Report on the Seventh Annual Convention of
St. Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship
August 30 - Sept 2, 2002
The members of the Convention started to come on Friday, 8/30/2002, evening till midnight. The number of attendants this year exceeded 80 members, who came from Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, besides a large number coming from Canada (Toronto, Ontario). Many attended for the first time this year, while a good number of those who used to attend previously were absent. A pleasant observation this year was the increased proportion of youth among the attendants, which leads us to think that the time has come to plan for a parallel youth program in future conventions. This is the fifth consecutive time that the Fellowship has its Convention at the Antiochian Village, which has always been a favorite place to the members. After the registration and distribution of the rooms, the members were invited to a reception party and the night was ended with prayer.
The Convention started on Saturday 8/31 with prayer and hymns. This was followed by few words from Dr. Gamil Soliman on the theme of this year’s convention, “The Church”, and an exposition of the program which points to Christ the Savior as the Head of the Church and her High Priest who entered the Holies with His own sacrifice and instituted for us an eternal salvation. Also, the Church is the body of Christ that extends through the whole world and heaven, and in all ages till eternity. The Church is also the bride of Christ and He is her only groom. Thus, the Church is One, Holy, Catholic (Universal), and Apostolic, as it is proclaimed in the Creed. The Church encompasses the clergy and all the people. Also, every Christian house is a small Church built on love. The role of the struggling Church on earth is to defend justice, peace, human rights, purity, morality, and family values, as well as to serve the society through her love to all, according to the commandment of her Lord.
The first day included four lectures: Three of these were given by Rev. Fr. George Dragas, Professor of Patristic Studies at the Holy Cross Theological Seminary, Brookline, MA, who is speaking for the third consecutive time in the Convention. Due to other obligations, he presented his lectures consecutively on the same day. His talks covered the comprehensive topic of the origination of the Church (Ecclesia) from the Holy Trinity. God the Father has brought her to existence, God the Son is her redeemer and founder, and God the Holy Spirit gives her the power, sanctity, and everlasting presence. Her foundation, her presence, and her work are truly Divine. Therefore, she is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and these are the features of the Church as recorded in the Creed. Fr. Dragas pointed in the beginning of his talks to a book, written by a Greek monk in Alexandria in the last century (1924), which included all the aspects of this topic in depth and focus.
1- On the topic of the Oneness of the Church, he said that this is a necessity because she has one head, Christ, who is one with the Father. He is the one who unified heaven and earth. Also, the Church has one faith and one baptism and feeds on the one body and blood of Christ. On the other hand, it is necessary that the Christian be one with the Christian, otherwise he will not be a Christian, as St. Augustin said. Therefore, the Church is one either on earth or in heaven. The unity between the Father and the Son is a model of the unity between the members of the one body of Christ, the Church.
2- The Church is Holy because God has sanctified her (Eph 5:25-27), and because the Holy Spirit instituted her on the day of the Pentecost. Her new members are born of the Spirit in Baptism, they die and are raised with Christ. The Holy Spirit speaks in the Church through the Holy Gospel. When the Church asks for her daily bread, she is indeed asking for the Holy Spirit. She lives at a standard that is completely different from that of the world. She is consecrated to God, sanctified in Christ and through Him.
3- The Catholicity of the Church does not point to her global spread but to her entireness and completeness and her extension across (and beyond) time and place. She encompasses in her mystical body all believers from every land, tribe, tongue and nation. She also includes the heavenly victorious Church, the cloud of witnesses who surround us (Heb. 12:1). Every local church is a Universal Church filling the whole world. And as Saturday is the icon of the old creation, Resurrection Sunday is the icon of the new creation. According to the words of the Lord, the twelve disciples (new Israel), whom Christ has commissioned to preach the whole creation, replaced the twelve tribes of Israel, whom they will also judge.
4- The Church is Apostolic because she teaches what the apostles taught. Her faith, worship, and doctrine come directly from the apostles (Eph. 2:20).
Rev. Fr. Antonios Amin, pastor of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church, Heliopolis, Cairo, who is blessing our convention for the fourth consecutive year, gave the fourth lecture of the day. His talk, “The Church and the world”, was delivered after vespers and included the following:
1- The Church realizes that all people are created by God.
2- The Church does not discriminate between the clergy and the laity, everyone has his role and all the members are essential.
3- For the Church to influence the whole world, it has to be holy (“chaste virgin” 2Co. 11:2), and to live as a continuation of Christ incarnation. She cannot be a worldly institution with favoritism and corruption as in the world.
4- The Church is the kingdom of Christ on earth and therefore does not “conform to” (Ro. 12:2) the children of the world.
5- The Church is an “Ark” that can save all those fleeing from the flood of evil in the world.
6- The Church has the important role of defending justice, peace, human rights, purity, and family values and of resisting injustice, evil, and discrimination.
The Saturday program also included a full report of the activities of the Fellowship for the last year, presented by Dr. Ramzy Labib. He also presented the progress of the work of the Fellowship during the last 10 years since its foundation in 1992, reminding the members of the main purpose for its foundation, which is to evangelize the West with Orthodoxy, and how to carry out this mission. Through the years the Fellowship has been promoting the word of God through its periodic publications: “Short Notes on the Bible” (15 Notes), “Bible Characters” (7 Characters) and the “Word of Life magazine” (8 issues) and through the annual conventions in the U.S. and Canada, the audio- and video-tapes and the website on the internet. The number of its members has exceeded one thousand. However, there is much to be done yet to attain its goal, and all members should actively contribute to its cause.
The next day, Sunday 9/1, started with the Holy Liturgy ministered by Fr. Antonios Amin who also gave the sermon on “the end of the world” (Mark 13). The Liturgy was performed in the beautiful Orthodox Church of the Antiochian Village and everyone had communion (Photo #1), (Photo #2). After the Liturgy, the members went out to the village gardens where memorial group photos* were taken (Photo #3), (Photo #4). In the afternoon, Fr. Antonios Amin gave his second lecture on “The Church and Society”. He pointed to the influential role of the Church in the society, which is its field of work. The Church is responsible for the spiritual, mental, and social well being of the Society. The spiritual welfare is closely related to the physical, mental, and social well being. He noted how the Church in Egypt, in her revival in the middle of the last century, started the “Deaconate Service” directed to ministering of the villages which are deprived of churches. Thereafter, her ministry was extended to the handicapped such as the blind, the mute, and the mentally retarded, as well as medical services to the mothers and their children. Also, services were extended to improve the living conditions of her people through projects such as clean drinking water, education and literacy, and arts and industrial training, providing jobs for orphans and widows, helping the homeless boys and girls (age 13 - 19) to rescue them from spiritual, and social destruction. Also, facing the problems of addiction and youth deviation, and providing for housing to those who live in remote and underprivileged areas. In this respect, the “Bishopric of Social Services”, instituted by Pope Kyrillos the Sixth in 1962, became one of the most important and most active and influential Bishoprics. This bishopric took care in the last century of the Coptic immigrants everywhere so that by now they have hundreds of churches in the 5 world continents.
At the close of the day, Fr. Antonios Amin gave his third lecture, “The Church in our Homes”, showing how the house represents the small unit of which the whole Church is made. Consequently, the Church as a whole depends on this small unit for her spiritual growth and advance. The success of the small Church is based on the relation between the spouses, the parents and the children, and the children with each other and their interaction with the environment surrounding them. The life of worship and righteousness, love and cooperation, understanding, patience, endurance and reliance on the grace of God, and avoidance of evil, are all important factors in the success of the small Church and her peaceful overcoming of life storms. This will be reflected in the success of the whole congregation, the growth of the whole Church, and the extension of her ministry.
The third lecture on Sunday was given by Dr. Nos’hy Abdel-Shahid, Director of the Patristic Center in Cairo, who has been attending the convention for the fifth consecutive year. The title of the talk was “Jesus Christ, the Great Archpriest” as recorded in the Epistle to the Hebrews and in Revelation. He is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek to whom Abraham (and all the children of Israel including the Levites in him) gave the tenth of everything, and not according to the order of Aaron (of Levi children), where the priest repeatedly presents the sacrifice first for the purification of his own sins and next for the sins of all the people. Christ, through His perfect righteousness, entered the Holy of Holies once, with His own sacrifice, and instituted an everlasting salvation. In Christ was united the priest who offers the sacrifice, God to whom the sacrifice is offered, the sacrifice or the offering, and the people for whom the sacrifice is offered. Also, the perfect sacrifice of Christ has its redemptive power to the end of the days. On earth, Christ who is the High Priest, offers His Holy Body and Blood on the altar in the liturgy to the believers for the remission of their sins, for abiding in Him, and for eternal life, whereas the visible ministering priest becomes the servant of the Holies.
On Sunday, there was also a workshop organized by the youth, and moderated by Dr. Raouf Edward who is in charge of Fellowship chapter in Canada. The theme of the workshop was “What the youth demand from the Church and what the Church demands from the youth”. They fundamentally need each other, since the future of each of them is in the other. The youth require that the Church be at the level of the challenge, with the power of the Spirit, education, and perfection of the language, providing qualified bishops, priests, and consecrated servants, ready to deal with the surrounding environment, and to fulfill the spiritual, social, and intellectual needs of the youth. Also, the Church expects that the youth will know their responsibilities toward the Church in spreading orthodox Christianity and to witness in their own environment, also to present the Orthodox family values and themselves first as role models. The discussion was vibrant, and many of the audience were involved, confirming the vital role of the youth in extending the Church to the coming generations.
During the convention, there were both Arabic and English hymns accompanied by organ and piano under the direction of Mr. Akmal Hanna (Baltimore, MD) and Dr. Mona Armanios (Columbus, OH). Also, there was an announcement of the activity of Archangel Michael Coptic Care, a society founded early on by Fr. Matta El Meskeen with an auxiliary established in the US by Mrs. Heba Girgis and her mother Mrs. Hoda Nasralla who attended the convention. For the first time a survey, prepared by Dr. Raymond Girgis was distributed to evaluate the activities of the convention, to know the opinions of the members on the topics discussed, and the place of the convention, to obtain suggestions on next year convention, and on how to promote the work of the Fellowship.
On the last day of the Convention, Monday 9/2, Dr. Nos’hy Abdel-Shahid gave his second lecture on the “Role of Clergy and Laity in the Church”. The word Laity is derived from the Greek word “Laos” which means the people. Every Christian, including the Bishop, the Priest, the Deacon, is a member in the people of Christ, who was baptized, chrismated, an became a child of God, “He has given us the birth from above, by water, and the Spirit, and made us a unified people” (the Liturgy of St. Basil). The word “Kleros”, which means the heritage of God (1Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6) applies to those who were consecrated from the children of God, giving all their time to serve the people of God (1 Cor. 12: 27,28).
At the end of the lectures, there was a final discussion and an evaluation of the work of the Convention lead by Dr. Gamil Soliman. Once again, it was emphasized that the convention should have a special program for the youth and also they can join the adult in the lectures given in English. It was also suggested to have more free time and to emphasize on sports, recreation, and art works for the youth. Dr. Yousry Armanios will take the responsibility of the youth program and will be assisted by Dr. Raymond Girgis and others. Some members recommended that a list of e-mail addresses of all attendants should be provided to promote their communication with each other. This list is provided with the enclosed Newsletter. Members also agreed to have the convention next year during Labor Day weekend in a place other than the Antiochian Village, which is not available at this time. A preliminary suggestion for the theme of next year convention was: “Salvation: An Orthodox Perspective”. (Photo #5)
 - Two Brief Notes (in 7 pages) obtained from Orthodox and Catholic sources, and 3 audiotapes (90 min. each) are available for these 3 lectures (English language).
 - An audiotape (90 min.) is available for this lecture (Arabic language).
 - An audiotape (60 min.) and a handout (2 pages) are available for this lecture (English language).
* - Photos will be posted as links to this report on SMOF website. If you have photos for this conference that you like to post, please send them to SMOF (postal or –mail from the web site: www.mesk.com/SMOF/).
 - An audiotape (90 min.) is available for this lecture (Arabic language).
 - An audiotape (90 min.) is available for this lecture (Arabic language).
 - An audiotape (Arabic, 90 min.), and a handout (2 pages, English), are available for this lecture.
 - An audiotape (60 min.) is available for this workshop (English language).
 - An audiotape (Arabic, 90 min.), and a handout (one page, English), are available for this lecture.
 - An audiotape (90 min.) is available for this discussion (English language).