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November 2012

International Festival a Local Holiday Tradition

November 29, 2012

By Matushka Elizabeth Perdomo


[Pharr] On Saturday, December 8, 2012, the annual International Festival will be hosted by St. George Orthodox Church in Pharr. Located at 704 W. Sam Houston between Jackson and Cage, the event begins at 9 AM and ends with special raffle drawings at 4 PM. Throughout the day, a wide variety of free music and dance performances shared by local performing artists will enliven the event. The event is both Winter Texan and family friendly. Specialty foods from around the world will be sold - both to eat on site and to take home - including St. George's famous homemade Baklava. This year, a new Chocolate Baklava will also be featured.

Besides cookies and baked goods from around the world, some of the great International Foods shared at the festival include Eastern European specialties, including piroghies, cabbage rolls, blini and borcht. Gourmet Greek foods include grilled beef and lamb souvlaki skewers, pastitcio pasta, spanikopita and tiropita and dolmadas, also known as stuffed grape leaves. The parish is famous for its homemade baklava, which comes from a special recipe shared by founding members from Lebanon and Greece. Middle Eastern specialties will include homemade hummous, babaganuj, tabouli and homemade pita bread.

As in past years, the Russian Tea and Coffee Shoppe will feature Kusmi tea - specialty teas made for the Tzars - as well as Green Mountain gourmet coffee. The Shoppe will also have specialty baked goods, cookies and more. In addition, this year local master baker, Olivier Nicol of Olivier's French Bakery will also be selling his fabulous breads and croissants. Ready to eat foods, both hot and cold, will also be sold at the Greek and Russian/Ukrainian food booths, as well as at the International Soup venue.

Besides music, dance and great food, the International Festival will feature several local artists, including Wilma Langhanger and Serena Pandos. Craftspeople and artisans will sell handcrafted jewelry, hand carved wooden items and more. Alisha Shipley will once again share her wonderful Russian, Ukrainian and Polish arts, crafts, pottery and Christmas ornaments. The St. George Bookstore will be full of gift items, children's books, Bibles, incense and crosses. Other vendors will sell locally produced gift and food items, such as honey, jellies and preserves, magnificent mustards, herbal vinegars, spice blends and more. Handmade Monastery made beeswax candles, homemade St. George Soap and Sheila Jacaman's Divina's Natural Skin Products include just some of the other vendors who will be present. 

St. George's Festival Executive Committee Member, Judie Geil says, "Last year, we had just completed our new Church Hall before the Festival we were so excited to share it with our guests. But, on Festival day, it rained all day." Geil continues, "This year, we are praying for good weather and we know folks will really enjoy our new space as much as we do."

Various Christmas Season activities are lined up for children in the St. Nicholas Children's Area, including decorating homemade gingerbread men. Holly Kvapil, a local artists, will once again be doing face painting for children of all ages. Fr. Antonio Perdomo, Pastor of St. George Church, conducts church tours throughout the day. Fr. Perdomo says, "We always begin the International Festival with a special blessing in honor of St. Nicholas, whose Feast Day is on December 6th. This sets a good tone for our event by asking for God's blessing." Perdomo continues, "Once I begin the Church Tours, I am busy the entire day. Many people have never seen the inside of an Orthodox Church before and have lots of questions. I try to share a bit about Church History and answer people's questions during the tours."

This year's slate of performances will include UTPA's Tuba and Euphonium Quartet playing Christmas music, Lou Ann Gramann playing Celtic Harp, several Folkloric Dance groups, as well as the St. George Choir singing Eastern European Carols. This year, a Parishioner and Winter Texan group we call "Raul and the Nick of Time" will be singing and playing guitar, mandolin and harmonica. Rebecca Bormann will be performing Middle Eastern dances, and the St. George Children's Folk Dancers will share several dances from around the world. 

International Festival committee member, Michael Mezmar of Harlingen says, "We've been making wonderful foods every Saturday since September. I can't wait for people to get to taste and enjoy these great foods, which you just can't find anywhere else in the Valley."

Raffle tickets are also available for a handmade King Sized Quilt. A second raffle is for various electronic items, such as a flat screen TV, a Blueray DVD player, Kindle Reader, Museum of South Texas History family membership, Christmas gifts, merchant certificates and more.

The International Festival also serves as an annual "Give a Can; Get a Cookie" fundraiser for the very busy St. George Food Pantry. The Food Pantry began in 2004 and now serves well over 100 families each time it is open. Funds are very stretched at this time of year. Please bring donations of cash, canned goods, coats and jackets, blankets and new or lightly used toys. In return, we will give you a free cookie as a thank you.

Experience another special part of local Valley local holiday season and culture, come join the guests at the Annual International Festival on December 8th. For more information or to reserve special food orders, call 956-781-6114 or see the Festival website at: or on Facebook at: .

Myrrhstreaming Icon of St. Anna Visits Florida

November 27, 2012

On November 16 and 17, the Cathedral was visited by the Myrrhstreaming Icon of St Anna, along with her guardian, Fr Athanasy of St Tikhon Monastery.  Hundreds of visitors came to venerate the icon.  On Saturday, Fr Athanasy led a spiritual retreat.  Please click here to view the photos of the visit.

AR Mission Honors Founding Priest and Matushka

November 24, 2012

Fort Smith, AR.  On Sunday, October 28, 2012 Sts. George and Alexandra Mission honored the work of our founding pastor Archpriest John Maxwell and his wife Matushka Debra.  Fr. John and M. Debra faithfully served our mission for 16 years.  In August, Fr. John transitioned to being the priest-in-charge of St. John Kochurov mission in Rogers, AR.  Nearly sixty people attended the Divine Liturgy and banquet celebration.    Fr. John and Debra worked tirelessly at the mission and as one of our founders noted the mission would not be where it is today nor would it have ever existed if it hadn’t been for Fr. John.  Additionally, Matushka Debra was honored for her 15 years of service as the choir director.  God’s providence brought Fr. John and Debra to Fort Smith to care for Fr. John’s ailing father in 1996.  Previously, Fort Smith had a Greek Orthodox Church, St. George’s, but that church had closed several years prior to Fr. John’s arrival.  When Fr. John came to Fort Smith, he was able to organize a few remaining Orthodox families who formed the core group of Sts. George and Alexandra Mission.  Over the years, Eastern European immigrants and converts have been added.  In September, the nave to Sts. George and Alexandra was remodeled and those renovations were blessed at the liturgy.

May God continue to Grant Fr. John and Matushka many blessed years of ministry!

2013 OCMC Orthodox Mission Opportunities

November 20, 2012

There are numerous mission opportunities available for 2013.  Please visit for more information on these mission teams.

8th Annual Winter Service Retreat

November 15, 2012

This December, we will host our Seventh Annual Winter Service Retreat for Older Teens and Young Adults. Each year, we schedule this during the week after Nativity, when students are out of school for their winter break in studies. Our parish of St. George Orthodox Church (OCA) is located right on the Texas border with Mexico. In year's past, the week included a visit and work project in an orphanage for girls just across the border in Mexico. However, because of increased border violence in recent years, we no longer cross into Mexico. Thanks be to God, this year, we will have a Brand New Church Hall to help accommodate both our Retreat Participants and our Service Projects!
Some retreat highlights include:
* A Speaker/Retreat Master Sharing Talks on Topics the Participants Themselves Have Requested
* Hands-On Orthodox Service Projects, including Preparing For and Staffing a special Nativity Season Distribution at our St. George Food Pantry - which has fed over 60,000 people in the last few years.
* Working as Teams to Actively Help with Retreat Functions
* Praying Together: Actively Participating in Reading, Singing, Praying & Participating in Liturgical Services
* Time for Fun, Christian Fellowship, including a South Padre Island Beach Trip and Talent Show
Who:  Geared for Older Teens, College Students & Young Adults plus Adult Chaperones & Orthodox Clergy. Orthodox Christians, Catechumins, Inquirers and their Friends from All Jurisdictions are WELCOME
Retreat Master:  To Be Announced SOON!
SPIRITUAL TOPIC: Why Become (or Remain) Orthodox? How Do We Stand Up for & Live the Faith?
Expanded Version: Why become or remain Orthodox rather than simply following the "easier" more populated versions of Christianity practiced by friends and society in general? Why would/should we choose or continue on the more narrow path, which often includes isolation since most parishes are smaller and within which we have few if any peers? How are we to become knowledgeable "apologists" and stand on a firm foundation in the faith? In everyday life? In times when we face special challenges and/or temptations?  How do we stand with our heads held high knowing that our beliefs are right and true? How do we do this without being prideful or thinking "low" of our brothers and sisters in Christ outside of the Orthodox Church? What are the real dividing lines which separate our Orthodox beliefs from those held by other Christians?
Dates:  This year's retreat begins the EVENING of Friday, December 28th and ends AFTER DIVINE LITURGY on Thursday, January 3rd.
Cost:  $225.00 Per Participant - Includes all Food, Lodging, Local Transportation and Fees. Note: If Adult Chaperones prefer an on-site Motel-type room, we can reserve one for an additional fee.We try to keep our registration fees as low as possible so as many students and other young people (who often are financially challenged and/or do not have wealthy parents) can attend. To help with this, we even cook most of the food and the retreat staff do not receive salaries. We do this for the love of Christ and in hopes that this experience will touch the lives of the young people who attend.

Where: St. George Orthodox Church; Pharr, Texas - Rio Grande Valley of South Texas near the Texas-Mexico Border. See Driving Directions:  The church is located at 704 W. Sam Houston in Pharr, Texas and overnight lodgings will be at the Valley Baptist Retreat Center in Mission, Texas. See the retreat center's website at:
What:  A week of hands-on Service Work, Spiritual Talks & Sessions & Prayers, Christian Fellowship, & Fun. Reunite with your friends and make new friends in a wholesome and spirtually-profitable atmoshere.
Special Dietary Needs: We do make and have available vegetarian and vegan food for our retreat participants, especially those who are still observing the OC Nativity Fast. Let us know if you have additional special dietary requirements or needs!
To learn more or to see photos from previous year's Winter Service Retreats, see links at: 
Please let me know if you have additional questions at or by phone at 956-781-2388.

Mission Spotlight: St Maria of Paris Mission, Cleveland, TN

November 15, 2012

In 2009, in a tiny living room in Cleveland, Tennessee, two families - one Orthodox and one hoping to be - began meeting on Saturday evenings to pray. It’s a story as familiar to the Orthodox South, as “whistlin’ Dixie”; two families quickly multiply until they’ve outgrown a living room. It seems to happen like so: a couple of families meet to pray because the closest parish is an hour away; then another Orthodox family wants to come because their closest parish is an hour and a half in either direction; then someone asks “Can I bring a friend?”; and another family shows up out of the blue with, “We just moved to Cleveland, and we heard you have Vespers once a week.” The growth of Orthodoxy in the South is exponential; truly the fields are ripe for the harvest.


In a little less than four years, the group now known as St Maria of Paris Orthodox Mission, has outgrown a living room and a single multi-purpose room in a store front. We have expanded into a second room, which is used solely as our chapel, and another room used as a parish hall/classroom. From two families, just seven people in 2009, we are now averaging almost 30 on any given Sunday. Amazingly, we now have 21 communicants and six catechumens, with two inquirers eagerly awaiting a priest’s visit to make them catechumens; as well as a core group of inquirers considering the catechumenate, and a steady stream of visitors. We have seen three Baptisms, two Chrismations, and one reception by Confession. Led by Father Stephen Freeman, priest-in-charge, and Deacon Kevin Rigdon, St Maria of Paris is a thriving mission.


True to the vision of our namesake, St Maria of Paris (Skobtosova), our parish is developing a heart for hospitality and service; with the abundance of her prayers, we could not help but do so. After every service, we spend time in fellowship, usually with coffee in one hand and cookie in the other, and we have a full meal on Sundays, at which a hungry neighbor will frequently pop in just to eat. We collect non-perishable food and household goods for The Caring Place, a local food bank, in Cleveland, and we are a sponsor church for Family Promise, a homeless shelter/program for homeless families with children. We also give regularly to several individuals who are in need. As the church grows, we pray we will be able to be Christ to our community in other ways, as well.


All of this is happening three blocks from the international headquarters of The Church of God denomination, and their Theological Seminary and university. This would seem unlikely to anyone local to this area, but, in fact, Lee University is home to several Orthodox Christian students and professors, and several more who have been visiting St Maria’s to inquire about the Faith.


One Lee professor, offering a class in Orthodox Theological studies, has visited our parish with her class several times. Deacon Kevin has also gone to Lee to speak to her class, and is scheduled to do so again in the near future. Although not Orthodox herself, this professor is so passionate about sharing Orthodox Theology that she has plans for Lee University to secure a visit from the Patriarch of Constantinople in the near future.


This humble mission is blessed beyond measure, and we are excited to see the ways that those blessings will go from us to all mankind, through the prayers of St Maria

Archbishop Tikhon elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada

November 13, 2012

This afternoon His Eminence, Tikhon, Archbishop of Philadelphia and the Northeast Pennsylvannia, was elected Metropolitan of All American and Canada.  For more details on the election see this article, and click here for His Beatitude's biography.  Many Years to Metropolitan Tikhon!

Rock Hill Mission Outreach now St Anthony the Great Mission

November 6, 2012

The Rock Hill, SC, Mission Station of the Orthodox Church in America was granted full mission status and received the name of St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church from His Eminence Archbishop Nikon on Nov. 2.  Chancellor Archpriest Marcus Burch conveyed the letter granting mission status and the new name at the Divine Liturgy on Nov. 4 in Rock Hill.  Fr. Paul Coats, priest-in-charge, began Vespers services in Rock Hill in the summer of 2010, and the first Divine Liturgy was held at its present location on the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple in November of that year. 


Nativity of the Holy Theotokos OCA parish in Charlotte (Fr. William Mills, rector) has actively supported the growth of the mission, which has grown from three families to over fourteen families, with about 40 adults and children from Rock Hill and surrounding communities attending.  Through the prayers of St. Anthony may God continue to establish his Church!

Pastoral Letter from Fr. Paul Yerger

November 3, 2012


(Originally sent to the community of Holy Resurrection in Clinton, MS)


Dearly beloved in Christ,


I offer here some pastoral reflections on concerns expressed by some about our bishops and other Orthodox clergy who are accused by some of various wrongdoing or wrong decisions. 


First, let me say that a year or more ago I made a decision not to read any of the various websites purveying scandal and criticism of church leaders. For the past ten years or more we have had a constant stream of invective from these self-appointed guardians of the church, and I think it has greatly harmed our body. There may be some who are called to protest some things in the Church, but I do not believe it is my job. I believe my job is to pray, serve the services, and feed the flock here. I can’t do that well when my mind is filled with these accusations.


I have known several of the current bishops of the OCA for many years and I trust them. I cannot know all the circumstances that they face and I don’t think  it is my calling to judge their decisions. If I take the attitude that I will respect and obey the bishops and the Church as long as they do what I think they should, I really don’t have a bishop or a Church; I am the measure of all things.


In any case, the Church is more than the bishops. The OCA is some six hundred  priests and congregations and many thousands of faithful people who are praying, worshipping, and serving God as they are called to do where they are. The same can be said of all the Orthodox churches.

It has been the teaching of the Church since St. Augustine’s conflict with the Donatists in the fourth century that the unworthiness of the clergy does not hinder the working of the sacraments of the Church, because the true High Priest is Jesus Christ. It is His strength that we receive in the sacraments. To think otherwise would be to set up the “worthy” clergy as having some power in and of themselves, and put us in the position of always having to wonder if we are truly receiving the sacraments. All of us, including the clergy, say before receiving Holy Communion that Christ “came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first” (1 Tim. 1:15).


Our beloved Archbishop Dmitri did not always agree with his brother bishops about many things (especially liturgical and scriptural translations). But I never heard him accuse any of them of wrongdoing. He was the last to believe (if he ever believed) any church officials guilty of wrongdoing. He was known for giving clergy who got in trouble in other dioceses a second chance. In this he was not naive; he simply refused to be “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10).


A story is told of a monk on Mt. Athos who was always deploring the Patriarch of Constantinople. Another monk said to him, “Can the Patriarch keep you from praying?” The first monk answered, “No.” “Can he keep you from fasting?” “No.” “Can he keep you from loving God and your neighbor?” “No.” “Then why let him disturb you?”


I urge you to pray for the bishops of our church, and for all of us to unite ourselves more deeply to Christ and each other.


With love in Christ,


Father Paul



The Most Reverend Nathaniel, Archbishop of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate, Locum Tenens of the Metropolitan See


The Most Reverend Nikon, Archbishop of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese, Locum tenens of the Diocese of the South


The Most Reverend Tikhon, Archbishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania


The Most Reverend Benjamin, Archbishop of San Francisco and the West, Locum tenens of the Diocese of Alaska


The Most Reverend Alejo, Archbishop of Mexico City and Mexico


The Right Reverend Melchisedek, Bishop of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania


The Right Reverend Michael, Bishop of New York and New Jersey, Administrator of the Orthodox Church in America


The Right Reverend Matthias, Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest


The Right Reverend Alexander, Bishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese, Locum Tenens of the Archdiocese of Washington

Carolina Clergy Retreat

November 2, 2012

October 28 - 30 many of the clergy of the Carolina Deanery gathered together for a time of prayer, reflection, and fellowship.  In this time of struggle in the OCA, we have drafted a pastoral reflection of the situation, which you may view here.

2nd Annual Taste of St. Innocent

November 2, 2012

On Saturday, October 20th, St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Macon, GA held its 2nd Annual Taste of St. Innocent Bible and Barbeque event.  The point of this event is to invite people to our church in an effort to offer them Christian hospitality in combination with exposing our guests to the Orthodox Church and our teachings in a relaxed and informal environment.  This year we offered free southern style smoked barbeque along with some Eastern European food.  Along with the delicious food we offered church tours with a focus on traditional Christian worship as “The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth”, and a talk given twice by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon on the “Biblical Doctrine of Salvation.”  We served nearly 200 people this year, as we did last year.  By God's grace, strength and direction we hope to continue this event every year. To see more pictures or listen to Fr. Patrick’s talk please visit our website at

New Book on Eucharistic Theology

November 2, 2012

Fr Bill Mills, Rector of Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Church, Charlotte, NC, has recently published his latest book, Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundations of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology (Chicago, IL: Liturgical Training Publications, 2012).   You can purchase the book at This book considers Schmemann's thoughts on the ordained priesthood, lay ministry, and vocation. 

"Fr Alexander Schmemann was a man of tremendous theological and pastoral gifts, with uncanny insight into the world and church. In his writing, preaching and teaching he brought theology and life together in a Eucharistic approach that continues to question, critique, inspire and renew. Fr Mills shows convincingly that Schmemann’s work can be seen as pastoral theology. But in doing so, Mills has also beautifully introduced Schmemann to a new generation of Christian readers." 


V. Rev. John A. Jillions, Ph.D. 
Chancellor, Orthodox Church in America 
Associate Professor of Theology Andrei Sheptytsky Institute University of St. Paul, Ottawa, Canada


"Alexander Schmemann continues to be a major voice in liturgical theology. He guided us back to liturgy as the "first" or "primary" source of theology and his work on Baptism and the Eucharist are required reading in liturgy courses. William Mills has another "first" in this discerning study--of Schmemann as an important voice in pastoral theology... Mills systematically yet very beautifully reveals another side of this great theologian of our time-- that of a wise and caring pastor."  


Rev. Michael Plekon, Ph.D. 
Professor, Sociology/Anthropology, Program in Religion & CultureBaruch College of the City University of New York
Associate, St Gregory the Theologian Orthodox Church, Wappingers Falls NY

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