Bishop Daniel Visits St Anthony of the Desert Mission, Las Cruces
This year His Grace Bishop DANIEL, the Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC of the USA visited our mission in Las Cruces during the Paschal season. He arrived on Friday, May 9th with seminarian Subdeacon Adrian Mazur of Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary.
Las Cruces is the second-largest city in New Mexico and is situated in the south central notch of the state where it borders Texas and Mexico. El Paso Texas and Juarez Mexico are roughly fifty miles south of Las Cruces. New Mexico State University with sixteen thousand students is in Las Cruces, and White Sands Missile Range, not far outside the city, is also a major employer. The area also hosts a number of smaller industries and large hospital facilities. The surrounding area is agricultural, with dairy and cattle and crop farms. The main crops are predominantly pecans, with large amounts of peppers, cotton, and onions as well. Our mission began in late 2007, and has also established an Orthodox Christian Fellowship at New Mexico State University, with Electra Rich, an MFA student, serving as president this year.
Early Saturday morning Bishop DANIEL and Subdeacon Adrian enjoyed conversation, cake, and coffee with a small group of parishioners at the home of the treasurer, Elizabeth Davies, who has graciously hosted the coffee annually, partly because her home affords a sweeping vista of the mountain ranges around Las Cruces. During that informal time, several people asked His Grace to share his own personal journey in faith, since they were new to the church and had not heard him on this previously.
On Saturday afternoon Bishop DANIEL met with a reporter from the local newspaper, the Las Cruces Sun-News, about his role, as the eparchial bishop, in the Church and more specifically about the situation in Ukraine. That interview appeared in the Sunday Sun-News, and it is available with pictures at the newspaper web site: http://www.lcsun-news.com/las_cruces-news/ci_25738717/bishop-who-recently-returned-from-ukraine-talks-about.
For the rest of Saturday afternoon, individual parishioners and inquirers met with Bishop Daniel privately about spiritual matters of importance to them.
The pastor of the mission, Fr. Gabriel Rochelle, served Great Vespers on Saturday at 5:00 PM, with a sermon on the reading from the Acts of Apostles for Sunday from Acts 9, on the resurrection in the life of the church and our own lives through release from spiritual paralysis. His Grace offered informal comments after Vespers on his own personal journey to faith, in the light of the Resurrection, at the end of the Soviet regime. These comments honored the request of those earlier in the day but in a much larger context. His Grace also spoke about the ongoing strife in Ukraine and called for our prayers. Some thirty-five people were in attendance at Vespers, including several visitors from other Orthodox parishes in the region. A festive supper prepared by members of the congregation followed Vespers.
On Sunday the 11th, following the hours led by Reader Steven Foglesong and the choir, Bishop DANIEL entered to resounding greetings from the congregation. The bread was prepared and presented by Katie Svilar-Griebel, Council President Louiza Fouli Davenport and Fr. Gabriel offered official greetings, to which His Grace responded. In honor of the 6th Anniversary of His Grace’s elevation to the Episcopacy, the congregation sang “Many Years” as our bishop entered the church to preside at the Divine Liturgy. Deacon David Mascarenas and Fr. Gabriel, with Subdeacon Adrian Mazur, served with His Grace.
His Grace preached on the power of the Resurrection in the small things we do in life, in the conscious effort we put forth to improve the lot of those around us, and in the consolation we take in being agents of hospitality in our corner of the world.
The Divine Liturgy was followed by a festive brunch prepared by members of the congregation, after which the parish council gathered with His Grace to discuss congregational business and finances. The afternoon was a time for rest, and in the evening members of the congregation who so desired gathered for an informal dinner at Luna Rossa, a restaurant and winery; some twelve people gathered for that last opportunity.
The people of St Anthony are deeply grateful for visits from our Bishop, which enable us to feel more connected with the national church. There is little or no Orthodox presence in much of the Southwest, which is dominated by Roman Catholics and mostly Southern Baptists. We are blessed to have grown to almost fifty members, and exhibit stability, since beginning with Fr. Gabriel and Pani Susan and their son Caleb.
The parish has done much to try to reach new people in the community and will continue with that outreach shortly through an Open House and Soup Supper on May 31st in conjunction with Great Vespers. This is a quarterly effort on our part. Fr. Gabriel is active in the community and writes columns for three local newspapers on a regular basis to try to reach unchurched people, as well. The mission in Las Cruces is mostly made up of converts, with a handful of cradle Orthodox.
Photos by Subdeacon Adrian Mazur