St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Charlottesville received a special blessing during this last week of Great Lent, when we welcomed His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, accompanied by sub-deacons Ivan Chopko and Volodymyr Yavorskyi from St. Sophia Theological Seminary. Their weekend visit, even with the long drive from South Bound Brook, allowed them to avoid a threatening spring snow approaching the northern states! While in our midst, His Eminence not only spent time with parish priest Fr. Robert Holet, presiding over Saturday evening Vespers and a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, but he fully immersed himself in the life of the parish.
On Saturday, His Eminence met with a number of men who are currently involved in ministry, considering seminary or preparing for the mission field. He was also able to hear a brief update on the situation in Southwest Virginia, where our Church has provided ministerial support in previous years. Sadly, the economic downturn has fallen into a vortex, and there are serious financial shortfalls in local economies due in large part to the curtailing of the use of coal for power generation, and closing of the mines and coking operations.
Following the celebration of Great Vespers on Saturday evening, the Parish shared refreshments and fellowship with His Eminence, who in turn shared with us a memorable reflection on the current situation in Ukraine. His perspective is invaluable to us, and it was one of the many blessings we received during the visit. We were honored by His Eminence when he shared information about the continuing plight of orphans in Ukraine, particularly those overlooked or neglected because of physical or mental handicaps. He recounted the significance of this ministry over the years, not only in terms of the significant amount of material help provided from the UOC of USA but also the personal touch of the visitations of many people, including students, whose mission trips have been a rich blessing for our Church. His Eminence also allowed us to share in his journey by recalling stories about the Maidan and the injured soldiers whose selflessness and courage humbled all those who were listening. He encouraged the continuing prayers for Ukraine from all present, having again experienced the situation there from his recent visits, and the powerful sacrificial faith of those suffering as a result of the civil hostilities. He also encouraged us all to pray for the unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy which so many long to see and experience.
The visit culminated with the celebration by His Eminence of the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, served with the assistance of Fr. Robert, and visiting Deacon Nicholas Zachary of Richmond, Virginia. The visiting subdeacons were joined by parish subdeacon James Guba and parish servers David Murphy and Eric Taft. The greeting and welcome to the parish was offered by Parish Board Chair, Vladimir Gavrilovic and John Murphy served as greeter representative for the youth. John has now been promoted as a member of the Parish Greeting Ministry! The Church was full and the liturgical singing, led by Pani Dobrodyka Christine Holet made for a spiritually joyous day - despite its Lenten character.
On Sunday following Liturgy, a Lenten luncheon was provided by the Hospitality Service Group, in welcoming His Eminence in the joy of our parish fellowship. The children presented His Eminence with a Pysanky created from a goose egg, with the signatures of all of the children incorporated into their designs, completed by their teacher, Michelle Dilendorf. The youth also ‘interviewed’ the Metropolitan, each having prepared a question to ask about his work or his ministry. Parish Board Chair, Vladimir Gavrilovic, provided a review of the ways that the parish Master Plan, initiated with his blessing two and a half years earlier, was coming to fruition. Several of the parish service group leaders spoke in greater detail about recent accomplishments and detailed parish plans and hopes for future engagement in outreach and evangelism, charitable works, and Liturgy/worship, as well as plans for the upcoming iconography project.
This visit by His Eminence served as a unique and special blessing to St. Nicholas parish. Metropolitan Antony was able to see first-hand the strengths and challenges facing the parish and so was able to provide his wisdom and perspective, while bringing encouragement to parish laity and the clergy leaders serving on the front lines. His presence offered teachable moments for everyone in the parish, speaking directly to the concerns and needs of everyone present. His Eminence literally taught - in terms of his inspiring call to servanthood and service through his homily on the Sunday Gospel, through his recollection and sharing of the challenges facing Ukraine, and in countless small ways - fulfilling the apostolic ministry of 'preaching, reproving, rebuking and exhorting' as the Apostle Paul taught St. Timothy (2Tim.4:2).
When the Bishop is present we are tangibly connected to the wider Church; not only does he bring his perspective to bear on us in the parish, but we bring our perspective to bear on him - it becomes an exchange that enriches us all.
St. Nicholas Parish is deeply grateful for the ministry of His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony, and as we complete our Lenten journey and anticipate the joy of Pascha, we look forward to hearing new reports of the blessings of the Lord manifested as the fruits of his archepiscopal ministry, and we anticipate a return visit soon!