be separated from the church and hall where that would remain our Chancery office. The big question to address is once the property is sold and the money deposited into diocesan coffers, how will these funds be used? We obviously have much to discuss. I know this is a hard time for the remaining members of Archangel Michael, please keep them in your prayers.
The Recent losses of Fr. Stacey Richter, and Matushka Tresja Denysenko
Needless to say, losing Fr. Stacey at 52 years old, came as a big shock to all of us. Things were going so well for him, his family, and those at St. Elizabeth. St. Elizabeth is one of those parishes experiencing growth even during the Pandemic. Please keep Matushka Trudi, and her grown children Michael, Sara, and Anika in your prayers as well as Fr. Stacey’s twin brother Kirby.
In August we were also shocked by the falling asleep of Matushka Tresja Denysenko at 47 years old due to a cerebral hemorrhage. She suffered this while working with victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. Matushka’s kindness and heartfelt passion was exhibited by her tireless involvement as a disaster response expert with the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. Please keep Deacon Nicholas and his daughter Sophia in your prayers.
We also remember the falling asleep this past year of the Archpriest Peter Pawlak, the Archpriest Vladimir Lecko, the Archpriest Joseph Gibson, and the Protodeacon Edwin Aasen.
Let us take this time to intone Memory Eternal for Fr. Stacey Fr. Peter, Fr. Vladimir, Fr. Joseph, and Protodeacon Edwin, and Matushka Tresja.
Finally, Fr. Moses Berry is seriously ill at this point. He is in an ICU unit in a Springfield hospital. There are some small signs of improvement. On October 6th Matushka Magdalena reported the doctors figured out why he was having such difficult breathing issues. They are treating him with the appropriate medications. Fr. Moses means so much to our diocese and to the Orthodox Church in America. Please keep Fr. Moses, Matushka Magdalena and their children in your prayers.
I think I am getting to the point in my life that I need to prepare for retirement. I am approaching my 70 birthday in April of 2023. I have made my feelings known to His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon. I still have not decided on an exact date. I am concerned about my declining health and how that might be hindering my ministry as the Bishop of this Diocese. Please keep me in your prayers that the Lord will help me to properly discern His will for me as I approach 70 years old.
Thank you to all for your patience with me.
With love in Christ,