The Third Annual Conference
Of St. Marks Orthodox Fellowship
GOD IS LOVE
Antiochian Village, Legonier, PA, 4th-7th of September 1998
Members started arriving the evening of Friday, 9/4/1998. They kept coming till after midnight. The number of participants in the conference this year reached 85 members. They arrived from Washington, D.C. and the States of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, in addition to some members who came from Canada. There was a substantial number of members attending the conference for the first time. There is no doubt that the diverse amenities, spiritual atmosphere, and exceptional service of the Antiochian Village Conference Center were important factors in the success of the Third Annual conference. Following room assignment and registration of the members, they joined in the reception festivities that concluded the evening with Midnight Prayers.
On Saturday, 9/5/98, after breakfast, the conference started with a short presentation by Dr. Gamil Soliman about the program of the conference. The primary focus of the conference this year was "God Is Love." After each member in the conference introduced him/her self and after a short period of hymns, the presentations started by Dr. Raouf Ibrahim (Michigan) presenting the first subject(1) titled "Love according to the early Fathers." He presented the various levels of love, love in the Trinity, and the relation between love of God and love of the neighbor, showing how 'Love' is the most important attribute a person can have (1 Cor. 13). Without 'Love' all spiritual activities loose their value. The morning activities were concluded by a report from Dr. Ramzy Labib on the activities of the Fellowship(2) throughout the previous year and its vision of the future.
After lunch, the second session started with a lecture from Reverend Fr. Antonious Henein, member of the fellowship and priest of St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church at Los Angeles, California. The lecture was about "God's Love in the Scriptures" and how God revealed His Love in His dealings with the human beings (even in critical events such as in keeping Adam from the tree of Life), in His plan for salvation, and in His giving of Himself. This was followed by the youth committees first workshop(3) on "God's Love in Every Day's Life" which was organized by Dr. Joe Ibrahim with the participation of Amy Gabriel and Salwa Salib. They stressed the importance of feeling the presence of God in our daily life and communing with Him through the various kinds of prayers and the feeling of His everlasting love in all facets of life.
Dr. Nabil Soliman(4), after dinner, gave a talk on "Experiencing God's Love in The Family." The topics of his talk were based on the first chapters of Genesis, the first family of Adam and Eve, and the continued love and care of God toward them even after their sin. After this talk, the Fellowship members joined Reverend Fr. Antonious Henein in Vespers Service in the Antiochian Village Chapel.
The group returned to the meeting room for a short period to hear a talk from Mr. Mark Gabriel(5) about how he came to the belief in Jesus Christ four years ago. He talked about his life as an 'El-Azhar' scholar rejecting Christ and His message, and hating Christians. Then he talked about how the foundations of his previous faith were shaken and of his first encounter with Christ in the Holy Bible, which caused a major change in his life and led him to declare his new faith. As a result, he had to leave Egypt. He currently resides in South Africa, where he works as a missionary preaching salvation to all people.
The next day, Sunday 9/6, started with the Liturgy celebrated by Fr. Antonious Henein. Then the members went out to enjoy the Antiochian Village gardens and took several group pictures. After Lunch, there was the lecture by Dr. Noshi Abdel-Sheheed(6) the director of "The Center of Studies of Early Fathers writings" in Cairo, Egypt. He came specifically from Egypt to participate in this conference. His lecture was on "God's Love in our Pain & Suffering." It was based on the suffering Christ as our High Priest who is able to help us and can sympathize with our weaknesses, being Himself tempted in all points as we are (Heb. 2:18, 4:15). After this presentation, Dr. Raymond Girgis conducted the second youth committees(7) workshop on "God's Love in Marriage", in which Paula Girgis and Tony Soliman participated. Also, during this workshop Dr. Nabil Soliman completed his talk about "God's Love in the family" using several verses from 'Song of Songs.'
In the third period of Sunday, Fr. Antonious Henein(8) delivered his second lecture on "God's Love for the Sinners" using the examples of the "Pharisee and the Publican" (Luke 18:10), the "Prodigal Son" (Luke 15:11), and the "Sinful Woman" (Luke 7:36). Fr. Antonious Henein mentioned that all have sinned and all are in need of forgiveness. The day was concluded with Compline prayers.
The last day of the conference, Monday 9/7, Dr. Noshi Abdel-Sheheed gave his second lecture(9), "God Reveals His Love in the Eucharist." He quoted sections from the liturgy prayers and the corresponding verses of the Gospels and Epistles, showing that the Eucharist is an offering before the throne of glory and celebrated as an experience of Gods Kingdom.
Dr. Gamil Soliman(2) concluded the conference by a brief summary and opened the discussions regarding the activities of the Fellowship which led to the recommendations listed thereafter. Prayers at 1:00 PM concluded the conference.
+ Emphasis on using the English Language in the lectures, discussions, hymns and prayers. There is no alternative to that, because without youth there is no future to the church. Arabic lectures could be given in parallel with the English ones.
+ As for the printed material produced by the fellowship, it was recommended to reproduce it in the form of magazine or booklet which could include Bible study and other spiritual writings.
+ In addition to establishing branches for the Fellowship in various cities (like California, New York, Ohio, West Pennsylvania), it is recommended to have one or more representatives for the Fellowship in every church that has SMOF members.
+ The convention should include videos for exceptional presentations or exceptional movies.
+ The convention should include competitions, games, recreational intervals and musical activities.
+ All presenters should use handouts or overhead transparencies, copies of which is distributed before the lecture.
+ A continuing recommendation: The Preaching of Orthodoxy is based on the work of the Holy Spirit and personal interactions of individuals. It leads to a life of continuous repentance and participation in the Eucharist. Therefore, we should pay special attention to our personal spiritual life, our repentance, our union with the Savior and the Church as the principal means of our preaching.
These tapes and the handout may be requested from St. Marks Orthodox Fellowship.