Behold now, what is so good or so joyous as for brethren to dwell together in unity? Psalm 132
In a world buffeted by yet another outburst of senseless violence, the recent archpastoral visit of His Grace, Bishop Peter to St. George Russian Orthodox Church in Cincinnati, Ohio offered a striking counterpoint: while evil sowed its seeds of death, destruction and discord, in the Church of the Great Martyr the clergy and faithful partook of plenteous spiritual nourishment by lovingly gathering around their bishop – the symbol of Christ’s living presence in our midst.
The cause for the celebration was twofold: the 27th Anniversary of the parish’s founding and a secondary feast of St. George commemorating the fourth-century dedication of his church in Lydda. Providentially, it was at this time in 2012, when both the gift of a fragment of St. George’s relics arrived in Cincinnati and the foundation of the parish’s new temple was poured. It has become an annual celebration for the parish family, a time to recall God’s great mercy to this community through the intercessions of our heavenly patron.
Before the start of the vigil an icon of St. Paul the Simple was blessed. The icon was purchased with funds donated in memory of the parish’s recently-reposed rector emeritus, Archpriest Paul Bassett. The icon of Fr. Paul’s patron saint was painted by Archpriest Theodore Jurewicz. At the conclusion of the blessing, Memory Eternal was sung for Fr. Paul.
Bishop Peter served the festal vigil on Saturday evening, joined by Archimandrite Seraphim (Voepel), Abbot of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, Protodeacon Alexander Kichakov of Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral, and Hierodeacon Paisios (Laiblin), of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, along with the parish clergy: priest Daniel Marshall, rector, priest Pavel Akmolin, and deacon Alexander Petrovsky.
Under the direction of Dr. Kurt Sander, the accomplished St. George parish choir bolstered the prayerful atmosphere at the services throughout the weekend. Several guests from Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan joined the choir for the weekend. On Saturday evening the Great Prokimenon composed by Rutov and arranged by Protodeacon Vadim Gan provided particular inspiration, echoing between Fr. Alexander Petrovsky in the altar and the singers in the choir loft.
St. George youth who had attended the diocesan camp, ORPR, greeted Bishop Peter with the traditional bread and salt Sunday morning. During the hours Nicholas Petrochko, a parishioner of St. Sergius Cathedral in Cleveland, was tonsured a reader.
The people’s common work of prayer, the lei-tour-GI-a or liturgy, was carried out by more than 140 faithful. Half of these participated in the sacraments of both Confession and Holy Communion, bodily and spiritually uniting themselves to Christ and, by extension, to each other.
As part of the regular parish Church School program, Larissa Sander has been holding weekly choir practices with children from age 7 to 14 for the last year and a half. The youth choir sang both Eis Polla, eti Despota and the Cherubic Hymn during the Sunday Hierarchical Liturgy.
After the spiritual feast, the warmth of the services transferred easily to the parish hall, where the sisterhood offered a festal banquet. Through the leadership of Head Sister Helen Kaminsky, the hall had been tastefully decorated, while the tables overflowed with delicacies. Bishop Peter shared his reflections on his recent pilgrimage to Russia for celebrations of St. John of Kronstadt. The parish Russian dancing group performed a few folk dances to conclude the banquet. The dancers are taught by parishioner Olga Ivanenko.
Great Vespers for the feast of St. George began shortly after the meal; Matins were served early Monday morning. The magnification of the Great Martyr echoed between the assembled clergy and choir, crying out in joyful praise of the great spiritual athlete, George. A new set of clergy had travelled from afar for this day: Archpriest Ilia Marzev, rector of St. Sergius Cathedral in Cleveland and dean of Ohio parishes; Hieromonk Timothy (Tadros), rector of St. George parish in Michigan City, Indiana; Hieromonk Nektarios (Merry), superior of St. John Skete in Hiram, Ohio; and priest Gabriel Monforte from Indianapolis, Indiana.
After another sumptuous meal by the parish sisterhood, the clergy and faithful lingered in the St. George parish hall, savoring the Grace imparted over these blessed days, not wishing to descend to the mundane world beyond its walls. Indeed, it is good for us to dwell in unity!