Alumni Board Chair Hosts Dean for New England Retreat and Gathering

13-14 January 2013 • Off Campus • Virginia Nieuwsma 

Gregory Abdalah and Bishop JohnGregory Abdalah and Bishop JohnOn Sunday evening, a group of St. Vladimir's Seminary's friends gathered in Westboro, MA, at the Self–Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese 's Diocese of Worcester and New England Chancery. Alumni and other long–time supporters of the school invited by Alumni Board Chair Gregory Abdalah (SVOTS '08) met for refreshments, fellowship, and presentations about the work of the Seminary.

In a brief reflection, His Grace the Right Rev. John (Abdalah) shared his memories of St. Vladimir's and emphasized the Seminary's importance in his formation as a priest and hierarch. Following His Grace's talk, SVOTS Dean and Professor of PatristicsSept., 2012: Bishop John addresses community in Three Hierarchs ChapelSept., 2012: Bishop John addresses community in Three Hierarchs Chapel The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr then updated the guests as to recent developments at the Seminary and future projects under discussion, such as an international house of studies which would serve Orthodox scholars and students from around the world.

"It was an honor to host an event celebrating the 75th anniversary of St. Vlad's in New England," enthused Gregory Abdalah. "I hope this is the beginning of a resurgence in the bonds between my beloved alma mater and this region."

On Monday morning, Antiochian clergy from the Diocese of Worcester and New England convened over breakfast at the Chancery before participating in a morning clergy retreat led by Fr. John Behr. Dean Behr spoke about topics covered in his upcoming SVS Press book Becoming Human. "We talked about how we know Christ through the opening of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread in the light of His Passion, His conquering of death by His death, and how the early martyrs saw their own impending martyrdom as a birth in which they are conformed to Christ.

Fr. John Behr speaks at 2012 Lenten RetreatFr. John Behr speaks at 2012 Lenten Retreat"With all this in mind," Fr. John noted, "we then turned to today's pastoral challenge. By and large we don't view the realities of death in the way that earlier generations did. The bodies of the deceased are no longer kept at home, laid out for the wake until taken to church to be commended to God and interred in the earth. Instead they are taken away as soon as possible, to be made up to look as if they are still living. Then the funeral service, with the body present commending them to God, is often replaced with a 'memorial event' at which the body is no longer there."

Continued Fr. John, "but if Christ shows us what it is to be God in the way that he dies as a human being, then, if we remove the face of death from society as we have done, we also remove the face of God. This is, I would suggest, the most important pastoral challenge facing us today."

After the retreat, Bishop John expressed appreciation for the opportunity to hear Fr. John's patristic and scholarly reflections. "The clergy were so impressed with Fr. John's presentation that they asked him to return and do a more extensive retreat for them," he said.