How much can you learn in one weekend? Just ask an Orthodox Southerner.
On the second weekend in November 2003, Orthodox clergy and laity from
around the region converged on suburban Atlanta for the Southern
Missions Conference of the Russian Church Abroad. The Parish of St. Mary
of Egypt was blessed to play host to this gathering for the first time.
The theme of this year's session was "Living Traditional Orthodoxy."
Vladika Gabriel presided over the conference. He brought with him the
ancient and wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon, and on Friday evening at St.
Mary's, he led the faithful in a Moleben and an Akathist to the icon.
This miraculous image of Our Holy Lady the Theotokos, which has traveled
far and wide, was welcomed reverently by the people of the parish and
our many visitors. It was a humbling experience to venerate it as so
many pious Orthodox Christians have done before us.
The first working session began Saturday morning at the auditorium of
nearby Providence Christian Academy. For this weekend, at least, the
place was perfectly named.
Fr. John Moses began by speaking to the assembly about "Living
the keynote address of a political convention, it set the tone for all
that was to follow. But it was not a politician's speech. Fr. John
reminded us very pointedly how our hearts have become deadened by the
He made a stirring call for us to recover our Christian discipline and
recommit ourselves to the Orthodox faith. He spoke in vivid imagery of
how we can recover our sense of awe and joy at what the Lord has given
us through His Church.
Next on the platform was Fr. George Johnson, who spoke most
informatively about the Vigil, a service that is beautiful, powerful and
essential to the life of the Church, but one that is too often
neglected. Reader Daniel Olson followed with a talk about the Liturgical
Cycle, and how we can find in the Orthodox Calendar a design for living
that is far above the world's "busy schedules," which occupy our minds
and steal our time.
Later in the day, there were rotating workshops on the Divine Liturgy,
the Proskomedia and the Moleben and Panikhida. They were led,
respectively, by Reader Daniel Olson, Fr. Anastasy Yatrelis and Fr.
True to the traditions of Russia and the South, all the classes and
workshops were informal and unpretentious. Veteran priests came to
teach, but also to learn. No one was afraid to ask questions of any
speaker. "Is this custom Orthodox?" "Can I pray for a person in this
situation?" "Doesn't the Greek Church do that service differently?"
Every question was answered respectfully and at length.
At the Proskomedia workshop, the effect of the lesson was even visible
in some people's faces. As they looked at a facsimile of "The Holy Bread
Which Is the Lamb," there was a glimmer of understanding and awe in
On Saturday evening and Sunday morning, the people filled the chapel of
St. Mary's for the Vigil and the Hierarchal Liturgy. Just as the Divine
Liturgy on the Lord's Day is the crown of the week, it was the crown of
this conference. In his homily at the end of the Liturgy, Vladika
Gabriel spoke of the need to remain faithful to Orthodoxy in a world
that is sinful, where even some groups that claim a Christian heritage
perform blasphemous rites.
On Sunday afternoon, the conference completed its wind-up sessions.
After lunch in the Providence auditorium, Vladika and the clergy led a
roundtable discussion on issues of faith and worship. And this being a
missions conference, it was appropriate that Fr.Gregory Williams made
the final presentation. He briefed the conference on the status of
Mission Haiti, for which he labored mightily over the years.
The people of St. Mary's are happy to have welcomed so many of our
brethren during the conference. The brief summations of the speakers'
remarks in no way do them justice. Even more so, the descriptions of the
holy services are no substitute for having been there. But we pray that
this article will encourage attendance at the 2004 Southern Missions
Conference, scheduled for next November in Mobile, Ala. It will be a
weekend wisely spent.