A SVOTS seminarian reports on the Holy and Great Council, and reflects on his DOS summer internship.
Daniel Greeson's Summer 2016 Report:
This summer I was blessed to be able to partake in two very different opportunities. The first, the Holy and Great Council which was convened at the Orthodox Academy of Crete this past June. The second, an internship at St. Maximus Orthodox Church in Denton, Texas as a part of my formation as a seminarian of the Diocese of the South. My participation at the Council of Crete was made possible by an invitation extended to students of St. Vladimir’s to come and aid the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s hosting of this event. Three seminarians from St. Vladimir’s were chosen: one from the Greek Archdiocese, another from the Antiochian Archdiocese, and myself from the Orthodox Church in America.
While I hear the beaches in Crete are exquisite, I was unable to visit any of them. There was much to do in order to prepare for an event of this size and importance! My time in Crete began roughly a week before the Small Synaxis of the Primates held on June 17th. We hit the ground running, visiting key sites where the Primates and hierarchs would be going, reviewing etiquette and protocol, and assembling backdrops and other necessary items. Mornings were early and evenings typically extended hours past nightfall. The hours were tough but the work was meaningful and enjoyable, especially due to the fellowship.
The majority of the volunteers for this event had been assembled from Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and so a key part of my experience at the Council was getting to know these men and women. Unbeknownst to me this fellowship would extend throughout the Council as I got to know young men and women from Albania, Africa, Greece, and Romania. This element was an added bonus as I was able to learn about the experience of Orthodox Christians from many different contexts and share my own experiences as an American Orthodox Christian. It was quite amazing to me just how interested many of them were in Orthodoxy in America.
My main duty at the Council was as steward to the Church of Romania. This duty basically entailed me being the liaison between those administering the Council and His Beattitude, Patriarch Daniel, the Metropolitans and Bishops of the Romanian Church, and other representatives (priests, deacons, and laity). Specifically this meant that I was helping facilitate the movements of the Romanian representation between destinations, ensuring schedule changes and other adjustments were being handled, attending to the fine details of such a large entourage’s needs and desires while being in Crete, and whatever else the occasion presented. Thankfully the hospitality and graciousness of the Romanian representation were incredible. I was present at many of their meals and was able to have many enlightening discussions with the clergy and lay representation. The Romanian Church was to me an icon of fraternal love and cooperation, I especially observed this in His Beattitude, Patriarch Daniel’s display of deft leadership of the Romanian representation.
I also spent time with Romanian correspondents and photographers from Basilica (www.basilica.ro) the news agency of the Romanian Orthodox Church. They were all quite interested in the Orthodox Church in America. One journalist relayed to me that he checks www.oca.org every day in order to see what is happening here in America in the OCA. These interactions opened up a whole new vista of what life and ecclesial life is like in another Orthodox Church. It also, hopefully, laid the ground for a future visit to Romania.
Another unexpected part of the Council were my encounters with St. Nikephoros the Leper and St. Porphyrios. After seeing multiple icons of St. Nikephoros around local Cretan Churches my curiosity drove me to ask someone who would know about his life and the reason for the local veneration. I learned the life and story of St. Nikephoros from the in-house iconographer at the Orthodox Academy of Crete where the Council was held. She relayed to me that St. Nikephoros was from her home village which was close by and was beloved by local Cretans. His story of patient and even joyful endurance of leprosy is instructive and encouraging. The book Wounded by Love has conveyed the life of St. Porphyrios to many English speaking Orthodox the wonderfully joyful and loving life of this late elder. It was quite the blessing to visit and be hosted by the nuns of the Monastery of the Transfiguration, situated up in the hills of Crete, who had been under the guidance of St. Porphyrios. It was there at the Monastery that I was able to venerate a vial of St. Porphyrios’ blood. I thought this an interesting, if not to say an odd, relic. It was only later that I was to learn that there are no relics of St. Porphyrios available for veneration because he had arranged his place of burial to be a secret. Throughout the rest of my summer I especially felt the prayers and presence of St. Porphyrios.
I returned from Crete to spend a few days with my family in Nashville. During this summer my wife, Chelsea, and children, Elisabeth and Joseph, were based in Nashville. It is due to the gracious work of my wife and in-laws that I was able to have such a full summer. After a few days home I was on the road headed to Denton, Texas where I was to serve in a summer internship at St. Maximus the Confessor Orthodox Church in Denton and at St. Seraphim Orthodox Cathedral in Dallas. The internship began quickly as the first responsibility I had was serving at a Slavonic baptism at St. Seraphim’s with Archimandrite Gerasim.
My time in the internship was mostly spent at St. Maximus in Denton where I was serving with Fr Justin Frederick. Besides serving or reading at the various services offered I was able to lead a class on Sunday afternoons on the epistles of St. Ignatius, share with the parishioners about my time in Crete, write weekly bulletin articles, serve in a hierarchal liturgy when Bishop Alexander visited, and teach a class for the inquirers and catechumens at St. Maximus. Fr. Justin was generous with his time with me and we were able to discuss many of the challenges facing priests and growing Orthodox missions. Being able to be present again in a parish setting, rather than the seminary context, was a wonderful respite and energizing experience. The parishioners of St. Maximus are to be commended for their gracious hospitality and warm embrace during my too short sojourn among them.
Roughly two days a week I spent at St. Serpahim’s Cathedral working in the office with paper work, especially updating and editing the metric books. During this time I was able to visit with Archimandrite Gerasim and learn from him the various dimensions of parish and diocesan life. I was also able to attend the patronal feast of the Cathedral as well as a few other services and events.
The experience of the internship at St. Maximus and St. Seraphim’s brought home to me the importance of all of the varied training that seminary provides. While no seminary can adequately provide you with absolutely everything you need, the internship at St. Maximus and St. Seraphim brought out the practical, and specifically ecclesial, dimensions of all of the scholastic, musical, communal, and liturgical intensities of seminary life. To actually go back and forth from seminary and the internship created a fruitful dialectic that sharpened my vision and focused my life of prayer.
I am thankful for the blessings of Bishop Alexander in pursuing this internship and the guidance and aide of Archimandrite Gerasim and Father Justin. I am especially thankful for the patient endurance of my wife and children!
Please do remember to keep our seminaries, faculty, staff, and student body in your prayers.