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WICHITA , KS : February 22, 2013
A Nun of the Russian Church Abroad Participates in the Clergy Retreat of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America of the Antiochian Orthodox Church

From February 12-15, 2013, Wichita, KS, was the site of the annual Clergy Retreat of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America of the Antiochian Orthodox Church (AOC), attended by 67 clergymen. Over the course of four days, a series of lectures was read on the topic “Feasting and Fasting in the Orthodox Church,” by Nun Vassa (Larin) of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who traveled to Kansas from Vienna, Austria, at the invitation of the Ruling Bishop of the Diocese, His Grace Bishop Basil (Essey).

All the clergymen of the widespread diocese gather in Wichita before Great Lent every year for a pastoral retreat under the auspices of Bishop Basil. The program includes four daily divine services (abridged matins before breakfast, akathist before lunch, the Ninth Hour before dinner and minor compline before bed), and also a series of theological lectures read by an invited speaker. In recent years, invitees have included His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), reading on the topic of the individual and the Jesus Prayer in 2002; His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev), who spoke about St Isaac of Syria in 2004; Priest Andrei Louth (on the veneration of icons in 2003), and others. Every lecture is followed by a lively discussion on pastoral challenges and questions surrounding the life of Orthodox parishes in the US. This year liturgical matters touched upon by the speaker drew lively discussion, including problems of the church calendar of the so-called “Western Rite” (those who celebrate Mass and other services according to the Latin tradition, yet who are in communion with the Orthodox Church). Many such communities are part of ROCOR, but there are also several in the AOC.

Bishop Basil, universally loved by his clergymen for his paternal care to their needs, as well as for his hierarchical humility and unassuming manner, attended all the services, lectures and discussions. Priests say that “Sayyidna, [which in Arabic means “our Vladyka”] is not a prince of the Church, but a father of the Church.” The four days of the clergy retreat passed prayerfully, informally, like a gathering of a large family.

The final morning, Friday, February 15, all the participants partook of the Holy Gifts during Divine Liturgy in the new Cathedral of St George. Afterwards, the cathedral sisterhood organized a Lenten trapeza at which the children’s choir from the cathedral’s Orthodox elementary school (pre-K-2) performed. This school, recently established with the support of Orthodox Christians in Wichita, offers five days of study a week, from 8 am to 3 pm, as do most American schools. In addition to the usual scholastic studies, Greek and Latin languages and the Law of God are taught.

A diocesan meeting was held afterwards where the clergymen discussed missionary and charitable work. Some clergymen reported on their work with convicts in maximum-security federal and state prisons in the Mid-American Diocese of the AOC. In the recent past, the diocese not only had cases of prisoners converting to Orthodoxy, but later being tonsured to monasticism. One priest reported on another project, “Sheltering Tree,” which works on building and outfitting homes for people with developmental disabilities. Parishioners Gayle Malone and Joan Farha, who are sisters, reported on preparations for the annual children’s camp of the AOC and the annual Parish Life Conference.

After lunch several participants of the clergy conference visited the center of another philanthropic endeavor, “The Treehouse,” located several miles away from the cathedral, in a poor neighborhood of Wichita. “The Treehouse” ( www.wichitatreehouse.com ), established by Orthodox women of Wichita, is a center for the aid and support of poor and underage mothers, with the goal of lowering the number of abortions in Wichita. New mothers are able to receive everything needed for newborns, including clothing, diapers, food, blankets, lotions, toys, etc., and also courses in English and Spanish on care for small children and other topics. Professional teachers are invited to participate. Orthodox parishioners take regular shifts at “The Treehouse,” caring for the constant stream of needy mothers who come to the center (in 2012, 400 young mothers were helped), and also generously contribute resources and things to support the center. This Orthodox center sometimes coordinates with similar Catholic organizations which sometimes send needy mothers. Thanks to this center, and others like it, the number of abortions in Wichita has drastically fallen.

After the visit to “The Treehouse,” those from other cities visited one of the largest bookstores of Wichita, Eighth Day Books, owned by Mr Warren Farha, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St George. As many people in Wichita know, many customers of the three-story bookstore often visit the cathedral and end up converting to Orthodoxy. Among other literature at the book store is a great deal of Orthodox literature.

After the pre-Lenten clergy retreat, the participants as always, bid farewell to their archpastor and each other with some sadness. The very large Mid-American Diocese holds great distances between remote parishes, and many will only see their brother clerics again next year.