NEW TO ORTHODOXY?
Orthodox worship can seem strange to someone who has never been to an Orthodox Church before. However, we believe that our worship must be in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Our worship is Biblical:
Orthodox worship is rich with scriptures -- not just the reading of the scriptures, but from the hymns to the petitions, everything we do in worship is based on scripture. The Book of Psalms is often called the Hymnbook of the Church, and we sing and read a lot of them! Orthodox Christians often memorize many Psalms simply from hearing them so often in our worship services.
However, you'll not only hear scripture, you'll see it. The patterns of Orthodox worship, based in the Christian fulfillment of Jewish liturgical worship, is most fully a manifestation of descriptions we read about in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews and in the Book of Revelation. We join into the worship that is eternally sung before the throne of God (Isaiah 6:1-3).
You'll also see that Orthodox Christians stand a lot during worship. While there are chairs and pews, able-bodied Orthodox Christians prefer to stand in worship, because they are in the very Presence of God!
The Sacraments Give Us Life:
We participate in the new life of the Kingdom of God through the sacraments (mysteries) by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, we die and rise with Christ (Romans 6:1-11). In the Eucharist, we are sustained by Christ's Body and Blood (John 6:32-58). In Holy Anointing, our sins are forgiven for healing (James 5:14-16). Each sacrament is the way faithful Orthodox Christians participate in the Divine Life given to us as a gift here and now, and as a foretaste of our eternal inheritance.
The most distinctive feature of Orthodox Churches is their use of iconography or holy images. Simply put, icons testify to the truth of the incarnation of Christ. He became a man, and therefore He can be pictured. Orthodox Christians would say, in fact, that He must be pictured. Otherwise, we can easily forget that He became a real human for our sake, and that He came to redeem humanity. He is, indeed, the God-Man, fully divine as the eternal Word of God (John 1:1-5). But He became truly human, like us in everything but sin (Hebrews 4:15).
We kiss the icons of Christ, His Mother, and the Saints, not out of idolatry (God forbid!), but out of honor. The honor we show passes to the person whose image is depicted.
The Sign of the Cross:
You'll see Orthodox Christians trace the sign of the cross on their bodies frequently. This is the traditional way in which we bless ourselves, and in which we are blessed by others. Making the sign of the cross is one of the most ancient practices of Christians, and it is the sign par excellence of Christianity.
Orthodox Christians love to sing! Our singing is always unaccompanied by any musical instruments. This is another sign that our worship is joined to the heavenly choirs with the angels and all the saints who gather around the throne of God and of the Lamb.
We want you to feel welcomed during our services. While Orthodox worship may seem somewhat unfamiliar, we believe fully and without reservation that Orthodox worship is the way worship is supposed to look like. This is worship as it was always meant to be. Discovering it for the first time has been an overwhelming sense of joy for people around the world, and we hope you'll come to discover that too.
If you're a first time visitor to an Orthodox Church, we encourage you to read 12 Things I Wish I'd Known: First Visit to an Orthodox Church at https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/frederica/12-things.
[Taken from https://www.orthodoxpittsburgh.org/newtoorthodoxy ]
THE LIGHT AND JOY OF THE LORD
By The Very Rev. Dr. Jason DelVitto, Pastor of St. George Church, Bridgeville, PA
[ NOTE: Pittsburgh FOCUS is now called Neighborhood Resilience Project. More information can be found here: https://neighborhoodresilience.org/ ]
The ordination of Deacon Paul Abernathy to the Holy Priesthood took place on Saturday, August 27, 2016, at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, Bridgeville, PA, with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph and His Grace Bishop Thomas, ordaining hierarch.
If one could express in words the spirit of a very special weekend in the life of our Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, and in particular among the members of St. George Church, Bridgeville, PA and of St. Moses the Black Mission located in Hill District of Pittsburgh, I believe that we would describe this as a 'weekend of joy, thanksgiving, peace and gladness in the Lord.' I am referring to the celebration of the ordination of Deacon Paul Abernathy to the Holy Priesthood of the Orthodox Church. By the grace of the Holy Spirit and with blessing of our father in Christ, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, and through the hands of His Grace Bishop Thomas of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and Mid-Atlantic, faithful and dedicated parishioner Deacon Paul Abernathy was ordained to the Holy Priesthood during the Hierarchical Liturgy on Saturday, August 27, 2016 at St. George Church. The Very Rev. Joshua Makoul of St. George Cathedral in Oakland and I served as Fr. Paul’s sponsors.
Sixteen clergy from various Orthodox jurisdictions, including priests, deacons, and subdeacons celebrated the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with an overflowing crowd of faithful parishioners from the communities of St. George and St. Moses Mission. Others included Fr. Paul’s and Kh. Kristina’s family members and friends, as well as co-workers at the FOCUS Center (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve) in Pittsburgh and other organizations. The Divine Liturgy radiated with a Paschal sense of joy as all of the faithful of God gathered to celebrate the Liturgy graced with the light and love which radiates from our risen Lord. May God be praised for this liturgy and every liturgy!
The celebrative joy continued following the ordination as over 150 guests gathered for a luncheon reception in honor of Fr. Paul and Kh. Kristina at the social hall of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, Mt. Lebanon, PA. At the reception, His Grace Bishop Thomas offered a congratulatory message to Fr. Paul and Kh. Kristina, offering his paternal expression of love and guidance to them, and his prayers that God will continue to strengthen and guide them throughout their lives as servants of God. The Very Rev. John Finley, director of the Department of Missions and Evangelism, shared a personal testimonial in honor of Fr. Paul and Kh. Kristina, which proved to be very moving and telling as to the respect and love that Fr. John has for these two servants of the Lord.
The next day, Sunday, August 28, Fr. Paul celebrated his first Divine Liturgy at the FOCUS Pittsburgh Center in Pittsburgh. His Grace Bishop Thomas presided and Fr. John Finley and I served as well. Among the faithful gathered for the liturgy were Fr. Paul’s family and friends, members and catechumens of St. Moses Mission, Mr. Paul Finley who serves as Director of FOCUS Cleveland, and other faithful believers in the Pittsburgh area.
I would like to share with you a reflection of sorts, albeit brief, given the vast scope of Fr. Paul’s work in the Church and its various ministries. This can provide the background and context within which our Lord has been working through Fr. Paul and Kh. Kristina and their staff and volunteers. Countless people have and are being blessed to be served through their self-sacrificial love and spiritual leadership. It will also be helpful for me to share something about their respective educational backgrounds as well as their faithfulness in the work of the Church. The reason for this is, I believe, that given the expertise and talents that they have gained through their academic pursuits, the most important and profound reality is how they are offering their abilities, talents, and professional experiences to the glory of God and in service to their fellow humans. As we all may be aware, academic excellence is to the cherished and honored even more when it is offered in prayer and service to God and his people.
Father Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Studies from Wheeling University, Wheeling, WV, a Master of Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Divinity Degree with distinction from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, South Canaan, PA. He is also a veteran of the Armed Forces who honorably served his country.
Khouria Kristina holds a Bachelor of Sciences Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Science Degree in Community Leadership from Duquesne University.
Kristina Elias grew up as a member of St. Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church, Greensburg, PA, the church in which she and Paul were married. Now Fr. Paul and Kristina serve as a team; Fr. Paul the Director of FOCUS and Kristina is the Clinic Administrator of the FOCUS Pittsburgh Free Health Center.
Father Paul's Journey of Faith
In reflecting on Paul’s journey, I vividly recall the day that he asked for a meeting with me as he had set himself on a path to learning more about the Orthodox Church. I was greatly impressed not only of Paul’s theological knowledge which he had gained through his own studies, which readily became apparent at this initial meeting, but equally or more importantly, I was deeply moved by his sense of reverence and commitment to our Lord and His mission and his desire to seek avenues in which he could nurture and bring to fruition those desires. After that initial encounter, Paul began a more formal study the tenets of the Orthodox faith through a life of personal and the corporate prayer life of the Church. After his completion of the catechumenate, he was received into the Orthodox Christian Church through the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation on January 20, 2002 at St. George Church. His beloved uncle, Mr. Michael Cross of blessed memory, an extraordinarily faithful member of our parish, stood as the sponsor for Paul as it was through the loving and caring encouragement of Mr. Cross that Paul was encouraged to further his pilgrimage to the Orthodox Faith which had already been in progress for quite some time.
It was not long after Paul became a parishioner of the parish that the people of St. George began to cherish his presence within the community as he exhibited a tremendous spirit of love and dedication to his fellow parishioners of all ages, stages in life and backgrounds. It quickly became apparent among the faithful that this was a man of deep conviction, integrity, dedication, hard work, and most of all, a man who radiated a sincere and abiding love for God and all whom God had placed in his path and likewise he in theirs.
As a dedicated layman, Paul then developed and maintained multiple leadership roles at St. George Church including, but by no means limited to: his membership on the Parish Council and the Building Committee, which was commissioned with building a new church complex currently near completion, his role as a leader and teacher among the parishes singers and chanters, his role as an educator of the faith through St. George’s Parish Educational Program, his leadership and care for the youth of the parish, and as the coordinator of the parish Ministry to the Poor. In light of his dedicated service, on October 16, 2006, Paul was ordained a Subdeacon by His Grace Bishop Thomas at St. George Church and, as his ministry flourished, Subdeacon Paul was ordained to the Holy Diaconate serving his home parish of St. George until the time of his ordination to the priesthood almost one year after being ordained a deacon by His Grace Bishop Thomas.
Prior to his ordination to the Holy Orders, and at the caring and fatherly encouragement and advice of His Grace Bishop Thomas, Fr. Paul accepted His Grace’s challenge to put the training that Paul had received into practice as a seminarian and graduate of St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. His Grace introduced Paul to a number of Orthodox Christians in the Pittsburgh area who, at that time, were contemplating supporting a local outreach program under the umbrella of FOCUS North America. Bishop Thomas not only encouraged Paul to undertake this missionary vision of service in the Hill, but on many occasions throughout the years, His Grace visited, and continues to do so, the people in the Hill speaking with them, blessing them and offering encourage and hope as well as participating in various celebrations related to FOCUS and the St. Moses Mission.
Outreach and Ministry
It was in January of 2011 that the ministry of FOCUS began and Fr. Paul was appointed Director of FOCUS Pittsburgh, a thriving center of prayer, evangelism, and outreach.
Father Paul’s ministry continued to expand within his home parish and throughout the residents of the Hill District of Pittsburgh. 'The Hill,' as it is commonly referenced by the people of Pittsburgh and as described by Fr. Paul, is today a predominately African-American community which over the years has seen a decline in living standards with a high unemployment and crime rate, food insecurity, and poorly performing schools, along with many other challenges. Rising to those challenges, Fr. Paul, Kristina, and an army of volunteers from various church, volunteer and local university communities and professional sports teams, are making a truly miraculous impact in the daily lives of those in need. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been collected in an ongoing effort to help implement and fund a variety of programs which include the establishment of a free Health Center which is the first comprehensive Orthodox Christian health center in the United States. The Health Center offers free primary and behavioral health care along with dental care. In addition, a trauma-informed community strategy has been implemented in order to raise awareness of the untold pain that residents in the Hill have experienced for generations. Through this strategic program, work is being done to establish healthy, healing micro-communities throughout the Hill and beyond.
Through the grace of God, another wonderful ministry has emerged. At the initiative of Steven and Shadia DelVitto and with assistance of Gregory and Daniel DelVitto and the parishioners of St. George Church, the 'Backpack Feeding Program' was established. The Program provides nutritious backpacks of food for children in need over the weekends as many of these children do not receive the nutrition that is necessary for maintaining their health and growth. For a variety of reasons, it is during the weekends that it is critical that the children receive ample nutrition.
The first backpack feeding event was held in the parish hall of St. George and continued for several months, which saw a number of volunteers gather each week to prepare and pack 50 backpacks of food which were then distributed to the children in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. According to Steven DelVitto, manager of the FOCUS Backpack Feeding Program, to date the weekly distribution now exceeds 2,500 backpacks a week which are distributed through twenty six schools in the Pittsburgh area. In addition, a hot meal is served from the FOCUS Center every Wednesday from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m., along with distribution of clothing and other basic items. Hundreds of people are fed each week with both physical and spiritual nourishment including a lunch distribution program sponsored by the Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood of Greater Pittsburgh and many other benefactors.
At the FOCUS Center via the Mission, Fr. Paul and Kh. Kristina continue to organize and lead daily prayer and weekly scripture studies which are available to anyone who would like to participate; numerous people have availed themselves of these opportunities to grow and be nurtured in our Lord and His Church. Multitudes of those afflicted with suffering and pain on various levels find love and comfort and care that is graced by our Lord Himself.
The Nurturing of St. Moses Mission
In tandem with the work accomplished through FOCUS, Fr. Paul and Khouria Kristina continued to nurture the catechumens of the Mission with the assistance and dedication of the parishioners of St. George and many other Orthodox communities in the area. One expression, among many, of their care for those entrusted to them stands out to me. For the past several years, Fr. Paul and Kh. Kristina, as well fellow parishioners, would travel to the residences of people in the Hill to pick them up and transport them to St. George for worship on Sundays and feast days, all year long and through all types of Pittsburgh weather. From this nurturing act of love, seven catechumens were baptized at St. George Church, finding their home in the Orthodox Faith. Our parishioners of St. George have truly been blessed to gather in prayer and fellowship over the years with these wonderful and faithful people and have been graced to learn much from them through their love, trials and tribulations. Their lives have been truly transformed by and for the glory of God.
Recently, a new phase in the lives of those faithful members and many others emerged. His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph gave his blessing for Fr. Paul to serve as the priest and spiritual father of the members of the St. Moses Mission at the FOCUS Center, until such a time when the Mission is able to acquire a permanent home for worship in the Hill. Now, with great thanksgiving and joy, Fr. Paul and Khouria Kristina will be worshipping with their flock in the Hill celebrating the Divine Liturgy every Sunday and feast days in the continuous offering of prayer to God and offering His comfort and healing for all of God’s people.
In America, prior to mass suburbanization and sprawl, our great cities served as, not only cultural and business hubs, but thriving centers of families. Some of those neighborhoods were virtually cities within a city, especially when it came to divisions of ethnicity and color.
These places had their own histories; their own sports and entertainment culture; and in some cases, even their own language. But as people fled the old urban centers, many of these areas fell into decay and many lost the proud identity they once had maintained.
Rarely, has one of these 'cities within a city' been mourned as much as Pittsburgh's Hill District.
The Hill, or 'Little Harlem' as it was referred to from the '30s thru the '50s, was one of the elite African-American neighborhoods in America. It was home to one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country, as well as one of its hottest clubs, The Crawford Grill, which was owned by Gus Greenlee.
The Crawford Grill was a well-known place for jazz luminaries such as Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Errol Garner and Dizzy Gillespie to cool out and blow into the night for their peers, for each other or just an appreciative group of fans and friends. Greenlee, aside from running a successful numbers operation, also owned one the Negro League's finest teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Crawfords featured players such as Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and maybe the greatest of all, Josh Gibson. In 1932, in the heart of the Hill, Greenlee built the first black-owned and black-built baseball park in America, Greenlee Field.
The Hill District was fraying around the edges by the dawn of the 1950s. The city of Pittsburgh, hot on the idea of urban renewal and needing a place to erect a new arena, decided to completely demolish the now-decaying lower Hill District. More than 8,000 residents and over 400 businesses were displaced, effectively changing the Hill forever.
The Hill took on further damage in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Racial tensions had been building in Pittsburgh for years when the assassination occurred, and King's senseless murder ignited the long-simmering powder keg. The National Guard was called in to enforce a curfew on an angry community, and the riots, which began April 5, 1968, raged until April 12. The week of violence saw 505 fires, $620,000 in property damage, one death and 926 arrests.
The following decades saw the Hill descend into an area of crime and poverty. Even now, the Hill exists as a place to avoid for many Pittsburghers. It had become its own notorious world apart from the rest of the city.
Today, much of the Hill that existed is gone, erased by the wrecking ball and pure decay. In its place, stand empty lots, decaying homes, the occasional jitney stand, a few remaining struggling businesses and the specter of a storied past. Movements were always afoot to aid the neighborhood in restoring some of its cultural glory, but those plans rarely took hold for any length of time.
The building that displaced much of the Lower Hill, the Civic Arena, is dismantled. The arena has been replaced by the Consol Energy Center a few hundred feet away, and again, renewal in the Lower Hill is a hot topic. Of course, one can't blame its long-suffering residents for being skeptical of such things.'
The above article ends on very sad notes. Nevertheless, the Lord has called us, the members of the parish of St. Moses the Black Orthodox Church and the Neighborhood Resilience Project to envision and by the Grace of God Himself, diligently strive for the revival and salvation of our community. May we prove ourselves worthy of such a great calling and honor!