September 11, 2012

9/11 and Grace

I do not set aside the grace of God. (Gal 2:21)

Before being ordained a priest in 1984, I used to work for Bankers Trust in New York, next to the Twin Towers. At lunchtime I would often walk across the pedestrian bridge that connected the bank to the World Trade Center and get something to eat from the food court. The attack on 9/11 also wrecked the Bankers Trust building beyond repair so it’s gone now. The other now famous landmark that’s gone from that spot is Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, also wiped out that day. It was a tiny space of grace in the middle of a big parking lot behind Bankers Trust and in the shadow of the WTC. The parishioners had long ago refused to sell and close up, so the church remained there as a peculiar witness among the cathedrals of finance. Faithful volunteers opened it every Wednesday afternoon, and I would go and sit there, listen to the Byzantine chant playing on a tape recorder and take a piece of Antidoron given out to visitors by a grandmother at the candle desk. The Greek Archdiocese has fought long and hard to ensure that it won’t be forgotten, and finally received approval last year to rebuild the church at 130 Liberty Street. And now the church will also include a nondenominational bereavement center.

Both the epistle and gospel today are about grace. Saint Paul is astonished that his Galatian flock has forgotten the grace they received and experienced. It’s not that they have abandoned “church,” it’s that they now live as if it all depends on them and not God. And Jesus amazes the people in his home synagogue when he preaches. But they immediately then question where he got this wisdom, because, after all, they know him and his family and a carpenter’s son just cannot have that kind of wisdom. They’ve figured it all out. And they miss the seeing the grace of God at work in Jesus.

May God comfort all those who lost family and friends on September 11, 2001. May He grant rest eternal to all those who died in those attacks. And may He give each of us the eyes to see His grace at work all around us, even in the most familiar places and familiar faces.

The Indian Orthodox Church
Planning for the Council in Parma

His Holiness, Paulose II
His Holiness, Paulose II, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

This past weekend Indian Orthodox Christians in the United States welcomed their primate who visiting from the church’s homeland in Kerala (the official name of the church is Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.) The Catholicos, His Holiness Paulose II heads a church of 2 million faithful that trace their roots to the apostolic preaching of Saint Thomas in the first century and are celebrating their 1,960th year. In the US, the church was established in the 1960s and now has about a hundred parishes. Metropolitan Zachariah Nicholovos oversees the Northeast American Diocese based less than two miles away from the OCA Chancery in Syosset, NY. At the celebrations on Friday, Bishop Michael of New York presented His Holiness with an icon of Saint Herman and Father Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, presented His Holiness with a gift of recent SVS Press publications and announced a new printing venture with the Church in India. On Sunday Father Alexander Atty, Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary and I represented the OCA. A number of Indian students study at Saint Tikhon’s and Saint Vladimir’s Seminaries.

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Peter Ilchuk
Peter Ilchuk (Council Logistic Manager) and Local Organizing Committee
Holy Trinity Church, Parma, OH
Holy Trinity Church, Parma, Ohio

Yesterday and today I am in Parma, Ohio with the OCA officers and Council planners to meet the local committee organizing the 17th All-American Council on November 13th. I had never been to Parma, so was taken aback by the size and beauty of Holy Trinity Church, whose rector is now Father Alexander Garklavs, the former Chancellor of the OCA (he succeeded Father Vladimir Berzonsky who retired earlier this year.)  This will be a worthy and inspiring setting for the election of a new Metropolitan. I am also impressed with the good humored willingness to serve on the part of the lay and clergy leaders of the area who will do much of the work of pulling this council together on the ground: meals, signs, transportation, publicity, parking etc.—much of this will depend on an army of volunteers that will now be recruited. This will be a historic moment in our church’s life. Not since 1977 have we elected a metropolitan in a church (Saints Peter and Paul was the setting for the election of Metropolitan Theodosius), and not since 1965 was an entire council held in a church (the election of Metropolitan Ireney, Holy protection Cathedral in New York).