A Look Back: The 2008 Diocese of Los Angeles and the West Parish Life Conference
The Diocesan family reunited for its largest gathering of the year: the 53rd annual Diocese of Los Angeles and the West Parish Life Conference, hosted by St. Nicholas Cathedral of Los Angeles, California from July 2-6, 2008. Nearly 900 clergy and faithful assembled for a significant five days for life of the entire Diocese, as it served to spiritually enrich all attendees through the Conference theme: “At the beginning, He made them male and female. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:5). The PLC also welcomed a new deacon and a new priest in service to the Holy Orthodox Church.
His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH, host pastor Very Rev. Michel Najim and PLC chairman Fred Milkie, Jr. first welcomed His Grace, Bishop MAXIM of the Serbian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Western America, who graciously served as the Conference Keynote Speaker. Vladika MAXIM uniquely presented many spiritual and theological insights into the meaning and purpose of marriage. As he spoke, behind him on a large screen were presented icons and other images and paintings that represented what he was speaking about at that moment. For example, when he spoke of suffering in marriage, he showed an icon of the Crucifixion; or when he spoke of unity in marriage, he showed an icon of the creation of Adam and Eve; or when he spoke of the problem of alienation between man and woman he showed a painting of a man and woman in the same house but not looking at each other. These pictures made his presentation easier to understand and more enjoyable.
Vladika MAXIM’s main point was that difference (in marriage) is good because God created difference to teach us to love; however, division (divorce) is always hurtful. When a husband and wife love each other not only in spite of but also because of their differences, they represent the love of the Holy Trinity. Quoting many Fathers and theologians of the Church, Vladika MAXIM showed that God’s intention for man and woman (and children) is to experience the same love and unity in the family as God experiences in the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Saturday morning, both Hierarchs concelebrated the Divine Liturgy to stress that the unity of the Orthodox Church transcends all cultures and earthly boundaries. Sayidna JOSEPH and Vladika MAXIM both laid hands on Paul (Rico) Monge, ordaining him to the Holy Deaconate. In his sermon, Sayidna recalled the process of a deacon’s ordination. “The deacon goes first to pray before the icon of Jesus,” he said. “The minute the deacon, priest or bishop stops praying, he will receive judgment. A deacon can lead people and sanctify people. We need these kinds of deacons, and thank God we have them.” Deacon Paul recently graduated as valedictorian from St. Vladimir Theological Seminary. He will serve in Santa Barbara while he pursues doctoral studies at the nearby University of California campus.
Saturday continued with the two highlights of the PLC—the Oratorical and Bible Bowl Festivals. Once again, our youth shone brightly, expressing their knowledge of the Orthodox Christian faith. Seven orators discussed the Conference Theme, inspiring the entire audience with their thought-provoking words and overall eloquence. The judges selected Nicole DeRienzo of St. George Church in Phoenix, Arizona as the Junior Division winner, and Jordan Schaefer of St. John the Baptist Church in Post Falls, Idaho as the Senior Division winner, who represents the Diocese at the Mid-Summer meetings at the Antiochian Village. Our Senior Division Bible Bowl team from Holy Myrrh-bearing Women Mission in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho represents the Diocese at the Archdiocesan Festival, having posted a perfect score in the competition. St. George Church of San Diego, California had winning teams in the Junior and Adult Divisions.
On Sunday, the delegation was blessed with another Hierarchical Divine Liturgy that presented extra significance for the host parish. Sayidna JOSEPH ordained one of the Cathedral’s native sons, Deacon George Taweel, to the Holy Priesthood. Fr. George has served the Orthodox Church all of his life, as a deacon since 1998 and is now beginning a new chapter of his ministry as an assistant pastor at the Cathedral, his “home” for many years since he moved to Los Angeles to become a television producer. “Who does not know Fr. George Taweel?” Sayidna JOSEPH asked. “Everybody knows that he has always brought Orthodoxy to his work.” Sayidna reminded Fr. George of the grace he received from the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, and the challenges of his new ministry. “The priest’s holiness goes to the entire family,” he said. “The priest is not just a priest for himself. He cannot hurt his family because of his ministry, and vise versa. Fr. George has to be wiser now more than ever. ‘God bless you’ is the only phrase we can utter when people offend us.” Even though Fr. George will now serve in front of the Holy Altar to consecrate the Holy Gifts and reach out to the congregation, he will continue to express the Orthodox faith and its teachings and morals in the world of television.
As the 2008 PLC came to a close, Sayidna turned to the hundreds of attendees and reminded them of their purpose when they leave Los Angeles. “You have received love, hope and attention from all the people here. Leave with anticipation of working and sharing to improve your homes,” Sayidna said. “Don’t forget the fruits of the Parish Life Conference. The Church was not born to die, because it wasn’t made by humans. Use the Conference as a tool for your salvation so that the Church won’t die.”
As is tradition, the PLC closed with the Awards Brunch, where the attendees broke bread after the Liturgy and recognized the outstanding achievements of the children of our Diocese in the various Creative Festivals. It was one of many events that built fellowship, created new friendships and restored old ones through the activities of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, the Antiochian Women, Teen SOYO and Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch. The 2009 Parish Life Conference hosted by St. Stephen Church in Campbell, California will be here before we know it, so make plans now to be part of the family reunion on Memorial Day weekend in Santa Clara, California.
By Subdeacon Peter Samore
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to the Rev. Michael Gillis, Pastor of Holy Nativity Mission in Langley, British Columbia, for his contribution to this report.