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On March 1–2, Fr. Caleb (SVOTS '07) and Mtka. Nicole Abetti and the community of St. Jacob of Alaska Mission in Northfield, VT, hosted the first of a series of "Holy Conversations." The all-day discussions about contemporary moral issues are in the works for dioceses throughout the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) as part of the stated goals of the OCA's 2011 Strategic Plan adopted after the 16th All-American Council in Seattle, WA. Titled "Holy Conversation on Marriage and Sexuality," the inaugural session in White River Junction, VT included two St. Vladimir's faculty members and several alumni who served as speakers and members of a panel.
After the opening remarks by His Eminence the Rt. Rev. Nikon, archbishop of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese, The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, dean and professor of Patristics at St. Vladimir's, and The Very Rev. Andrew Tregubov (SVOTS '95), presented the patristic and iconographic perspectives in their talks. On Saturday morning a panel discussion commenced with participants Dr. Albert Rossi, adjunct professor of Pastoral Theology, educator and author Mtka. Jennifer Mosher (SVOTS '09), The Rev. Theophan Whitfield (SVOTS '10), and Sister Nonna Harrison. Lastly, attendees participated in workshops to process the day's information.
"On Friday evening," said panelist Mtka. Jennifer Mosher, "Fr. John spoke on how becoming human does not fully happen until we die, and how the creation of male and female is unique to humanity in the creation account. Father Andrew then spoke about iconography and how the creation of man and woman, the love of the Trinity, the love of the Theotokos and Child and the love of married couples such as Anna and Joachim, are depicted therein. After the talks there was some time for questions, and some stayed even later for further discussion."
Saturday's panelists continued the dialogue. Dr. Rossi described male/female differences in psychology and relationships, Sr. Nonna compared and contrasted monasticism and marriage, Mtka. Jennifer explored marriage as the context for children and family life, and Fr. Theophan outlined the pastoral response to the most difficult questions regarding marriage and sexuality. These presentations offered much content as grist for the workshops that followed the lunch break.
"People asked questions or made comments about homosexual relationships, contraception, how youth relate to one another and to adults in our quickly evolving and high tech culture, the influence of media on people's expectations for their relationships and their family life, among many other things," noted Mtka. Jennifer. "It was intimate and friendly, and people engaged in a positive way. New England is a small diocese; we know Archbishop Nikon well and he was very much in the midst of the event speaking, answering questions, and sharing insights."
"The purpose of these Holy Conversations is to better communicate Orthodox Christian teachings on these issues and to discuss how they can be applied faithfully, charitably and effectively," said The Rev. John Vitko when the Vermont pilot program was announced in February. Father John, who chairs the Strategic Plan Committee and is the rector at St. Luke Church in McLean, VA, also noted that "an implementation team led by Priest Caleb Abetti will continue to work on identifying an appropriate format for conducting such conversations."