Feast of Ven. Job of Pochaev
Saturday, October 28, 2023
New Haven, Connecticut
By Archpriest Joshua Mosher
Calling upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, today the delegates of the Special Nominating Assembly of the Diocese of New England overwhelmingly nominated Father Benedict Churchill to be considered by the Holy Synod of Bishops for election as Bishop of New England. His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon said this would be the first agenda item for the Synod meeting in coming days, and that, if all goes as hoped, our diocese could have a new bishop in as little as three months. Father Benedict asked for all the prayers of the whole diocese.
Saturday began with a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy at Holy Transfiguration Church, New Haven. His Beatitude presided, with Diocesan Chancellor Archpriest John Kreta, Archpriest Steven Voytovich of Holy Transfiguration and Dean of the Connecticut Deanery, and numerous clergy of the diocese celebrating. The church was filled with delegates and many others come to worship and pray this historic day.
Metropolitan Tikhon in his sermon observed that this is the feast of Ven. Job of Pochaev, the patron saint of Archbishop Job of blessed memory, who was a beloved Bishop of New England before being transferred to the Diocese of the Midwest. His Beatitude noted that Archbishop Job had painted the Diocesan Icon of the Sign which held a place of honor throughout this and all Diocesan Assemblies. The metropolitan preached on the Lord instructing us in today’s Gospel that a lamp is set on a lamp stand, not hidden. The saints illumine us in this way, and we can add even Archbishop Job to this, he said. As the psalmist writes, “God is glorified in the council of His saints.” At the same time, the glory we behold is not set out just for us to marvel at, but we all are called to strive to be filled with that Light. He concluded with a recollection of Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev, who has said there is no standing still in the spiritual life. We are either drawing near to the Light, to make it our own, or we are falling away into darkness. At the conclusion of the service, he added further remarks, noting that Lord in the second appointed Gospel called on us to take His yoke upon ourselves. “We are considering whether to ask Father Benedict to take this yoke upon himself to serve Christ in leading this diocese,” he said.
During the Liturgy, His Beatitude, on behalf of the Holy Synod, also awarded Fathers Robert Dick and John Eissman with the jeweled cross and elevated Father Steven Hosking to the dignity of Archpriest.
Following a generous brunch provided by the faithful of Holy Transfiguration Church, Metropolitan Tikhon convened the Special Nominating Assembly. He acknowledged it has been a long four-year process. First we gave time to mourn the well-loved and ever-memorable Archbishop Nikon, who reposed in 2019. Then the Church needed considerable time to identify suitable candidates. But now we have a candidate in Father Benedict Churchill, who is originally from this diocese, which is the ideal case, His Beatitude said. He allowed that Father Benedict since has moved, and thus is not so familiar to many now. But Father Benedict has taken much time to meet on several occasions and become better known throughout the diocese.
Metropolitan Tikhon emphasized the nomination was not a foregone conclusion. We only have one candidate to consider, recommended by the Diocesan Search Committee. The Diocesan Council, after an extensive in-person meeting, asked His Beatitude to convene this assembly. “We call on the Holy Spirit to guide us and raise up a spiritual father for this diocese,” he said.
Diocesan Chancellor Father John Kreta formally presented the name of Priest Benedict Churchill for nomination by the Diocese of New England. While singing “The grace of the Holy Spirit has assembled us today,” the delegates voted by secret ballot. His Beatitude announced the result to the assembly, who, once he had been recalled into their midst, greeted Father Benedict Churchill with gladness.
Friday, Oct. 27, was dedicated to an accelerated annual Diocesan Assembly, compressing the customary two days of business into one. By the grace of God and careful preparation and leadership, the agenda was completed with time to spare. The highlight of the day was a guest presentation by Babette Basil, the great-granddaughter of His Eminence, Platon, first Metropolitan of All America and Canada. She shared stories and historic items from his life, which has not been well-understood until now. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had been fascinated to learn of the trove of family history and arranged to have most of it shipped to him in Russia; tragically, he died before publishing anything on Metropolitan Platon and those documents have been lost. However, Ms. Basil has collected the still-precious remaining documents and items, which represent a personal record of the history of the Church in Russian and America before, during and after the Russian Revolution. After years of fruitless efforts to have them translated and curated, she has at last established an encouraging collaboration with Father John Parker and St. Tikhon’s Seminary. In recognition of this close relationship, she entrusted a pectoral cross of Metropolitan Platon to Father Parker.
Ms. Basil spoke movingly of her great-grandfather’s consistent courageous efforts to save lives. Most dramatically, he confronted a murderous pogrom in Kiev, rebuking them in full vestments, until they repented on their knees. Her grandmother spoke of how all her life, Jews would visit her home to express thanksgiving for Metropolitan Platon, without whom they would have been killed.
Metropolitan Platon wrote a chronicle of the martyrdom under the Bolsheviks of a great number of clergy in moving and brutal detail, how they were tortured and executed, how they sang songs unceasingly before being shot. He himself was to be hanged from the Kremlin if caught, and all his immediate family had wanted posters circulated. Elected as Metropolitan of All America and Canada in 1922, he faced the onslaught of the Living Church, which was a Soviet front organization claiming to be the official successor to the Orthodox Church in America. His cathedral of St. Nicholas in New York City was seized in a lawsuit, but in a few years, the Church under Metropolitan Platon’s leadership won later cases and ended the threat of the Living Church.
The presentation was gratefully received and plans are underway to share more of the life of Metropolitan Platon with the whole Orthodox Church in America.
Earlier in the day, noting this was the Sixtieth Diocesan Assembly, Metropolitan Tikhon said he has presided over ten percent of the assemblies of the diocese. Father Kreta in his Chancellor’s Report gave thanks to God for two years of growth in the diocese after many years of decline. He also rejoiced in filling all but one parish vacancy after years of struggle. A new diaconal and catechist training program promises to raise up new leadership in parishes. Individual parishes are undertaking creative outreach.
Diocesan Youth Rally, the annual summer camp, continues a legacy of excellence and enthusiastic participation. Father Kreta emphasized, “Youth Rally is an essential ministry in our diocese. Kids are up against so much confusion in the world. They need an Orthodox environment to ground them for what they face in schools, from their peers. We want this to grow as much as possible. Many youth workers have been inspired by their experience of youth camp. Youth Rally is one of the most important outreach efforts in our diocese.”
Among the final items considered at the Assembly was a resolution expressing profound gratitude for the love that Metropolitan TIkhon has manifested to the diocese in his years of caring for its people.
The business of the Annual Diocesan Assembly concluded with an opportunity for delegates to ask a variety of questions of Father Benedict. Among his responses, he said, “Whatever God expects me to do, I believe He also gives me the strength to do, as well as providing me with help, which comes through your prayers…. Christ will us a test where he has already provided us the questions, and the answers as well! ‘I was hungry and you fed me….’ I don’t have all the methods or ideas, but I encourage each person to think concretely about how to do that in life.”
Friday’s Assembly finished with Daily Vespers and dinner together in warm fellowship.