The Second Annual Convention
of St. Mark Orthodox Fellowship
CHRIST, OUR LIFE
Spruce Lake Retreat, Canadensis, PA, 5-7 September 1997
A- Brief Report
The members of the convention started to arrive on Friday evening Sept 5, 1997. This year 65 members attended, of whom many were youth who attended and directed a special workshop for the youth. Members also came from various parts of USA (NY, NJ, PA, MD, VA, CA) and Canada. After registration and distribution of the rooms, there was a short reception followed by hymn session which ended by the midnight prayer that was led by Fr. Augustinos Hanna, the pastor of St. John C.O. Ch. of West Covina, LA, CA.
On Saturday 9/6/97 the convention started with the celebration of the Holy Liturgy with the participation of Fr. Guirguis Gobrail (Pastor of St. Mary C.O. Ch. of MD) and Fr. Augustinos Hanna. At 10 a.m. the convention was inaugurated with a short introduction by Dr. Gamil Soliman on the main theme of the convention which is "Christ is my life" and the accomplishments of SMOF during the last year. After the hymns, Fr. Augustinos gave his first talk in the convention on "Christ in the Old Testament". The presentation included an introduction on the books of the NT and OT and how to find Christ and follow His appearance in 1- Types (or symbols that may be persons, objects, or events), 2- Prophecies, 3- Apparitions, and 4- Visions. Fr. Augustinos distributed printed handouts containing a great number of examples of each of these items. He presented an application of his topic in a study of the lives of Joseph and Moses as types of Jesus Christ in the OT. Because of the extent of his talk, he continued the subject in a subsequent talk on Sunday morning.
After lunch, the convention met in an open area of the retreat grounds and Dr. Ramzy Labib started this session by discussing the objectives of the fellowship and what was achieved until now and what are its future goals, asserting again 1- the importance of the role of the laity in preaching and serving, as an extension of the work of the church fathers and servants to spread the gospel in every home, 2- its ambition to spread the knowledge of God and the Orthodox doctrine to the universities (through the youth), 3- the use of all recent means of communication to reach its goals and 4- the cooperation with the Orthodox in every place for the unity of Orthodox ministry as a step on the way towards the unity of the whole Church in Christ.
This was followed by a workshop by the youth on "How to present an interesting Bible study to the youth" which was perceived as a bright step in participation of the youth in the activities of the fellowship. The workshop was organized and presented by the youth themselves (Dr. Raymond Girgis, Mark Moussa, and Gigi Barsoum). They discussed with the audience the obstacles encountered in having a Bible study for the youth and how to overcome them, and what are the best means to start and continue a Bible study among the youth. They also presented the means to make these Bible studies interesting to the youth either at homes or on campus. Many young people presented their own experience in stimulating Bible studies such as 1- starting at younger age, 2- attending church services regularly, 3- availability of relevant Orthodox books, 4- the efficient and dedicated services presented to the youth everywhere by Anba Moussa, the Bishop for the youth.
After dinner, the members convened again in the Hall where Dr. Nabil Baki presented a lecture on Christ in the book of Revelation. It was a focused study on the person of Christ as He appears in the book of Revelation: the God, the sacrifice, the intercessor, the king of kings, the lord of lords and the victorious conqueror coming on the cloud to take His Bride to heavenly Jerusalem. The question of the hope of believers in their salvation and the effects of their mistakes - as humans - on their eternal destiny, was raised during the discussions. This led Fr. Augustinos to talk about salvation and its relation to faith, baptism, and works, and how salvation encompasses the past (justification), the present (sanctification) and the future (glorification). He stated that salvation starts (believe in the Lord and you will be saved) and continues throughout life to be manifested in the last day (he who endures to the end shall be saved, Mt. 24:13; and ... kept by the power of God ... for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time, 1Pt.1:5). This emerging lecture fulfilled a great need in the audience as well as many Christians. Throughout his talk, Fr. Augustinos incited the audience to study the Bible, and to meditate in it, because if we want to know Christ, we should know His word and keep it.
In the last day of the convention (Sunday 9/7/97) after the morning prayer and breakfast, Fr. Augustinos continued his study on "Christ in the OT" as previously mentioned. After that, Dr. Rodolph Yanney presented a lecture on "The Patristic teaching on Salvation" in which he compared the teachings of the early Church Fathers (particularly St. Athanasius in "Incarnation of the Word") with the later Western teachings on salvation. He emphasized that, according to the Fathers, salvation was not an incident at a certain time but it was a Divine economy before the creation of the world. It was not limited to the cross but encompassed the whole life of Christ, i.e. incarnation, baptism, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, as well as the pouring of the Holy Spirit and the second coming of Christ. Salvation is not the work of Christ alone, but it is the work of the Holy Trinity. Salvation starts and continues throughout life until the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The last items in the convention were the reports of the committee's chairs: Mr. Fouad Youssef for Bible Study, Mr. Farid Mansour for Spiritual Books, and Mr. Fateen Moussa for Preaching. They presented the various activities of their committees during the last year and their goals for the future. They mentioned that presently, the "Short Notes on the Bible" on the 5 books of Moses will be published in one book, and the Bible study of the New Testament will be started soon. Also, the Fellowship will soon introduce the book "How to read the Holy Bible" by Fr. Matta El Meskeen and "The Jesus Prayer" by the late Fr. Lev Gillet. It was also announced that 10 new Bible study groups have been formed for VA, MD, and the DC area and that Fr. Guirguis attends all these meetings in which he encourages all the attendants to actively participate in the study. At the end of the convention, Dr. Gamil Soliman presented a summary of the functions of the convention and announced the recommendations that were approved by those who have attended.
1- It is time to have a Committee for Youth activities to promote the Orthodox Christian teachings among the youth in Universities.
2- Increasing the Board of Directors by adding one or more of the ladies as well as of the youth among the members of the Fellowship as soon as conditions allow for new elections.
3- The use of the World Wide Web for promoting the spread of Orthodox knowledge and the Fellowship's publications, in addition to the use of the electronic mail forum, "Copt-Net Digest".
4- Consideration of the possibility of employing one or more full-time or part-time employees in the Fellowship to cope with the increased activities needed for its proper function.
5- Expressing our appreciation to the Clergy as members of the Fellowship and participants in its activities, considering this a sign of the true unity of work and goals, as members of the Holy Body of Christ.
6- Expansion in the use of book show and taped Bible Study material (as done in the present conference, respectively, by Dr. George Bassaly, St John Book Center, NJ, and by Dr. Raouf Edward, Canada) to promote systematic Bible Study.
7- Re-emphasizing that "Preaching Orthodoxy" relies on the work of the Holy Spirit and on personal contact. Our primary concern should be our repentance and clinging to our Savior and His Church.