A Garden of Blessings for the Foundation and Growth of Holy Apostles
The blessing for the foundation of Holy Apostles Orthodox Church was given by Bishop Gabriel of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, on April 28th, 2001, on the eve of the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women. As long as I have my memory I will not forget that beautiful spring day. It was one of the most joyful days of my life - I felt as if I could walk on the tops of the trees. The blessing was given to dedicate the parish to the Lord's apostles. We had been given a gift of four relics for the future English mission parish. The relics were of the Holy Cross, St. Katherine, St. Jude the Apostle, and the Holy Apostle John the Theologian. Since two of the 4 relics were of the apostles, Fr. George chose the Holy Apostles as our patron saints, making use of that which we had been given. We have since been blessed to have three complete sets of relics of our patrons.
The first Divine Services at Holy Apostles were celebrated for the parish feast, the Synaxis of the 12 Apostles, on July 12th and 13th, 2001. The parish was founded with the threefold purpose of making available: 1) a full cycle of Divine Services in the English language 2) services held at normal hours and 3) a church in the Maryland suburbs.
In the spring of 1995, six years before the blessing was given by Bishop Gabriel to found Holy Apostles, on the eve of Holy Week, Bishop Hilarion gave his blessing to Fr. George and me for us to openly pray for and work towards the eventual establishment of the new mission parish. Fr. George and I wanted to start the new mission that year, but Vladika Hilarion instructed us to wait a little while. In church the next day, he gave us advice for the future mission, things such as "you'll need to have separate space for the mission. If you are in your house or in a garage, it will be hard to grow." He understood and supported our desire to pray in English, and our desire to be missionaries.
After receiving this blessing from Vladika Hilarion, for the next 6 years from 1995 to 2001, Fr. George and I dedicated ourselves to continuing our service to the Lord at St. John's, where we had been since our conversion to Orthodoxy in 1986. The English community grew, and more English services were added to the schedule. The English Sunday School program continued to grow. With Archbishop (now Metropolitan) Laurus' blessing we offered English music conferences. Also with his blessing, we began publishing an English Sputnik Psalomshchika, or Church Singer's Companion, a project of transplanting the Russian chant into the English language. On Saturdays, the 5:00 PM English Vespers was replaced with a 4:00 PM English Vigil. The Sunday 7:40 AM Hours & Divine Liturgy continued, being served an average of 3 times a month, sometimes more often. With Bishop Hilarion's blessing we published the Orthodox Family magazine, which eventually became part of Orthodox America.
We hope that one day there will also be a mission of the Russian Church Abroad in the Virginia suburbs. We actually hope there will be several missions in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, because as of 2005, the DC Metropolitan area has a population of over 5.9 million people "in a region that extends from the Western shore of the Chesapeake Bay to Northern Virginia horse country." (The Washington Post, April 15, 2005) Wouldn't it be wonderful to see Orthodox churches dotting the landscape across the whole area, across our whole country?
Glory to God, there is now a growing new group of Christians gathering in the Maryland suburb of Beltsville; praying together, working out their salvation in the new parish community. Glory to God, since the mission began, the English community at St. John's has also grown and is thriving. This is the nature of missionary work, this is how the Faith spreads unto the ends of the world.
I feel as if each one of these blessings is a spiritual flower in the garden of our parish - the two blessings from Archbishop Hilarion, the blessing from Bishop Gabriel, and the blessing from our dearly beloved godmother Tatiana Vsevolodovna. I am sorry that Tatiana Vsevolodovna did not live to see the little church. I think she would have loved it very much. As I light a candle for her at the Memorial table and pray for her, I often also ask for her help. She often helped me in life, and I believe we still receive her help. In a way, she is one of the founders of our parish.
We try to hold fast the traditions of our fathers in the Faith, which we greatly treasure. We follow the Church (Julian) calendar for our cycle of services, as does the rest of the Russian Church. We worship in the English language, following the long-standing missionary traditions of our Faith to offer the Divine Services to the people of a nation in their own language. We are dedicated to following the royal path, as described by Fr. Seraphim Rose:
The Lord says, "Look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest" (John 4:35). I hope and pray that the Lord will bring to Holy Apostles church workers who will give their lives to this salvific work, following in the footsteps of our holy patrons, the Lord's apostles. The work is soul-saving both for those who find the True Faith through the missionary's efforts, and for the missionary himself. "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." - James 5:19-20.
The week of the Prodigal Son, 2008