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Polycarp the Holy Martyr & Bishop of Smyrna; Proterios, Archbishop of Alexandria; Gorgonia the Righteous, sister of Gregory the Theologian; Damian the New Martyr of Mount Athos; Boswell, Abbot of Melrose Abbey
Participating priests with Archbishop Demetrios at the 2015 National Clergy Retreat in San Diego, California.
The Archdiocesan Presbyters Council hosted its largest-ever biennial National Clergy Retreat in San Diego, California, from November 3-6, 2015. The theme for the retreat, “Be Well. Be Real. Be Love.”, provided numerous opportunities for those in attendance to focus on physical, spiritual and emotional wellness and to return to their ministries with renewed energy, focus and dedication. These retreats, coordinated by the Archdiocesan Presbyters Council, are a central part of the mission of the APC “to serve the clergy of the Archdiocese by supporting our priests through spiritual growth, educational development and personal wellness.”
His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of the host Metropolis of San Francisco opened the event with a warm and personal welcome, followed by greetings from Retreat Chairman Father Louis Noplos, who had the pleasure of announcing that with nearly 180 hiearchs, priests and deacons present, it was the largest National Clergy Retreat in the history of the Archdiocese.
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios presided from the throne for the Divine Liturgy on Wednesday morning at Saint Spyridon Church in San Diego, with APC President Father John Touloumes and host priest Father Andrew Scordalakis serving. Following the Liturgy, the clergy were greeted with gracious hospitality and a delicious brunch by members of the Saint Spyridon Parish Council and Philoptochos. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios then offered a pastoral address and insights on the retreat theme.
Dr. Trent Orfanos, a respected cardiologist and dedicated servant of the Church, led the first “Encounter,” focusing on the “Be Well” segment of the theme. Using his own extensive experience supported by studies and research, he gave the clergy insights and advice on being good stewards of their gift of physical health. Strong emphasis was placed on the benefits of the “Mediterranean Diet,” a natural extension of the cultural environment in which our clergy serve. He also challenged the group with question such as “How do you benefit spiritually by being healthy?” and “What appropriate boundaries can you establish so that your health, which is essential for your ministry, will not be jeopardized?”
The second “Encounter” session was offered by His Grace Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, Ruling Hierarch of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA and former priest of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta. His Grace offered a powerful message calling on priests to “Be Real” in every of their ministry and life, drawing upon his own experience as a layman, priest and hierarch. He raised questions such as “What are mercy and compassion and how do they fit into our priesthood?” and “What are some of the challenges to your integrity?”
Workshop discussion groups, called “Engagements” and led by the APC representatives, provided all participants the opportunity to reflect, share and discuss their own experiences in an open and honest forum with their co-workers in Christ. Retreat attendees have expressed a great appreciation for the opportunity to do so and often note that those sessions are a highlight of the biennial retreat.
In keeping with the health and wellness theme, professional fitness trainers conducted sessions to teach the participants exercises and fitness techniques based on their level of activity. Meal selections were also based on healthy food choices throughout the event. George Caravakis from the Orthodox Health Plan was also on site to offer health and wellness information, including answering questions about the health insurance coverage and Aetna health incentive programs.
In keeping with the “retreat” model and offer opportunities beyond presentations and discussions, an afternoon of “adventures” was provided on Thursday, including options to tour the USS Midway Museum or enjoy an afternoon of fishing, golfing or simply relaxing personal refreshment time.
The retreat’s goals of providing crucial priestly fellowship as well as ministry enrichment were well-reflected in the comments of one participant, who said, “The retreat gave me an opportunity to meet and form relationships with other clergy around the country. Having this sort of support network is vital for me as a young priest.” This first-time participant also stated, “I was able to acquire new skills through presentations and workshops that I will be able to use in my ministry.” Archbishop Demetrios, recognizing the value and important of such opportunities, continued to challenge the APC to strive for even greater participation in the future so that all the clergy of our Archdiocese can share in those benefits.
Thanks go to the Metropolis of San Francisco and Saint Spyridon Church for their hospitality, and to all the communities of the Archdiocese who supported the attendance of their clergy. The APC is also grateful to all the Metropolitans who encouraged their clergy to attend as directed in the Archdiocese Regulations. Special thanks and recognition also go to Leadership 100, whose continuing support makes the event possible through its generous gift.
(Story also published in the January 2016 edition of the Orthodox Observer)