UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Annual Archpastoral Visit to St. Anthony of the Desert Mission in Las Cruces, NM!
By Subdeacon Ivan Chopko
Once again the mission community of St. Anthony of the Desert Ukrainian Orthodox Mission in Las Cruces, NM welcomed among their midst the eparchial bishop of the Western Eparchy and President of Consistory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA - His Grace Bishop Daniel, during the weekend of 29 March – April 1, 2013. He was accompanied by seminarian Subdeacon Ivan Chopko of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Bound Brook, NJ.
Prior to Bishop’s arrival to Las Cruses, on Thursday March 28, 2013 His Grace traveled to Albuquerque, NM to explore a possibility of establishment of a new Mission community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. Bishop Daniel was accompanied by Deacon David and Marylyn Mascarenas, who approached the Consistory of the UOC of the USA with the plans for the creation of a new mission family of the Church.
On Friday afternoon, Bishop Daniel finally arrived to El Paso, TX and a few hours later was welcomed in Las Cruces, NM by Rev. Fr. Gabriel and Pani-matka Susan Rochelle.
On Saturday morning the bishop gathered with a number of parishioners for a traditional “Coffee with the Bishop” at the house of one of the members of the parish board of administration. Enjoying the warmth of the NM morning hours, overlooking the entire Las Cruces valley, His Grace engaged himself in a conversation with the parishioners of the mission, discussing social and moral aspects of Faith journey, sharing with those in attendance his personal life path. Later in the afternoon, Bishop Daniel met with individuals of the mission community – catechumens – those that prepare themselves to enter into the Holy Orthodox Faith. Once again, the hierarch of the Church talked about the meaning of the Orthodox Christian journey and how it shapes one’s world view and encourages to fully live Christian experience by being involved in the life of a mission, local community, state and country.
At the conclusion of Vespers at 5:00 PM on Saturday evening, Bishop Daniel spoke at length to those gathered, including a number of first-time visitors to the parish, about the meaning and message of Christianity in this age and specifically during Lent. Following the Archpastoral reflection, those in attendance were treated to a festive supper and further conversations with His Grace. One must note the special bond which was shared and explained by the bishop with a visiting priest to the mission community – Very Rev. (CH Colonel) Peter Baktis, who is the installation Chaplain at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX. Fr. Peter and Bishop Daniel served together as chaplains at Ft. Jackson, SC in 2006, when back then CH Daniel Zelinsky was going through Officer’s Basic Course, before assuming responsibilities of a Chaplain in the United States Army.
On Sunday morning, at 8:30am the majority of the mission family gathered in a social hall for a secret presentation-greeting of the bishop by a local Mariachi group that welcomed the hierarch with traditional New Mexican religious songs/greetings. Later, the bishop was officially greeted by the members of the Mission’s board of administration with kind words and the traditional bread and salt. Vladyka served the Divine Liturgy and preached to a packed church, focusing on the inner meaning of the Lenten journey and one’s response to a call of holiness: “Act like a Christian in any circumstance. Follow Christ’s greatest commandment: Love God completely and everybody even if they treat you wrongly whether you know them or not… Acknowledge your sinfulness and then repent -- change your attitudes and pray. Realize that conversion is not simply one act but the beginning of a life-long commitment. Persistence, perseverance are continuing attitudes for engaging your opportunities. Don't be hard on yourself if and when you fail but -- admit it; pick yourself up; trust in God -- go forward…
Be patient with people who anger you; work on trying to forgive those who may have hurt you. You must learn to love your enemies. God loves everyone, and we need to, also. Say farewell to selective loving. If you have a hard time loving your enemies, pray to God for help… Work and pray for others to the best of your abilities to help others in many ways. Care for the poor and the needy. This is one of the things Christ talked about the most in all of His teachings… Treat others kindly as you would like to be treated. Even simple acts of kindness like holding a door open for someone… Volunteer to help people. For example, you could take a shift at a soup kitchen near you, visit people staying in a nursing homes… Remember, living the Christian life - through your actions will make others want to follow God… Remember the heart of your faith should be love, not an obligation - but to live as Christ--easier said than done--but as long as you are aspiring to be like Him, you're on the right track. God will always be there to help you through it, one step at a time… Share your beliefs with others, but do it in a loving way. Do not personally attack anyone… Practice what you preach...”
Every available member of the parish was present on this Sunday, and those who could not be present sent greetings and expressed regret at their inability to attend.
Following the Divine Liturgy, another banquet was held which provided a lot of time for conversation with Bishop Daniel and Seminarian Ivan. All seven students of the mission community that pursue various academic degrees in the local AZ-NM Universities had an opportunity to speak with Bishop Daniel, reflecting on a relationship between Religion and Science.
The parish council met with Vladyka Daniel over supper for the conclusion of his visit, and discussed future plans and hopes for St Anthony Mission.
St. Anthony of the Desert Mission in Las Cruces, NM began in October 2007 with only a handful of contacts, and has grown now up to fifty members: thirty-nine adults and eleven children.