Annual Clergy Conference!


By Rev. Fr. Vasyl Sendeha

“We priests need priests also.” This expression was repeated over and over again at the Clergy Conference of 2009, which took place at Antiochian Village in Ligonier Pennsylvania October 25th through 28th.  I have heard this expression for the first time from Archbishop Antony, on the day of my ordination to the Holy Priesthood. As a newly ordained priest, it made me think.  Why would I need other priests? The first thought was that I might need to ask them for help, since I was just ordained or I would certainly need some help with the liturgical rubrics.  I also thought it might be very beneficial for me to turn for advice to more experienced priests about parish responsibilities, to which I was about to be appointed.  I was really feeling that it would not be really necessary to do that at all, since I have completed my seminary training.  I am well prepared to step into the priesthood!  I was wrong. No matter how well you are trained, you can’t be prepared for everything.  No matter how much theoretical knowledge you have, you still need a great amount of advice from more experienced priests.

I had not served even a week as a priest, when I realized that I do need other priests and not just for advice in parish life or services in the Church. I realized that I need priests – or a priest, first of all, for spiritual guidance a Spiritual Father.  At my first clergy conference, I was convinced, it is impossible for me to fully function in my priesthood without other priests.  That is right: the spiritual leader of the community needs spiritual guidance! I cannot describe how good I felt, how uplifting I felt, spending few days with the hierarchs and priests in the environment charged with the spiritual energy. Only a few months had passed since my first clergy conference and I could not wait until the next one.  Not just because I wanted to feel good for myself again or that I needed to feel that thrill again. I needed the spiritual energy. I needed to get charged with the inspirational vigor and replenish my energy to serve in the Holy Priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

My second clergy conference was this year at the end of October. I spent a few days with my fellow brother priests in prayers and seminars at the Antiochian Village in rural Pennsylvania under the guidance of our hierarchs, Archbishop Antony and Bishop Daniel.  We missed the presence of our Metropolitan Constantine, who planned to be with us, but he was called to represent us all and our entire Church in meetings with All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew in New York City during this particular time.  The bishops offered us magnificent power point presentations on the most important aspects of our priestly ministry. 

His Grace Bishop Daniel in his presentation about “building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 12-13), reflected upon the Gospel centered Church of our Lord, which is diverse in her ministry and must spread the Word of God in a diversity of local environments, parish backgrounds and parish practices. He spoke upon the necessity of the vibrancy of life in our parishes and in their worship and social interaction.  His Grace called us to realize that the reason for our ministry/existence is to serve the Living God and to share the Love of God – and our love for Him – with others.

Archbishop Antony offered comments on some of the most important things that priests must learn about their life as parish priests, including – concentration on the Holy Gospel of our Lord, our limitations, the difficulty of persevering in our commitment to the Lord, priestly authority and being a Spiritual Father, standing firm in Orthodox Christian principles,  the temptations of the world, the goodness and talents of the faithful and the need to discover them and help them utilize them, the importance and power of prayer, that we will not always feel loved and living in humility.

The presentations grew into vigorous discussions during which everyone wanted to express their own feelings and to inquire about their own priestly ministry.  We were reminded that we must always be aware of who we are and be diligent about what we are doing in the Holy Church of Jesus Christ, remembering His very words, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48). As St. Paul says reminds us, we must always rely on each other. “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” (Romans 1:11-12)  The work at God’s Vineyard is not easy, especially in this twenty-first century, but with God’s help and the mutual support of brother priests we can and we will continue laboring in spreading the Good News and in the salvation of souls.

The theme of hierarchs’ presentations was continued in the reflections on their own experience in the Holy Priesthood by Fathers Anthony Perkins, and Anatoliy Dokhvat.  They showed us how important the support of brother priests was on their journey to the Holy Priesthood.  In his reflection, “A Soldiers Walk Through the ‘Desert’”, Fr. Anthony, pastor of St. Michael Parish, Woonsocket, RI, spoke to us about his journey as a member of and later a consultant to our Armed Forces – especially in Afghanistan.  He spoke of how fighting spiritual battles during the most dangerous of missions in wartime strengthened him on the road to the Holy Priesthood. To fight those battles, he searched for spiritual support, which he received from fellow soldiers and from a few principle Orthodox priests, who enabled him to answer his call to service the Holy Priesthood.  Fr. Anthony’s emotional account of his desert experience deeply touched me.

Fr. Anatoliy in his reflection “A Priest’s Journey from the Church in Ukraine to the Church in the USA” shared with us how in his hardship of traveling from Ukraine to the USA.  From the moment he began his journey to service here in the USA, he encountered priests and bishops, without whose immense support, he would not have been able to continue his priestly ministry.  He spoke of the moments when he was feeling the most lonely and fearsome about having even a place to pray, but found that God soon provided him with access to the clergy who received him warmly and who then would guide him over time into the service he now offers in his parish of St. Volodymyr, Millville, NJ.

Very Rev. Fr. Robert Holet presented a reflection on Stewardship in the Church, an aspect of the parish and personal Orthodox Christian life that we priests must educate our faithful about.  Father Robert’s presentation was eagerly discussed by the clergy presence because of its importance for any parish’s life. Rev. Robert remarkably described for us with a powerful presentation about the movement of Gods’ Gifts – from Him to and through us and finally returned to Him by us in thanksgiving and glory.  “…For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from You, the Father of Lights, and to You we give glory, thanksgiving and worship…” (prayer before the Amvon during Divine Liturgy.  Father Robert invited the clergy to participate with him in his work as Director of the Consistory Office of Stewardship in the education of our faithful concerning the all-encompassing concept of stewardship.

In her reflection “The Accomplishments of the Consistory Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry”, Natalie Kapeluck-Nixon showed us the theories this ministry in action.  As she has in years past, Natalie emphasized the importance of the parish priest – the Spiritual Father – is in the process of educating our youth and retaining them in the Church.  She stressed the  enormous temptations that our youth and young adults are faced with in our very secular society and how important it is that we priests work closely with the youth of our parishes, not waiting until they are teenagers, because by that time in this society we could very well have lost them.  Rather, it is important to work with them from the womb – first educating their parents to be about how to live an Orthodox life and how to allow the parish community to embrace their families and for them to embrace the community.  The youth of our Church are not the future…they are the present!!!

Of course, the moments in prayer are among the most important for us as brother priests during the clergy conference.  There is something very special about hearing all the priests singing the liturgical services.  There is something special about being part of that for me.  This year’s services were such special moments for me and my brothers.  I look forward to the next time we are able to gather together.

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