The Fifth Annual Convention of St. Mark Orthodox Fellowship
Antiochian Village, Ligonier, PA, September 1-4, 2000
The Holy Spirit
IN OUR LIFE
Members of the Convention started to arrive on the evening of Friday 9/1/2000 till the dawn of next day. The number of participants in this convention were more than 100 members coming from Washington DC, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, beside those coming from Canada, and Egypt. Many of these were first time participants, which is a positive sign that is increasing every year. It is the third consecutive year in which the annual convention takes place in the Antiochian Village. This place has been approved by all participants because of its facility, the service, the beautiful site, and, most of all, the spiritual environment and its beautiful Orthodox Church. After registration and room assignment, the members were invited to a reception which ended with the Twelvth hour prayer.
The Convention was inaugurated on Saturday morning 9/2 with a prayer followed by introduction of the theme of the convention by Dr. Gamil Soliman. In this introduction, Dr. Soliman presented the program of the convention which is focused on the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, One of the Holy Trinity, His relation with the Father and the Son, and His work in the believers through salvation, the sacraments, the word of God, His gifts, His fruits, and how we can be prepared so that the Holy Spirit leads and fills our life.
Fr. George Dragas, Professor of Patristic Studies at the Holy Cross Theological Seminary, Brookline, MA, who participates for the first time in the Convention, gave a talk on the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity (1). Fr. Dragas introduced himself as an orthodox disciple of the Coptic Church. He described the events that changed his life to become an evangelist of the Patristic writings which enlightened our life by the knowledge of the Gospel. He was born in Greece in 1944, and was raised in an orthodox home where his motherís grand mother served the saints. He was studying engineering and science, but St. Athanasius the Apostolic, appeared to him and invited him to serve the Lord and he obeyed.
Fr. Dragas showed his admiration of the Coptic Church which endured sufferings and persecution for many centuries to hold to the faith that was delivered to us by the saints and how she remained strong and even influential to those who persecuted her. In the last century, the Coptic Church opened herself to the sister churches and went out to preach and evangelize in the whole world. He pointed to her joint faith with the Greek Church and her association with the teachings of the greatest Fathers of the Catholic Church, St. Athanasius and St Cyril the Great, Patriarchs of Alexandria. The present dialogue that started in the sixties and extended to the nineties between the "Non Chalcedonian" or Oriental" Churches (Coptic, Syrian, and Armenian) on one side and the "Chalcedonian or Eastern" Churches (Greek, Russian, Slavic) on the other side, has revealed a common understanding on the nature of Christ (1a), even though words have failed to express their common faith that is based on the interpretation of St. Cyril the Great Pope of Alexandria (The Greek Church celebrates this Saint in the same day it celebrates St. Athanasius on January 18 as if they were one person with one doctrine). He added that we have spent many centuries in an unnecessary division but the time has come to meet again in the One Christ and realize the unity of the Orthodox Church and work for the unity of all the Churches of Christ all over the world.
After this long and important introduction, Fr. Dragas started to talk about the Person of the Holy Spirit, pointing to the writings of St. Athanasius and St. Cyril on this topic and showing how the Father reveals Himself in the Son through (by) the Holy Spirit who reveals to us the Father through (by) the Son and that without the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. Moreover, the priest by himself can do nothing but it is the Holy Spirit who conducts every prayer and every liturgical service and performs the mystery without us seeing Him. He pointed at the end of his lecture that the best we can say is what St. Cyril has previously said on the Holy Spirit in his dialogue with Hermias in which he has discussed all the wrong teachings on the Holy Spirit. Fr. Dragas distributed to the attendants copies of these writings which he used in his second lecture (2) which he gave in the afternoon. In this lecture he emphasized that the Orthodox faith has the advantage over other faiths because of its completeness which is lacking in other non-apostolic faiths which left behind many of the Fathers teachings. He mentioned that we should strongly hold to our heritage which has cost the martyrdom of our Fathers and we should learn from their writings in which there is an answer to every question. Their knowledge of the Holy Bible is amazing and is distinct by its fullness and depth. These two lectures were an excellent brief overview of Patrology, Orthodoxy, Theology and Ecumenism.
Fr. Antonios Amin who has blessed our Convention for the second consecutive year, gave a lecture on the Holy Spirit in Our Daily Life (3), and the Difference between the work of the Holy Spirit in the whole Creation and His dwelling in the believers. He discussed the meaning of the second birth and the new man who is living according to the Spirit. In this respect he has presented the following features of the spiritual man: 1- Discipline 2- Entering through the narrow gate 3- Living according to the Bible in imitation of Christ 4- Spiritual worship. He ended his talk by saying that the Holy Spirit is the closest to us because He lives in us and gives us what belongs to the Son. We should therefore love Him and not sadden Him, but inflame Him in our hearts by obedience to the word of God and hearing His conviction for our repentance.
The first day also included a workshop directed by Dr. Raymond Girgis and Mrs. Pauline Girgis on how to be filled with the Holy Spirit (4). The Holy Spirit is ready to fill us as much as we are ready to remove the old man and empty ourselves from all what hinders His work in us. The Holy Spirit is capable of preparing our hearts for His dwelling and of filling all our life if we invite Him and listen to His voice and submit to His guidance because He is the Spirit of life, of sanctity, of prayer, of conviction, of repentance, of wisdom, and of comfort.
After the Vespers prayer, the last lecture of this day was given by Dr. Nosíhi Abdel-Shahid, the Director of the Center for Patristic Studies in Cairo, Egypt, who also is attending for the third consecutive year. In his lecture, the Holy Spirit works in the Sacraments (5), he started from Baptism, through Confirmation, Confession, Eucharist, and matrimony, ending with priesthood, showing how the Holy Spirit works in us in these sacraments through the Salvation of Christ by His crucifixion, death, and resurrection. (The sacrament of the Unction of the Sick will be dealt with in a separate workshop). In this lecture, he explained the basic relation between the mystery of Christ (Eph.3:4) and the sacraments (mysteries), and described them as channels through which the Holy Spirit pours the gifts of Godís love into our hearts (Rom.5:5, Eph.4:8).
The next day, Sunday September 3, started with the Divine Liturgy (6), officiated by Fr. Antonios Amin, where all attendants participated in communion. After dinner, the participants went to the gardens of the village where memorial group pictures where taken (Photo #1),(Photo #2). After that they returned to the convention hall to participate in the workshop directed by Dr. Yousry Armanios on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Church (7). He differentiated from the beginning between the spiritual gifts and the talents based on the 1st letter to the Corinthians chapters 12 -14. He presented the gifts of healing, speaking with tongues, translation, and the difference between psychological diseases and evil spirits and if there is any role for speaking with tongues in the Church nowadays.
After that, Dr. Raouf Ibrahim delivered a lecture on the Holy Spirit the Comforter (8) and His role during martyrdom, persecution and suffering. This article was motivated by the recent waves of violence in Egypt, and it attempts to understand the true meaning of martyrdom in the light of the past and present history and the sacrifice of the Cross (see in particular Col. 1:24).
The last lecture on that day was given by Dr. Nosíhi Abdel-Shahid on the Holy Spirit: How He Works through the Word of God (9). He pointed out that the Word of God was written through the light of the Holy Spirit as the Lord revealed in His last discourse to His disciples (John 14-16). The Holy Spirit teaches, reminds, inspires, protects, and guides to the whole truth. We meet with the Holy Spirit when we read the word of God and understand it by the guidance of the Spirit and become obedient to the word. We should notice that the Liturgy and all the praises and prayers of the Church are based on the words of the New and Old Testaments both literally and spiritually. And the Holy Spirit works during the Liturgy both through the sacrament (Eucharist) and through the word of God (Liturgical readings and prayers).
At the end of the day, a party was organized to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Fr. Antonios Amin (10) and all the attendants signed the greeting card and presented him a memorial gift. Fr. Antonios talked about the advances and revival that took place in the Coptic Church during the last 50 years compared to the preceding difficult era that was prevailing early on. He also talked about the hopes he has for the future of the Church.
In the last day of the convention (Monday 9/4/00) Fr. Antonios Amin gave his second lecture on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (11). He talked about the change of our nature in Christ showing that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that whatever the new man experiences of Christís nature is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5: 22-23).
The convention included other activities for the children (directed by Mrs. Sawsan Moussa and Dr. Suzan Selim). Also, Dr. Salwa Selim and Dr. Mona Armanios directed the hymns and Mrs. Pauline Guirguis played the organ. For the first time, this year, it was possible to have instant translation by Mr. Fayez Ateya using the electronic sound equipment provided by Mr. Morris Michael. Dr. Jacob Samaan took full responsibility for recording the lectures and workshops and providing the final editions of the audio tapes.
On Sunday evening, Dr. Ramzy Labib presented a brief account of the various activities of St. Markís Orthodox Fellowship during the last year and the its future plans that will be discussed by the General assembly on Monday morning. The addition of members to the "Executive Board", the proposal to have more than one annual meeting and that one of these meetings should be sponsored by the Canadian Chapter of SMOF, were discussed. Dr. Raouf Edward and other members of the Canadian Chapter who were present in the meeting proposed two conferences, one in Egypt (see trip announcement in the previous mailing, Dec 2000), and the other in Niagara Falls (to be announced later). Acknowledgement of the contributions of many members to the success of the present meeting led to the announcement of the need for more volunteer active members in the different aspects of the activities of the fellowship. One of the urgently needed activities is maintenance, additions and improvements in the web site. Mr. Fouad Youssef talked about the Bible study magazine "Word of Life" and the need for deep studies in the Bible and asked people to contribute such articles for publication in the magazine. At the end of the convention, Dr. Labib directed an open discussion to evaluate the convention and the work of the Fellowship. There was a majority agreement to review the program to allow more time for discussion and also to allow more time between lectures for fellowship between the participants and increase the time for meditation, prayer, and quiet time. Also, to increase the involvement of the youth and children in this convention and provide them with more Christian video films. It was agreed among the participants that next year convention will be in the same place from 24 - 27 August 2001 and suggested two topics to choose from: "The Word of God" and "The Christian Family, or to combine both topics.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head ... For there the Lord commanded the blessing - Life forevermore." (Ps. 133:1-3)
(1) - A 90-minute audio tape is available for this lecture.
(1) - A copy of the report of the Joint-Commission of the Theological Dialogue, which was published in "The Word" magazine in April 1992, is avaiable.
(2) - A copy of the handout "Dialog VII: Concerning the Holy Spirit: It is God and comes from God according to His nature", 24 pages, and a 90-minute audio tape are available for this lecture. The "Dialog VII" by St Cyril the Great was translated to English recently by Fr. Dragas and has not been yet published in English elsewhere.
(3) - A handout (in Arabic & English), 6 pages, and a 60-minute audio tape (in Arabic) are available for this lecture.
(4) - A one-page handout, and a 60-minute audio tape are available for this workshop.
(5) - A 90-minute audio tape (in Arabic) is available for this lecture.
(6) - Two audio tapes, 150 minutes total, are available for the Divine Liturgy by Fr. Antonios Amin.
(7) - A two-page handout, and a 60-minute audio tape are available for this workshop.
(8) - A handout, 10 pages, and a 90-minute audio tape are available for this lecture.
(9) - A 60-minute audio tape (in Arabic) is available for this lecture.
(10) - A 60-minute audio tape (in Arabic) is available for the talk given by Fr. Antonios in this occasion.
(11) - A 4-page handout and a 90-minute audio tape (in Arabic) are available for this lecture.