9–10 March 2013 • Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida • Virginia Nieuwsma
On a sunny Florida Saturday in early March, The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, dean and professor of Patristics at St. Vladimir's Seminary, presented two parish retreats on the topic "Becoming Human." In the morning of March 9 at the St. Stephen the Protomartyr  parish (Orthodox Church in America) in Longwood, FL, Fr. John was warmly welcomed by The Rev. Daniel Hickman (SVOTS '10), who not only studied at St. Vladimir's but also served as SVS Press Bookstore Operations Manager and starred on the SVOTS basketball team before leaving New York to assume his ministry in Longwood.
Father John spoke to a full house, unpacking the same themes he elucidates in his upcoming Fall 2013 SVS Press  book Becoming Human. Exhibiting the hospitality so legendary in the South, parishioners threw a pre–Lenten barbecue for Fr. John after the retreat. "The St. Vlad's author, dean, and professor was well received by the pan–Orthodox community of Central Florida," noted Fr. Daniel. "People came from at least seven local parishes to hear his retreat, in which he challenged us with a unique and careful reading of the Scriptures. Our theology reading group looks forward to studying his new book when it comes out."
From the Orlando area, Fr. John and Associate Director for Advancement Tim Nieuwsma drove north, where Fr. John offered the second retreat at St. Justin Martyr Orthodox Church  (OCA) in Jacksonville. The parish rector, The Very Rev. Ted Pisarchuk (SVOTS '94) and a full house of attendees listened intently as Fr. John presented a summary of the meditations on Christian anthropology found in greater detail in his soon-to-be–released book. Again, Southern hospitality was in evidence, as the community hosted a reception following the retreat. On Sunday morning, Fr. John returned to St. Justin Martyr where he taught an adult Sunday School class, served Divine Liturgy, and offered the homily. Wrapping up the visit, the parish with "the best coffee hour in Jacksonville" (according to the website! ) hosted the St. Vladimir's dean for another delicious Southern barbecue.
"It was a great blessing to be with the Orthodox Christians of Florida, who are hospitable, dedicated and enthusiastic," noted Fr. John. Before returning to New York, Fr. John and Tim Nieuwsma stopped by the headquarters of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) in St Augustine, where they toured OCMC's beautiful facilities dedicated in May, 2009. They were hosted by the former Executive Director of OCMC, His Grace Bishop Dimitrios (Couchell) of Xanthos, along with Assistant Missionary Coordinator Margo Kelley. Bishop Dimitrios is a veteran of numerous inter-Orthodox efforts in America, including the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), now found on many college and university campuses.