Brief Report on
THE FIRST ANNUAL MEETING OF
ST. MARK'S ORTHODOX FELLOWSHIP
September 14 - 15, 1996
Cherry Hill, NJ
The meeting started on Saturday, September 14, with prayer led by Rev. Fr. Guirguis Gobrail, shepherd of St. Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church of Maryland.
+ At 9:00 a.m., Dr. Ramzy Labib presented the principles on which the Fellowship was established, its goals and founders, stressing the role of believers (laity) in preaching and serving, in addition to the role of the priesthood (clergy). In this context, he referred to Acts 8:4 "For those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word". Also, he emphasized that the participation of the laity in service and teaching the Bible, is a far better alternative to the indifference or the negativeness which leads some people to be critical of the service of others, and watchful for their defects, rather than trying to actively participate in solving the problems, being motivated by their feeling of responsibility.
Being aware that the study of the word of God does not get the attention it deserves among our church members in diaspora, we found it best to start encouraging Bible Study by offering introductions to the Books of the Bible (Old and New Testaments), introducing spiritual books based on the father's writings (Patrology) and working to preach Orthodoxy in our new land of immigration.
+ This was followed by a talk on "Orthodoxy and the Bible" by Dr. Rodolph Yanney who pointed out that the Orthodox Church is a traditional Church; tradition being based on : (1) the Holy Bible, (2) Liturgy and Sacraments, and (3) the writings of the fathers.
In the Orthodox concept, when studying the Word of God, we have to realize the following:
(1) In Bible interpretation, there are three meanings for the Word of God:
a. The Literal Meaning which is very important; and we should go back to the language in which that part of the Bible was originally written, the period when it was written, to whom it was addressed, and the purpose for which it was addressed to them. For example, St. John did not directly mention the establishment of the two mysteries of Baptism and Communion in his Gospel. Being the last one of the four Gospels, it was written at a time when these two sacraments were established in the Church, and it was not proper to talk openly about mysteries.
b. The Ethical Meaning which is also quite beneficial, but it is a limited interpretation that does not reach the full meaning of the Word of God.
c. The Spiritual Meaning where the Word, in its typology (i.e. as a type of an antitype), leads actually to the person of Christ and His Salvation. Thus, the hovering of the Spirit of God over the waters (Gen. 1:2), the great flood and the crossing of the Red Sea, are all types (symbols), their antitype being Baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in it (1Cor. 10:1,2). The antitype of the brass serpent is the cross (Jn 3:14) and the antitype of the offering of Isaac and the Passover is Redemption by Christ.
(2) The verse should be interpreted in its context: Taking a verse out of its context, to be understood apart from the rest of the paragraph and the Book, leads to misunderstanding and confusion.
(3) To consult the sayings of the Church Fathers: Most of the Church Fathers' writings were commentaries on the Books of the Bible.
+ The secretaries of SMOF Committees, Mr. Fouad Youssef (Committee of Bible Study). Mr. Farid Mansour (Committee of the Spiritual Book), and Mr. Fateen Moussa (Committee of Preaching), presented their programs, what has been accomplished and what is being planned for the future.
+ Dr. Gamil Soliman finally presented a synopsis of the Meeting> At the end, the participants approved the attached recommendations. The Meeting ended with prayer at 9:30 p.m.
+ On Sunday morning, September 15, the participants of the Meeting attended the Holy Liturgy in St George Coptic Orthodox Church of Greater Philadelphia, served by Fr. Roufail Youssef.
THE FIRST ANNUAL MEETING
At the end of the First Annual Meeting of St Mark's Orthodox Fellowship, which was blessed by the participation of Rev. Fr. Guirguis Gobrail, the priest of St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church of Maryland, the following recommendations were approved by the participants:
1- This Fellowship works through the Church and for its service, and for the promotion of Orthodox faith and experience to every one. It expresses its love and respect to the fathers of the Church. The fellowship does not believe in negative criticism, and expresses positiveness by offering a dedicated service in love of Christ and His Church with its sacraments, relying on the teachings of the Church Fathers in all its actions.
2- The first circle that concerns the Fellowship is, naturally, our Church members, old and young (starting at Jerusalem, Luke 24:47). But it also reaches out to the sister Orthodox Churches on mutual basis, following the example of the Church leaders, and it looks forward to present its Orthodoxy to all other Churches.
3- Encouraging Bible Study, not only by mailing SMOF literature on the Books of the Bible together with questions and answers, by regular and electronic mail, but also by encouraging the reading of the Bible and prayers at gatherings and family meetings, and starting Bible Study groups meeting at churches, colleges and homes, especially for servants and trainees, and inviting the youth to participation in these meetings.
4- In addition to distributing books freely twice a year, a list of basic spiritual books is to be made, accompanied by short reviews. In this regard, the "Book Reviews" published by "Coptic Church Review"and lists of St. Vladimir, Light and Life and other publishers, as well as Churches' and other Organization's lists should be helpful. The youth in the Fellowship should be encouraged to participate in this field of service. Expensive books may be offered at reduced prices.
5- Orthodox preaching relies on the work of the Holy Spirit and on personal contact. It should lead to life of perpetual repentance linked with communion. Therefore, our primary concern should be with our own life and repentance, clinging to our Savior and His Church, in order to present Christ and His Church to those around us.
6- Sending a letter from SMOF members to our father and Shepherd, H. H. Pope Shenouda III, expressing our love to His Holiness, and requesting his prayers and blessings to the work and service of SMOF.