WESTERN AMERICAN DIOCESE: November 14, 2011
The Western American Diocesan Assembly Comes to a Close
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Members of the Body of Christ in the Western American Diocese
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia,
We would ask you to please take a little time to read the following account about the Diocesan Assembly of the Western American Diocese. We want to share with you this meeting that took place in San Francisco on October 23-24, 2011, so that you would be informed of what took place, understand the level of seriousness of our labors in the Diocese, and would be inspired to enter into this work.
The Assembly’s agenda had some standard elements and yet, had items unique to the tasks set before the diocese today. Typical to the meeting, for example, was a “State of the Diocese Address” by our Ruling Bishop, a “Treasurer’s Financial Report” and therefore the report by the Diocesan “Auditing Committee” and a review and the ratification of the “Diocesan Budget for 2012.” Common to most diocesan assemblies is an account given by the Father Rectors on the condition of their respective parishes. Also, as is customary, there was an election of the clergy and lay members of the Diocesan Council for the next three years. On the other hand, unique to our meeting was the review and adoption of “Diocesan By-laws,” a first, and reports delivered by chairmen of various departments of our diocese that had been established at the previous Diocesan Assembly several years back. Finally, it was noted that next year, 2012, marks the Bicentennial of the founding of Fort Ross on the central coast of California.
In his “State of the Diocese Address” our Archpastor, His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill, delivered an assessment of the positive movements within our diocese, but also addressed our shortcomings. The latter was not exposed simply out of pessimism, but in order to honestly recognize our weaknesses and improve upon them with God’s help.
Vladyka Kyrill was pleased that we are approaching the Bicentennial of the founding of Fort Ross touching on the heritage that our Russian Orthodox forefathers have left to us and that “it is in our Diocese that this heritage continues to be lived out.” (Later in another session of the Assembly, more was said about the particulars of next year’s celebration. See link at the end of this article).
In a series of positive notes our beloved Archpastor remarked on the strong liturgical life in our diocese stating: “Though our culture today is marked out by many temptations toward change and accommodation, we remain faithful to the divine worship our Church has delivered to us.” And further he said: “In a society that is ready at every turn to set what is sacred ‘off to the side,’ to diminish God’s place and our focus on Him, our parishes and our faithful cling to Him in prayer and services, and do not cease to offer up true and right worship. Let us remember what the saints have taught us: that these prayers support the whole world.”
Archbishop Kyrill underlined that there are many signs of God’s grace that guide us. Within the borders of our diocese abides the newly-revealed, miraculous “Hawaiian-Iveron” Icon of the Mother of God. Many other wonderworking icons of the Theotokos have visited our diocese in recent years: the “Reigning” Icon and the “Softener of Stony Hearts” Icon – both from Russia, the “Sitka-Kazan” from Alaska, and “our most-beloved ‘Kursk-Root Icon,’ for so many years the protector of our Church Abroad.” Further signs of God’s grace flow continually from the honorable relics of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco the Wonderworker, through which miracles without number are performed on nearly a daily basis. “We must never forget, though, what a remarkable blessing this is, and how unworthy we all are of the grace that God, through His saint, shows us,” His Eminence concluded.
Vladyka Kyrill was happy to announce the renewed focus on the youth of our diocese and the strong commitment to education that exists. We have venerable institutions in the large cities of the diocese, most notably Saint John’s Academy that “has in past years gained new national stature, with full state accreditation and a renewed, expanded mission that includes sharing our Orthodox heritage with a wider range of students…”
In identifying our weaknesses Archbishop Kyrill stressed that this is not an exercise in “finding fault” or “assigning blame.” “God’s standard for us is perfection; and though we may fall well short of this, we must never allow ourselves to be content with our weaknesses. We must try to correct them.” Vladyka, exhorted us not to put the Law above Love. “Too often I see the Law being favored over love, as if it were something separate, and almost as if the rules of the Law were more important than the people we are charged to love, and to show God’s love… I want to point out that, though in many places this is a real struggle for us at the moment, there are some wonderful examples in our Diocese of a proper spirit, and when I travel to these places I am often overwhelmed by the experience. Whenever I visit such parishes, I am touched by the welcome I receive – a welcome, I know from others, that such communities also extend to all their visitors. The love in those parishes is tangible: one can feel it the moment he steps over the threshold of the church. Every visitor is received like Christ. They are shown the Truth, and because the Truth is shared in a spirit of love, it is received with zeal. And these parishes are growing from strength to strength.”
His Eminence addressed Pharisaicalism and then other tendencies such as isolation, cliques and individualism. Among other exhortations he exclaimed: “Clergy: remember that your role is to serve in harmony and fellowship with all your brethren, none of us ‘in our own way’ or favoring our own preferences, but in perfect unity, acting with one heart and voice. You must join yourselves to one another, become each other’s supports. Clergy who judge one another, who are not living in harmony with one another, will spread only judgment and disharmony to their flocks. And you must whole-heartedly give yourself to every activity of our parishes, setting yourselves apart or aloof from none. You must set aside your personal preferences, your likes and dislikes, and give your whole heart to your flocks. This will be hard, but God has not given you a life of comfort – He has given you a Cross.
“Laity: you must support one another, welcome one another. Do not attach yourselves just to one activity or another, but to all; remember that our parishes are communities, and that the health of our communities depends on the health of the whole. Do not tear down the work of your brothers and sisters: help them. Each of us cannot, of course, do every single thing that parish life demands; but what you cannot support physically, support with your encouraging spirit, with kind words, with prayer. Build one another up. Welcome new faces and new minds into your groups; never allow groups to become cliques, which will isolate us.”
Vladyka also acknowledged his own place within the diocese: “Finally, I also wish to say something about my own role. God has given me this Diocese, to care for and to lead; but He has not made me perfect, nor has He relieved me of my own struggles and weaknesses. Where the struggles facing us as a Diocese are in part the fruits of my own shortcomings, I seek for forgiveness and pray for new strength and wisdom.
“But neither my weaknesses, nor those of any of us, can be allowed to keep us from acting when the time comes to act, and when God calls us to change. I firmly believe the time is now. We are facing spiritual struggles; they must be overcome. We must all rise up to the challenges before us. God expects it of me, and I expect it of my clergy and of all my flock.”
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The inflow and outflow of money is a natural part of diocesan life, and so predictably there is always a fiscal disclosure of how money was made and how it was spent. A financial report approved by the Diocesan Auditing Committee was presented. The diocesan treasurer, Archimandrite Irenei, informed the Assembly that “the general financial condition of the Diocese at present is healthy and manageable, if rather tight… The principle financial challenge facing the Diocese in the years ahead will be the ongoing (and unpredictable) consequences of the so-called ‘economic downturn’, which have a pronounced effect on charitable giving, The compound effect of reduced giving at the parish level is a tightly restricted operational budget for the Diocese, which limits expenses purely to operations and prevents a more active engagement in ‘Christian investment’ (i.e. investing in parish activities and needs, educational activities, missionary endeavors, publications, etc.), which ought to be a more active part of our Diocesan work and aims.” Father Irenei concluded with the following: “As such, I strongly urge the clergy and councils of all our parishes to take an active role in encouraging stronger giving, so as to ensure that the broader financial climate does not restrict our Diocese from engaging in the essential work of the Church in our region. In the year ahead, I shall be working more actively with individual parishes to assist however I can in this regard.”
Upon completion of the treasurer’s report, a budget for the year 2012 was presented and ratified by the Assembly, which included the estimated funds that would be gathered in our Diocese for charitable causes throughout the Church.
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In order to get a picture of the overall state of the Diocese, each parish was polled and required to submit statistical information revealing trends and health. The questionnaire inquired about parish income, clergy benefits, official membership, parochial schools, average Sunday attendance, choir and sisterhood participation, parish educational programs, etc, and also the number of baptisms, weddings and funerals. At past Assemblies each Father Rector was required to present a report on his own parish. Things were done differently at this meeting. All reports were submitted in writing in advance to the deans of the Diocese, who on the basis of the information received then spoke on the status of the respective deaneries.
It was very interesting to listen to the conclusions of questions concerning various trends or major changes occurring or planned for our parishes, for example: major demographic shifts – more or less Americans, newcomer Russians, etc.; increase or decrease in use of English versus Russian and any adjustments in liturgical practice as a result; new fund raising ideas and policies; new construction/relocation or other major projects; progress in returning parish members who left as a result of the reestablishment of communion with Moscow; serious problems and issues facing the parishes; specific activities geared toward youth and care for the elderly; outreach programs and so forth.
The deans reported positive news concerning the historic event within the Russian Church in May of 2007: the establishment of Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. Though there were concerns in certain parishes, ultimately our Diocese and its parishes have become stronger. Worries by some of a loss of great numbers of parishioners turned out to be unjustified. There have been almost no major disruptions on the parish level since the establishment of Communion, and it can be said with certainty that church attendance throughout most of the Diocese has actually increased.
The deans reported a vast swell in the number of Baptisms in the recent history. This has raised the concern of how to retain these new members of the Church and provide them with instruction and Orthodox formation, as in many cases families come for this one Sacrament and then fade out of parish life as quickly as they appeared.
Then, there came the enthusiastic testimony of the Dean of the Central Deanery, Archpriest Alexander Krassovsky, who shared his particular parish’s success in increased fiscal stability and parishioner participation by the promotion of a Stewardship program.
The stewardship program’s principle is simple and yet brought about a rejuvenation in parish life. The standard for giving to the Church in the Old Testament was a tithe, 10% of gross income. The administration of Saints Peter and Paul’s Church in Santa Rosa recommended monthly or weekly financial contributions of only 1-2% (or giving “two hours of one’s hourly salary monthly to God”). Furthermore, the Stewardship Program was established in a well-rounded approach. A packet was prepared containing three articles: a cover-letter from the Father Rector, a brochure explaining the need for stewardship as a principle that is mutually beneficial for the parish and for the individual steward, and an application in which is requested contact information and a list of duties and functions within the parish for which stewards/parishioners can sign-up. This packet was distributed. A Sunday sermon was dedicated to the cause and then announcements about turning in the application were made consecutively for four Sundays. Participation in the Stewardship Program is purely voluntary, but everyone who attends the church is obliged to turn in the application with the contact information by a certain date. Follow-up came for those who were late or negligent.
Participants of the Assembly requested copies of these resources from Father Alexander and they are currently being made available to the parish priests of the diocese in both Russian and English through the diocesan clergy internet list.
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Something new to the agenda of our Assembly were reports given by chairmen of several departments established in the Diocese last during the previous Assembly a number of years ago. These departments have been established with the intent to help accomplish the many important practical tasks that aid diocesan and parish life. The duties of the departments are apparent by their titles: Communications, Youth, Service Rubrics, Church Music, Missions and Finances. (General information about these departments can be found on our Diocesan website.)
Each department is chaired by a priest of the Diocese and it was these priests who presented a report on the activities and status of their respective charges.
Two of the concrete outcomes resulting from the establishment of these departments have been better communication for the clergy and an annual youth conference.
An official internet group for the clergy of the diocese was established by a Decree from our Ruling Bishop. Within the Decree there are guidelines for participation and a mandate that all clergy of our Diocese have access to and receive the notifications and other such posts to this list. Currently, there are 59 members and it has been a highly successful way of keeping our clergy informed over the past years. Our clergy have consistently maintained a high standard in communication, happily void of “idle chatter” and debate.
The youth of our diocese have had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the annual Saint Herman’s West Youth Conference held every December since 2007. These conferences have been hosted on Vashon Island, WA, and in Santa Rosa, Sacramento and Diamond Springs, CA, consecutively. The numbers of youth at each conference are about 45-50. Participants are provided with lodging and meals, lectures, round-table discussions, workshops, social time and outings.
At the Assembly as part of his presentation, the Chairman of the Youth Department presented a wonderful and heartwarming slide-show exhibiting the work of these conferences. (This slide show is now available at the link below.)
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Regrettably, a number parishes and communities of our Diocese were not represented during any time of the Assembly either by clergy or by lay delegates. As can been seen by the seriousness of the work this is an unfortunate circumstance and a loss, both for the communities that were not represented and for the Assembly at large.
Outside the meetings of the Assembly there were opportunities for the clergy and lay-delegates to socialize and exchange new ideas. The interaction was beneficial and revealing. Participants learned a good deal about parish life in other places from each other, about successes and also concerns, about projections and plans. Some of the clergy remarked privately on the genuine piety of the lay-delegates of this Assembly.
It is hoped that the readers of this article would be inspired by the work that has been accomplished at this Assembly. It is hoped that this inspiration would move each reader to participate in parish life and diocesan life with greater fullness.
There were many talented, zealous clergy and laity participating in the sessions of the Assembly, people who love our Lord and His Holy Church. Only God knows the full extent of the sacrifices these delegates, clergy and laity, make for His Glory.
The Mother Church prays, efficaciously and with appreciation, for Her members. How often we hear supplications of gratitude lifted up during the litanies for the “founders and benefactors of this holy temple.” We must remember that all of the work of the Church has an eternal dimension as well as the earthly. Each Sacrament received worthily – Baptism, the Divine Eucharist, Matrimony, etc. – is a joy that extends beyond the confines of this world, and not singularly for the recipient of It. Every builder of or provider for a church, where the Sacraments are performed receives from God each time a little credit, grace of the Holy Spirit. When such a one has already passed out of this life, from the place where he made tangible contributions he receives intrinsic benefice for his soul, and that is before prayers on his behalf are even uttered.
All of this is by way of saying that “the harvest is truly plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest”(Mat. 9:37-38). The tasks set before the Church today are immense, but our human and financial resources are limited in proportion. Let everyone who has gratitude towards God for His great benefice to his soul find a way to help our Bishop and clergy with the work of the Church. “Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light” (John 12:35-36).
The Diocesan Administration:
• A major two-year program to bring the diocesan archives into order is in progress.
• In the period from the last diocesan assembly tens of thousands of dollars have been collected by the Western American Diocese for various benevolent purposes: 2010 Russia fire victims and burned churches there; the needs of the parishes and parishioners of the Japanese Orthodox Church after the earthquake and tsunami of 2010; Holy Land monasteries; aid to clergy widows and needy clergy families; diocesan monastic communities; seed money and loans for start-up parishes and missions…
• Successful stewardship program launched in established parish: SS Peter and Paul Church in Santa Rosa.
• New Orthodox children’s summer camp established in the Pacific Northwest by the St Nicholas Cathedral in Seattle.
• Largest parish schools in the Diocese:
1. St. Nicholas Cathedral, Seattle – 165 children.
2. Holy Transfiguration Cathedral, Los Angeles – 140 children.
3. Holy Virgin Cathedral, San Francisco – 80 children in the Russian School and 50 students at St John of San Francisco Orthodox Academy.
• Most baptisms in 2010:
1. Holy Transfiguration Cathedral, Los Angeles – 120.
2. Holy Protection Church, Los Angeles – 74.
3. St Nicholas Cathedral, Seattle – 70.
• The diocesan School Department has been revitalized and will now include adult education as well. The new chairman of the School and Adult Education Department is Archimandrite Irenei.
• Four cities have been designated as potential missions by the diocesan Department of Missions: two in the Pacific Northwest Deanery and two in the San Francisco Deanery.
The Diocesan Council for the next here years is as follows:
Chairman – Archbishop Kyrill; Vice-Chairman – Bishop Theodosy; members of the Council: from the clergy – Archimandrite Irenei (treasurer), Archpriest Stefan Pavlenko, Archpriest Peter Perekrestov (secretary) and Archpriest Serge Kotar; alternate member – Archpriest Paul Volmensky; from the laity – Reader Vladimir Krassovsky, Constantin Koltsov, Dimitry Bobroff and David Svoboda; alternate – Sergei Bogatsky; Auditing Committee: Marianne Soin (chairman), Hieromonk James; alternate – Reader Tikhon Thompson.
Archpriest Paul Volmensky
Western American Diocese