The Sixth Annual Convention of St. Mark Orthodox Fellowship
Antiochian Village, Ligonier, PA, August 24 – 27, 2001
The Word of God
The members of the Convention started to arrive on Friday night August 24 and until the dawn of the following day. This year, the number of participants was more than 100 members, who came from Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, Texas, and Florida, in addition to other members who came from Canada. Many of this year participants are first time attendants. This is an observation that is repeating year after year. It is also the fourth consecutive year that the convention is held at the Antiochian Village which has found great acceptance by the members of the convention because of its great capabilities, its great service and its beautiful site where nature glorifies God, and most importantly, because of the spiritual atmosphere and its beautiful Church with its orthodox tradition. After registration, and room distribution, the members were invited to a reception that was ended by the prayer of the twelfth hour.
On the morning of Saturday August 25, the convention was inaugurated with prayer and songs followed by a short introduction by Dr. Gamil Soliman (Photo #3) on the theme of this year convention, “The Word of God”. This included an exposition of the program of the convention which shows that the person of Jesus Christ is the basis of the Old and New Testaments and it deals with the biblical teachings on salvation, the second coming and its signs, the biblical basis of the sacraments of repentance and confession, the Eucharist, and how the Bible contains the code for the behavior of the Christian person in family life, in addition to discussions (workshops) of the successful ways to study the Bible, understanding it and applying it to our daily life.
The program of the first day included 4 lectures, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. The first lecture given by Dr. Nos’hy Abdel-Shahid (Photo #4), the Director of the Center for Patristic Studies in Egypt who is participating for the fourth consecutive year, dealt with the Orthodox Perspective of the Biblical teaching on Salvation. In the first part of the lecture, he indicated that: 1- The reason of salvation is the love of God, 2- We were chosen as children before the creation of the world, 3- Salvation is the work of the Holy Trinity, 4- It included both reconciliation and redemption. The second part of the lecture was on the practical aspects of salvation. He pointed to: 1- The role of man (faith) and grace in accomplishing salvation, 2- Justification both in its negative side (forgiveness) and its positive side (the new life), 3- Sanctification by the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist, 4- Glorification which is the completion of salvation in the second coming.
The subject of his second lecture in the afternoon was the Biblical teaching on the Second Coming of Christ and the Signs of the Last Hour. In this lecture he pointed to: 1- the promise of God written in the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and in Revelation on His second coming and 2- that the Church lived on the hope of this promise as it is written in the Epistles of St. Paul, St. Peter and St. John. 3- Likewise, the Church has chanted it always in the Creed and in its Liturgy throughout the ages. 4- In the second coming, God will gather His elects and will judge the world in justice. Dr. Abdel-Shahid also enumerated the signs of the last hour according to the Gospels of Matthew (Chapter 24), Mark (Chapter 13) and Luke (Chapter 21), and the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (Chapter 2).
In his two lectures, Rev. Fr. Antonios Amin (Photo #5), who participates in the convention and blesses it for the third consecutive year, talked about the Constitution of Christian Ethics in the Family Life as given by the Lord in the Sermon on the Mountain. He introduced the topic with the last words of the Lord in the Sermon: the man that built his house on the rock vs. the man that built his house on the sand. The first is the man that hears and does the words of God and the second is the man that hears but does not do the words of God. Fr. Amin showed the tempest and hurricanes that can destroy the Christian house and how it can be saved from destruction if it is built on Christ the rock of ages. He gave examples from real life, showing the effects of anger, suspicion, pride, concern for money, and ego (indulgence in self love). Fr. Amin also prayed Vespers before his second lecture.
On Saturday, there was also a workshop moderated by Dr. Ramzy Labib on “How to read and study the Bible”. The main speakers in this workshop were Robie Samantha, and Mimi Geerges (Photo #6), two youth servants in St. Mark Church of Washington, DC. They presented practical steps to achieve this important goal and indicated the necessity of regular daily reading and the memorization of verses and important passages from the Old and New Testaments and the importance of having the Bible in our hands in the Liturgy and Church meetings to follow the readings. The comments in this workshop were based on the personal experience, especially of present Orthodox fathers and church leaders.
The next day, Sunday, started with the Divine Liturgy officiated by Rev. Fr. Antonios Amin (Photo #7),(Photo #8) in which the participants had communion. After that, all members went to the garden of the Antiochian village where memorial group pictures were taken (Photo #1),(Photo #2). In the afternoon, a workshop was moderated by Dr. Raymond Guirguis (Photo #9) with the assistance of Pauline Guirguis on the topic of “How to Live the Bible and Build a Personal Experience”. Its focus was how our knowledge of the Holy Bible can grow and become transformed into an everyday living experience. In the workshop, many of the attendants participated in reading parts of the Holy Bible related to the subject and presented their thoughts to achieve the goal of the workshop to use Biblical verses in different life situations such as in happiness, in hard times, and particularly in trials and tribulations.
Fr. George Dragas(Photo #10), Professor of Patristic Studies at the Holy Cross Theological Seminary in Brookline, MA, started his first lecture at 8 PM Sunday. Fr. Dragas began his association with the Fellowship last year when he gave two lectures in the 5th Annual Convention, “The Holy Spirit in our Life”. He was keen to attend this year in spite of unexpected last moment scheduling problems. Fr. Dragas started his lecture, “Christ is the Key to Scriptures” as soon as he arrived from Pittsburgh Airport. He used in his lecture the writings of St. Cyril the Great on the Creation and the Bible Characters in the Book of Genesis from Adam to the 12 sons of Israel. These writings show that these characters could not be satisfactorily understood except through their relationship with Jesus Christ, His incarnation, and His salvation. For example, Christ is the second Adam and He is the High priest (from the tribe of Judah and not Levy) according to the order of Melchizedek. His lecture continued for two and half hours and was completed on Monday morning, the last day of the convention, for another one and half hour. He followed this lecture with a second lecture on the “Biblical Foundation of the Sacraments of Confession and Communion” which could not be fully covered because of the shortage of time. He pointed to the importance of continuous repentance (metania) and to the relation between repentance and confession, and that confession should be directed to those whom we have sinned against, to the priest whom he represented as a physician who gives the treatment. The priest declares the forgiveness of sins but does not give this forgiveness, because it is only God that gives such forgiveness. He also pointed to the regression from practicing this sacrament in front of the priest in the Orthodox Churches in the West because of the influence of other Churches, and how people dare to have communion without repentance and confession.
During the Convention there was also a book exhibition. For the second consecutive year there was a direct translation given by Mr. Fayez Ateya to serve the youth who do not understand the Arabic language. Also, on Saturday evening Mrs. Nermien Riad made a short video presentation of the activities of Coptic Orphans, an organization that sponsors thousands of orphans in Egypt by providing them with the necessities of life and education.
At the end of the lectures on Saturday, and in celebration of the movement of consecration of the servants that started in Egypt at the end of the fifties by the initiative action of Fr. Matta El Meskeen (Matthew the Poor), a party (Photo #11),(Photo #12) was held in honor of Dr. Nos’hy Abdel-Shaheed who has been consecrated more than 40 years ago. He was a member of the Bait El-Takrees (Home of Consecration) in Helwan. When most of the members became monks (some became bishops), he instituted the Home of Consecration in Kobba Gardens, and later, the Center of Patristic studies in Heliopolis to study the Fathers’ writings, translate them and publish them in the Arabic language. This Center has published 57 books of Patristic studies and 17 books in diverse topics of Church doctrines and practices. In addition, it also publishes a semi-annual and a monthly magazine. Eight researchers from the Center have received Doctoral degrees in Patristic writings in the Greek language and they work at the Center at present. The Center holds a regular monthly meeting and organizes two yearly conventions. With the help of friends in USA, St. Athanasius Fellowship was founded in Virginia to receive contributions to support the Patristic Center in its mission.
Also, on Saturday evening, based on the request of attendants of the Conference, Brother Timothy Ibrahim talked about his experience in coming to Christ and his conversion to the Christian faith 14 years ago. Presently, he uses a radio program to evangelize, besides his personal encounters to proclaim the Christian faith among non-Christians in the USA.
On Sunday evening, Dr. Ramzy Labib presented a report on the activities of St. Mark Fellowship during the last year and listened to suggestions of the participants on how to achieve the objectives of the Fellowship. Many have indicated the importance of making an effort to attract youth to the activities of the fellowship. One of the suggestions was to have a special program for the youth during the convention with possible participation with the adults in lectures that are mutually interesting to them. Also, it was suggested to allow more free time in next conferences to be used in sports, social activities and artwork for the youth. Mr. Fouad Youssef called the attention of the participants to the “Word of Life” magazine published by St. Mark Orthodox fellowship. Four issues of Word of Life have already been published so far. Mr. Youssef asked the members for suggestions and help in expanding its distribution to promote a greater benefit.
The members of the convention have agreed to have the convention next year in the same place (Antiochian Village) during the Labor Day weekend (2nd of September 2002). Also, changing the place of the convention in the following year was considered to attract members from new locations. It was agreed tentatively that the topic of the next convention would be “The Church”.
 - A two-page handout in English, and a 90-minute audiotape in Arabic with English summary are available for this lecture.
 - A one-page handout in English, and a 90-minute audiotape in Arabic with English summary are available for this lecture.
 - A handout, 8 pages in English and Arabic, and two 90-minute audiotapes in Arabic are available for these 2 lectures.
 - A 90-minute audiotape in English is available for this workshop.
 - A recording of this Divine Liturgy is available in two tapes (150 minutes, in Arabic).
 - A 90-minute audiotape in English is available for this workshop.
 - Fr. Dragas’ lectures have been recorded on 4 audiotapes, 90-minutes each. Also, a 40-pages handout is available consisting of the following topics: A- Christ is the key to the Scriptures according to St. Cyril the Great, B- St. Cyril’s selection on Genesis (PG 69: 13-418), C- Book 2: On Noah, Babel, Abraham and Melkizedek. These have not been previously published in English.