What I Did This Summer

The Orthodox Church in Norway is a tiny community in a predominantly secular and Lutheran country. Most of our parishes are mission churches and there are only a very few established churches. By coming to the United States and St. Vladimir’s Seminary, I hoped that my family and I would get a broader experience of the Orthodox Church, in a culture similar to our own.

Dn. Theodor, serving in California

Dn. Theodor, serving in California

There is of course a lot one can learn through reading books and attending classes, but the proper forging of an Orthodox identity and worldview requires being in relationship  with others, and living in community, together with immersion in the services of the Church. One of the most important ways of learning to know our faith better has simply been just through living together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters in the St. Vladimir’s community.

After seminary we plan to go back home to Norway and serve the Church there. We came to the faith through a small mission and we are most likely going to return back home to one as well. We were therefore very fortunate this summer to expand our exposure to mission work in two very different and dynamic parishes with the Orthodox Church in America (OCA); one in the Diocese of the South, in Beaufort, South Carolina, and the other one in the Diocese of the West, in San Diego, California. Both missions were started less than four years ago and are already thriving and expanding.

 Beaufort, South Carolina, is a lovely town. We easily grew accustomed to the pace and way of life in the South. The community of St. James Orthodox Church was very welcoming to as and treated us as family members from our first day there. We were warmly invited to dinners and social events, and a very generous family opened up their home so we’d have a place to live our entire month there.

Dn. Theodor with Fr. James Bozeman (SVOTS '12)

Dn. Theodor with Fr. James Bozeman (SVOTS ’12)

I also was able to spend a lot of time with Fr. James Bozeman (SVOTS ’12), rector of the parish, helping him out with parish affairs. Summertime is quiet and we had less pressing pastoral work than is normally the case, but that gave us all the more time to talk about mission life, and do more manual and administrative work. Thankfully we also got some welcome time to relax (St. Vladimir’s Seminary is very busy!), see the surroundings, and go to the beach.

Through the long talks Fr. James and I had together, discussing the life of a mission, priestly formation, and other issues related to ministry and life in the Church, we found that we shared some of the same experiences and background. We were also able to visit a few other churches and priests, and all this broadened my sense of ministry in the Church, offering me a unique perspective on the ways a mission can be grown.

Dn. Theodor, Hanne, and Simon, with Fr. Andrew Cuneo (SVOTS '10)

Dn. Theodor, Hanne, and Simon, with Fr. Andrew Cuneo (SVOTS ’10)

In San Diego we spent three weeks with alumnus Fr. Andrew Cuneo (SVOTS ’10) and the community of St. Katherine of Alexandria Orthodox Mission. Father Andrew kept us busy. In addition to doing regular parish business, such as serving, preaching, visiting parishioners and so forth, he also wanted us to take us around to visit clergy, parishes, and monasteries in the area. One of the many highlights of our time in California was visiting the Holy Virgin Cathedral, Joy of all Who Sorrow in San Francisco, where the relics of St. John Maximovich are kept and venerated.

Both internships complemented each other in a great way. We saw the inside of a mission to a greater extent in Beaufort than in San Diego, but experienced a wider range of church life in California. I also utilized many of the skills that we’ve learned so far in seminary, as I was serving as well as preaching. Many services and feasts were celebrated, baptisms were held, reflections given and catechism classes taught, plus some administrative work.

We were very grateful for this opportunity to serve in the Diocese of the South and the Diocese of the West this summer, and want to extend our gratitude to all those who enabled us to go.

Deacon Theodor (Tor) Svane, ordained in May of 2014, is the Student Council President and a third year seminarian from Bergen, Norway. The Svanes are under the The Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, with Archbishop Job (Getcha). Before coming to seminary he worked as a civil engineer in a major consultant firm in Norway. His wife Hanne is a cultural anthropologist and taught intercultural communications at a college. Simon (4) is the center of the family, gives them great joy, and keeps them busy. This reflection was written for the “Seminarians Speak” section of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary website.

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A Prayer to Our Holy Father Innocent

O Holy Hierarch and Father Innocent! The Lord chose you and ordained you to go and bring forth much fruit in His new vineyard on the frontiers of Russia and America. You dedicated your life to building up the Body of Christ in the New World and the Old, and brought the treasures of the Holy Apostolic Faith to Alaska and Siberia. We, your spiritual children, kneel before your holy icon and ask you to intercede for the Holy Orthodox Church in your adopted and native lands. As you were humble and kind, help us by your prayers to be patient and generous. As you persevered under difficult circumstances in a remote and lonely region, strengthen us in our dedication to Christ and His Gospel. As you loved God and your flock and devoted your life in service to them, pray to Our Lord that our hearts may be filled with love for Him and our neighbor. You planted the seeds of the Orthodox Faith in Alaskan soil: implore the Lord that we may be accounted worthy to continue the work you so gloriously began, to bring the Light of Christ to every corner of America. You indicated the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven by your words and example: intercede for the salvation of all of us who venerate your holy memory.

Icon and Relics of St Innocent of Alaska (Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography)

Icon and Relics of St Innocent of Alaska (Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography)

By your holy prayers may we become worthy of the precious spiritual heritage which God has entrusted to us through you, and sing eternally the praises of the Holy, Consubstantial, and Life-Creating Trinity; the Father and Creator who is without Beginning; the Son, Our Lord and Savior who became Man in order to sanctify and save us; and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit who enlightens and enlivens all, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Prayer from the Akathist Hymn to Saint Innocent of Moscow, emphases added.

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The Protection of the Holy Theotokos

A homily delivered in the Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary on the Feast of The Protection of our Most Holy Lady the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary (Wednesday, October 1, 2014).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

S prazdnikom!

When one looks into today’s feast of Pokrov, the Protection of the Holy Theotokos, you can bump into a number of traditions which surround it. Its origins are attributed to a crisis in Constantinople. It might have been a crisis brought on by a siege by the barbarian Avars. Another says it was the Scythians who were besieging the city. Yet another story says it wasn’t a siege at all, but speaks of a horrible plague ravaging the city.

In the midst of the crisis, the faithful Christians assembled to keep vigil at the famous Blachernae church. In attendance were St. Andrew and his discipline Epiphanius. These men were granted a vision of the Holy Virgin, extending her veil over the assembled faithful, her veil of protection. The city was delivered from its crisis, and so we keep this feast in thanksgiving.

Protecting Veil of the Theotokos. Russian, c. 1800. (Credit: The Temple Gallery, London)

Protecting Veil of the Theotokos. Russian, c. 1800. (Credit: The Temple Gallery, London)

As it was over a thousand years ago, Orthodox people are gathered in another church. We are all here, each of us mindful of his or her own personal crises. Looking over the walls of our lives perhaps we see a thousand tiny campfires on the horizon: our fears for the future, laying siege to our hearts. Or maybe they’re our doubts, which will not leave us in peace, their noise constantly drifting over from the other side of the gate. Or perhaps a plague has struck us down with despondency, sapped our energy, and we’re lying sick with gloom.

A feast like today, then, brings us great joy and hope. We celebrate the Theotokos’ protection then but also her continued protection now. She hears our prayers and our sighs. We experience the consolation of God, mediated by her son, and at her intercessions. If we place ourselves in a position of humility, of love, of gentleness, of patience towards each other, then like those gathered in vigil facing their destruction, we place ourselves in a position where we too are able to receive her protection.

For this we can take inspiration from St. Romanos the Melodist, whose feast day is also today, and who joins the Mother of God in the icon of the feast. He stands on the ambo, holding up a scroll, a kontakion. When the attacks come in our lives, his familiar words from his familiar hymn, instinctively spill from our lips: “O Champion Leader, to you I offer thanks of victory, O Theotokos, you have delivered me from terror…” and our fears, doubts, depressions, and trials are brought before God’s mercy for healing and deliverance. Siege and sickness are transformed into another opportunity for the power of God to work in us as we emulate the Holy Virgin’s supreme fidelity to Christ.

We can be confident that no matter what this day brings, good or bad or in-between, we are strengthened by the Spirit of God, and as we leave this chapel and begin to go about our many tasks for today, we can do so with gratitude and thanksgiving that God has not abandoned us in our difficulties but listens to the petitions of his mother on our behalf. Amen.


The Rev. Kyle Parrott (SVOTS ’13) received his M.Div. from St. Vladimir’s Seminary and is currently completing a Masters of Theology at St. Vladimir’s. Father Kyle spent his early years in the Anglican church before becoming active in several Evangelical churches. His interest in missions led him to participate in short–term outreach in Grenada (in the Caribbean) and in Uruguay. The Parrotts’ daughter Sophia was born in 2011 at the beginning of Fr. Kyle’s studies. Matushka Leanne is a gifted photographer and has chronicled many events for the St. Vladimir’s Website.

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The Exaltation of the Precious and Life-creating Cross

Come, ye faithful, and let us venerate the life-giving Wood, on which Christ, the King of Glory, stretched out His hands of His own will.

Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography

Photo: Leanne Parrott Photography

To the ancient blessedness He raised us up, whom the enemy had before despoiled through pleasure, making us exiles far from God.

Come, ye faithful, and let us venerate the Wood, through which we have been counted worthy to crush the heads of our invincible enemies.

Come, ye kindred of the nations, and let us honor in hymns the Cross of the Lord.

Hail, O Cross, complete redemption of fallen Adam.

With Thee as their boast, our faithful kings laid low by thy might the people of Ishmael.

We Christians kiss thee now with awe, and glorifying God who was nailed upon thee, we cry: O Lord, who on the Cross was crucified, have mercy upon us, for Thou art good and lovest mankind.


Hymnography from the stichera for the veneration of the Cross, emphases added.

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The Nativity of the Theotokos

Homily for the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, September 8

Let us rejoice today as we celebrate this first major feast of the new ecclesiastical year. Today begins the economy of our salvation; the barrenness of our nature is loosed, for the barren woman gives birth to the one who will bear God; the Gate-facing-East of the mystical temple comes into being, through which the Lord God himself will enter as the Great High Priest, yet leaving the gate closed; the book of the Word of Life is opened, confirming the preaching of the prophets; and the bridal chamber appears, in whom divine and human are united into one.

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Church of the Virgin Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Pec, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Church of the Virgin Hodegetria, Patriarchate of Pec, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Today really is the beginning, and also the end, or perhaps rather the end and the beginning together: the end of shadows and promises, and the revelation of reality and truth; the end of the old covenant, and the beginning of the new; the end of the old creation, and the inauguration of the new.

Today the period of the Law concludes, and a new era of grace dawns. The beautiful hymnography that we have been singing last night and this morning depicts for us, in a multitude of ways–so many ways, in fact, that it is hard to comprehend–how all the things spoken of in the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in the Theotokos, revealing to us a deeper and more profound mystery than we had previously imagined.

The prophecies have given way to their fulfillment, the types to the realities, the letter to the Spirit: She is the Gate of Paradise, the Burning Bush, the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple of Life.

As so, the old covenant gives way to the new. What was enacted on earth in times long past today becomes a spiritual reality in the present, bringing to an end the shadow–sacrifices in the Temple, propitiating deities–so that we might offer the only sacrifice acceptable to God, and ourselves become living temples of God, dwelling in his paradise, nourished by the Tree of Life.

The old covenant has passed, and so too has the long history of the old creation that culminates in the birth of the Virgin–this creation and its history has come to an end; the new creation is inaugurated, not a new work, but one which recreates the old.

Of old we were fashioned from virgin earth, molded by the hand of God and receiving the breath of the Lord. Now God prepares virgin soil anew, not from elsewhere, for then Christ would not be human, would not be our Savior, our creator and our redeemer.

He takes virgin earth from our own stock, as it were, from our own flesh, and it is from this virgin earth, the body of the Virgin, by the power of the Spirit, that the Word of God will fashion for himself a body in which to appear, revealing to us true divinity and true humanity–in one, together–united in the bridal chamber of the womb.

Our minds were turned to our bodies, caught fast in material things, and so the Word comes to us in bodily form, to grab our attention, and for this he must prepare for himself new virgin earth.

Our minds were turned to the earth, preferring the dust from which we were taken rather than the things of heaven, and so setting ourselves on a course which could only lead back to that dust…to death.

In the period of the old creation, the events of the old covenant–the Law and the Prophets–could not of themselves rectify us, restore us to our former life, put an end to the death that was at work in our earth; and so the Word took that earth to himself, and by offering himself to death, turned death inside out, so that now it becomes the means of life.

Taking earth to himself, he gilds the mud that we are with divinity, adorning us such that the King himself desire our beauty. This is the goal for which the whole of creation has been groaning in travail: the revelation of the children of God in their glorious liberty. It is the inauguration of this new creation that we now celebrate, for today there comes into being the one through whom it is possible.

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Gracanica Monastery, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

Nativity of the Virgin (Theotokos), Gracanica Monastery, Serbia (Image: BLAGO Archives)

The hymns for this day in fact speak of the Virgin as being preordained to this role, fore-ordained to usher in the new creation.

Here, really, is the heart of the mystery: for God could not have revealed himself upon earth, in this way–divinity and humanity united in one person, one face–he could not have done this without earth that could respond to him freely and positively.

The original creation, the old creation, was created by divine fiat–let there be! It was merely passive.

But the realization of the divine purpose for creation depends upon the human fiat–let it be! “Let it be to me according to your word!” It depends upon there being earth ready and willing to be taken and fashioned by the hands of God.

As we look back now at the old covenant, fulfilled in the Theotokos born today, and at the old creation, now ready to be refashioned into a new creation , we can perhaps see that the whole economy turns upon the earth, for the human being, said an early father, is earth that suffers (Epistle of Barnabas 6.9).

What had seemed its frailty, that it is nothing but dust and will return to the dust, is in fact its strength–the earthen vessels containing heavenly power–when it holds itself open, ready to be fashioned, to bear the fingerprints of its Creator.

Today the virgin is born, the temple through which the High Priest enters the world,

The virgin is born, in whose womb divinity and humanity come together,

The virgin is born, and all creation is renewed, for the economy of salvation begins.

Let us sing the praises of the Virgin, then, and offer thanksgiving to God–let it indeed be!


cross_stands__52149.1406224506.300.300Published in The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year, by The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr.


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Restoring the Western Rite

Organist and seminarian Ian Abodeely (Jocelyn Mathewes, Studio Mathewes Photography)

Organist and seminarian Ian Abodeely (Jocelyn Mathewes, Studio Mathewes Photography)

I was the house organist and music coordinator for the [2014 Western Rite Vicariate] Conference. I had the responsibility of organizing and leading the music for all of the services, including providing preludes and postludes. We had the organ works of Bach, Dupre, Vaughn Williams, Charpentier, Purcell, Byrd, and others. The services were sung using the traditional Gregorian modes.

We sat “in choir” and chanted the psalms antiphonally during the Daily Office, and experienced the waves of chant that it produces. This manner of prayer is so calming and centering that I often wish we did something similar in the Byzantine Rite. 

Bishop John gives the Final Blessing at Solemn High Mass, Feast of the Transfiguration

Bishop John gives the Final Blessing at Solemn High Mass, Feast of the Transfiguration

We had Lauds, followed by Mass every morning and Vespers in the evening. We alternated the two rites used in the Vicariate: the St. Gregory (Roman Rite) and the St. Tikhon Rite (English Use). So some mornings we had Lauds, others we had Morning Prayer. Some evenings we had Vespers, and others we had Evensong. But all of our days were rooted in the celebration of the Mass. Our first full day was the Feast of the Transfiguration which we celebrated with a Solemn High Mass, with Bishop John Abdalah (SVOTS ’84)  presiding from the throne. The light and wonder of the feast certainly flowed through the entirety of the conference and made our time of fellowship and prayer that much richer. The conference had many wonderful speakers, including our own Fr. Chad Hatfield, who spoke on the ascetical tradition of the Church as a way of evangelism. 

L to R: Fr. Edward Hughes, Bp. John Abdalah, Fr. Chad Hatfield, Ian Abodeely

L to R: Fr. Edward Hughes, Bp. John Abdalah, Fr. Chad Hatfield, Ian Abodeely

I was born and raised in the Antiochian Archdiocese, attending a Byzantine Rite parish. I fell in love with Byzantine Chant at an early age, and with my musical training as an organist I had a deep appreciation for the sacred music of the West. It wasn’t until college that I became acquainted with the Western Rite of our Archdiocese, under the tutelage of The Very. Rev. Edward Hughes (SVOTS ’80), who had been appointed Vicar General of the Western Rite Vicariate, in addition to serving as pastor of my home parish. I had always been interested in the liturgy and liturgical practice, so this was a great opportunity to put together my musical training and my love for the Liturgy.

My appointment as organist and choir director at St. Stephen Orthodox Church in Springfield, MA in 2009 provided another opportunity for study and entering more deeply into the liturgical life of the Western Rite. It was there that I learned to pray in a new way, one that encourages silence not just in one’s private prayers, but in the liturgy itself. It was very difficult at first, but over time I’ve grown to love and treasure the Western Rite. 

Many people are confused as to why a “cradle” like me would be involved with the Western Rite, and I don’t really have an answer as to what drew me to it, but I have seen the Holy Spirit at work in these parishes, and I believe God has restored to the Orthodox Church a rite that is most important to our evangelism. It has been said that the Western Rite forces us to think about what being Orthodox really means, and helps us remember that it is faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Church that unite us, not just the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

I can only encourage all Orthodox Christians to “come and see” and experience the Western Rite for themselves. It took me a while to get used to praying in a different way, so I’d encourage more than one visit. It is so different from our Byzantine Rite that it does take time to get used to and to enter into, but it is so very worth the effort.

In the first week of August, 2014, third-year seminarian Ian Abodeely attended the biennial, pan-Orthodox conference of the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (AOCANA). The Vicariate oversees parishes and missions within the Archdiocese that worship according to traditional Western Christian liturgical forms. Ian recorded these reflections at the close of the conference. This reflection originally appeared in “Seminarians Speak” on the website of St. Vladimir’s Seminary.

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Reflections on Trip to Hogar of San Miguel del Lago, Guatemala

Fr. Philip at the HogarThe news is full of stories about impoverished children from Central America making the dangerous trek across Mexico to Texas, Arizona, and California.  Less noteworthy for the media was the journey of nine Orthodox Christians from Texas, California, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, and Ohio to the Children’s Residence or “Hogar”  of San Miguel del Lago in Guatemala in July 2014.  Groups of “missionaries” like ourselves arrive monthly to assist the nuns and staff in caring for Guatemalan children whose parents cannot take care of them.  Yes, we were of some help to the children with the extra attention our group provided, especially through games, arts and crafts, and by taking them swimming and to a few other activities.  We also did yard work and a few other chores, but for me it was primarily a most blessed retreat for several reasons.

First, we displaced ourselves simply by traveling to the Hogar, which is both a home for children and a women’s monastery.  We rose early for prayers and went to bed not long after it was dark each night.  Evening prayers occurred right before dinner in the common dining room.  At the tables designated for visiting missionaries, we ate three times each day the same simple, satisfying food as the nuns, staff, and kids.  We became so used to standing for prayer before and after meals that a few members of our group jumped up quickly when I rose slightly to reach the peanut butter near the end of breakfast one day.  (It was like a scene from a monastic reality show!) In so many ways, we left the busyness and worries of our usual schedules behind—even WiFi was scarce.  In ways small and large, our lives were reoriented for several days around a schedule shaped by the needs of the children and the routines of a monastic community.  In this context, our group bonded quickly with one another as we entered into a different style of life.

Second, we did not really know in advance what we would be doing from one day to the next.  We had a general idea of the schedule, but the particulars of yard work and activities with the kids (ranging from swimming to arts and crafts and spontaneous play sessions) evolved from day to day in light of what pressing needs arose in the community.  As someone normally addicted to a routine, I found it both a challenge and blessing simply to go with the flow.  “The Spirit blows where He wills” and it was good for our group of busy, goal-oriented Americans to accept that we were not in charge of the schedule.  We learned not to measure a day by what we accomplished, but simply to be grateful for the opportunity to pray and be present with children whose stories are so different from our own.  The experience reminded me of caring for own daughters when they were small, for good days then had little to do with achieving pre-established goals.  They had much more to do with simply with being there.

Madre Ines (who holds an honorary doctorate from SVOTS), Fr Philip LeMasters (SVOTS Board Member), Fr Chad Hatfield (SVOTS Chancellor/CEO), & grandson Ryan Hatfield

Madre Ines (who holds an honorary doctorate from SVOTS), Fr. Philip LeMasters (SVOTS Board Member), Fr. Chad Hatfield (SVOTS Chancellor/CEO), & grandson Ryan Hatfield

Third, the services reminded us that the language in which we pray is irrelevant.  With only one fluent Spanish speaker on our team, most of us did not follow every prayer word for word.  But that did not hinder our worship, for we all knew the familiar gestures, smells, and patterns of the daily services.  The highest form of prayer is without words anyway.  Since I am certainly not there yet, the simple words of the Jesus Prayer helped to still my wandering mind more than once.  Speaking of language, a bit of practice enabled me to intone a few litanies in apparently understandable Spanish.  The first Sunday I served by myself, but my good friend Fr. Chad Hatfield of St. Vladimir’s Seminary presided at the Divine Liturgy on our second Sunday in Guatemala.  As he said afterwards, “For two gringos serving in Guatemala, we did pretty well.”  As in previous liturgies in Greece, Romania, and Syria, I was reminded of the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit overcame linguistic boundaries.

Fourth, we dressed and worked differently than we usually do at home and not according to our own will.  As visitors to any monastic community know, modesty is the watchword.  And with boys and girls who are expected always to dress modestly, missionaries must set a good example and not become stumbling blocks.  So in warm weather that usually calls for shorts and sandals in the US, we wore long pants and tennis shoes.  With the exception of time spent doing yard work, I wore my cassock and sometimes a clerical hat.  Being hot natured to begin with, I did not mind the cold showers as a way of cooling off. (One day I took three!)  Since I make my living as a professor and do as little yard work as possible at home, it was a change of pace to cut grass on a hill with a non-motorized push mower and to spend a few hours pulling weeds.  But the spiritual benefits of manual labor and of restraining our own desires about summer clothing just a bit for the sake of others were undoubtedly positive dimensions of our experience.  Thank God for circumstances where our own preferences do not always prevail.

Yes, it was a mission trip.  According to the nuns, our group did its job very well.  But as with all things done for the Kingdom, we cannot calculate the results with precision, at least not in this life.  That is up to God, not us.  What we can do is simply to be thankful for a wonderful retreat in a community of children who, despite their poverty and broken family backgrounds, are blessed by the care of holy nuns and staff members in ways that made us all stand back and give thanks.  At the end of the day, they were the missionaries to us. Thank God!

Posted with permission from our Trustee, Fr. Philip LeMasters, from his blog, Eastern Christian Insights [emphases added]. Fr. Philip led an OCMC Youth Work Team to the Hogar Rafael Ayau Orphanage in July, 2014.

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