A triple-jubilee milestone was celebrated on August 25 and August 26, 2012 in Binghamton and Otego, New York, honoring the 35th anniversary of the founding of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery.
On Saturday, August 25th, a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was celebrated at Holy Dormition Church, Binghamton, New York. Archbishop Tikhon of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania presided, joined by Bishop Melchisedek of Pittsburgh, Bishop Michael of New York, and Bishop Matthias of Chicago as concelebrants. Concelebrating clergy during the Liturgy included pan-Orthodox, multi-jurisdictional celebrants and friends of the monastery from the greater New York area and beyond: Fr. Ilya Gotlinsky, rector of Holy Dormition Orthodox Church, Fr. Alexander Garklavs, Fr. Steven Belonick, Fr. John Udics, rector of SS. Peter and Paul in Herkimer, Fr. Eric Tosi, representing the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America, Fr. James Dutko of St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church in Binghamton of the Carpatho Russian Diocese, Fr. Gerasimos Makris, pastor of the newly-formed monastic women’s community in the Greek Archdiocese, Fr. Timothy Holowatch of SS Peter and Paul in Endicott, Fr. Zinovy Zharsky of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Fr. Vincent Saverino of the Moscow Patriarchate, Fr. Benedict Churchill representing St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Fr. Peter Olsen, rector of St. Basil’s in Watervliet, Fr. John Bohush, Fr. David Poling, pastor of St. Innocent’s Mission in Oneonta, Archdeacon Michael Suvak of Protection Cathedral, New York City, Dn. Gregory Hatrak, and Sdn. Michael Pylypciw. Also in attendance at the Divine Liturgy were members of the newly-formed monastic community for women on Long Island in the Greek Archdiocese under the guidance of Father Gerasimos Makris and members of Christ The Bridegroom Community of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma in Ohio.
During the Liturgy, Mother Raphaela was awarded the Jeweled cross on behalf of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America by His Eminence Archbishop Tikhon, being given by his family a cross worn by the late Fr. Alexander Warnecke. His Eminence remarked on Mother Raphaela’s longstanding service to Orthodoxy and the example she has set as an Abbess and for monasticism in North America.
Bishop Melchisedek offered the homily during Saturday’s Divine Liturgy, noting that when he was first ordained as a priest, he served the monastery chapel and ministered to the sisterhood. His Grace remarked: “The life of a monastic is summed up by living the Christian life in a radical and complete fashion. If you want to know how you appear, see how you are perceived by others—look in the face of those around you. Mirrors do not tell us who we are. We are most accurately reflected in the eyes of those around us. They are images of God.
The Gospel commandment, Love our enemies, is a commandment and not a suggestion. We were yet His enemies, and even so Christ lived among us. St. Paul said that at the Final Judgment, we will see in the face of Christ, our worst enemy. What will our reaction be to look on that face for the rest of eternity?
The Myrrhbearers served the Lord when all others abandoned Him. Through Christ, we are able to love all of creation; and through them love ourselves.”
The pan-Orthodox choir sang magnificently under the leadership of Matushka Julia Gotlinsky of Holy Dormition Church, Binghamton.
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, three Synodal gramotas were presented by Archbishop Tikhon and by Bishop Michael: one to the monastery on their 35th anniversary celebration, one to Mother Raphaela on the occasion of forty years as a life-professed monastic and one to Mother Michaela for fifty years as a life-professed nun.. Many years was also sung to honor the birthday of Mother Anna, a monastic of Holy Myrrhbearers. Mother Raphaela then remarked on the milestone of this anniversary and the presentation of the jeweled cross as a milestone not only for herself and the monastery, but for monasticism and Orthodoxy in the Americas.
Archbishop Antony and Bishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America were due to attend the celebrations, but previous commitments on the late Metropolitan Constantine’s calendar precluded His Eminence from concelebrating and at the last minute Bishop Daniel had to cancel because of illness. Others who had planned to attend and had to cancel at the last minute because of health reasons were the Right Rev. Daniel Hubiak who served in St. Sergius of Radonezh chapel in Syosset as chancellor of the OCA during the monastery’s first five years at the chancery, with his wife Matushka Dunia, and the Very Rev. Stephen and Matushka Alexandra Kopestonsky. These all nevertheless extended their greetings. The greetings, prayers and “behind the scenes” help and donations of many others who were unable to attend were also noted as contributing in large part to the success of the celebration and the production of the attractive commemoration book. Many thanks were also extended to Tatiana and Jeff Hoff who worked together to produce a slide-show review of the monastery’s history as well as to coordinate the celebration with Helen Carpenter and Helen Jane Kachmarik who acted as the local committee for the celebration.
Following the Divine Liturgy, a banquet celebration attended by many friends as well as family of members of the monastery took place at St. Michael’s Parish Center, Binghamton of the Carpatho Russian Diocese. Fr. Jim Dutko, a long-time friend and supporter of the Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, was the afternoon’s Master of Ceremonies and introduced the several Hierarchs and priests as speakers, including: Archbishop Tikhon, Bishop Michael, Bishop Matthias, Fr Alexander Garklavs, Fr. Eric Tosi, Fr. Benedict Churchill who especially noted Mother Raphaela’s contribution through her three books of essays published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, and Mother Raphaela who also noted the greetings extended in absentia by Father Thomas Hopko, the monastery’s spiritual advisor through its first formative years.
Following the banquet, thanks to the visit of Hieromonk Athanasy of St. Tikhon’s Monastery with the myrrh-streaming icon of St.Anna, an Akathist was sung to Ss Joachim and Anna in the church at St. Michael’s. Bishop Michael and Bishop Matthias were present while Fr. Athansy served and the Sisterhood of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery led the congregational singing.
The evening continued at the monastery in Otego with an agape meal followed by Great Vespers in the monastery chapel, which was well attended by the sisterhood, members of St. Innocent Mission Parish in Oneonta, pilgrims and friends of the monastery. Bishop Michael and Bishop Matthias presided while Fr. David Poling, Dn. Gregory Hatrak, and Dn. Matthew Markewich served.
On Sunday morning, a hierarchical Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the monastery chapel with hierarchs Bishop Michael and Bishop Matthias and priests Athansy, John Udics, Eric Tosi and David Poling, and Deacon Gregory Hatrak concelebrating with other deacons. The Liturgy was preceded by the greeting of Bishop Michael by Mother Raphaela as the monastery’s abbess and Fr. David Poling as pastor of St. Innocent’s Mission, now meeting in the monastery chapel, by the vesting of His Grace, and then by the tonsure of the monastery’s novice Sister Deborah to the riassa by the hand of Bishop Matthias.
Bishop Michael offered the sermon on Sunday and spoke about the similarities between monasticism and what non-monastics are called to do as Christians: “Prayer, work, sacrifice, study, service happen here at this monastery. We are called to do the same. Monastic services are more complete, but we must also find a way to pray throughout the day. Monastic services are organized in “sevens,” and we also are called and can pray as often: in the morning, prior to three meals, in the evening, with our children, pray with our spouses. In between these times, we pray at the start of any work, and also pray the Jesus prayer.”
After the liturgy, the attendance of Mr. Andrew Tarby and Mrs. Tina Bedrosian of St. Basil’s in Watervliet and Robert and Helen Carpenter of Dormition in Binghamton was noted, all builders of the monastery, as well as the many other monastery builders and benefactors who have now reposed in the Lord.
The icon of St. Anna had also been brought to the monastery for veneration by pilgrims on this day. Members of the St. Elizabeth Skete in Jordanville, NY joined the sisterhood for the liturgy along with the members of Christ the Bridegroom community.
An agape meal followed the Divine Liturgy during which time Hierarchs, clergy, the mothers, sisters, and pilgrims were able to visit with one another in honor of many joyous God-given milestones. Mother Raphaela and Mother Michaela were joined by their Church family, and also by their biological family and close friends, some of whom visited from great distances to participate in the celebrations.
Axia! to Mother Raphaela! May God grant many years to the sisterhood of Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery as they continue to minister to Christ’s church and further pave the way for monasticism in North America.
More photos of this milestone celebration are available here, and coverage will soon be available on the Diocesan webpage of New York and New Jersey.