Sons of St George (Farewell Address)

On my final Sunday (9/26/10) at St George – Houston, I’d thought that fashioning my farewell remarks around previous clergy would prevent my succumbing to side-swiping emotions. I was wrong; it was difficult. Below — sans quiver, tear and lump — is the text of the address.

Click on the “Son of St George” links for more info.

This is my last Sunday as a priest at St George, however I shall always be a Son of St George. With that in mind, I wanted to say a few words about your sons.

Being a Son of St George is a blessing beyond words. This is a special place. In trying to come up with words to define this “specialness” of St George, I have failed. But, I can say this … considering that it is love that saves: St George is a salvific oasis.

It’s not just the People — it’s also the Space, the beautiful Temple wherein the people are formed.

People and Space. Which comes first? I believe they both shape each other.

The Space, if one concentrates on any one aspect, is nothing spectacular.

The People, under individual scrutiny, would prove to be normal and ordinary. (That’s a good thing.)

But, when you combine all the visual aspects of the Space, working together, and all the People blended by love (Space and People) – it becomes a special tapestry, an extraordinary thing. It is St George’s gift.

It is not a gift to the Church … for it is the Church.

Rather, it is, as we say in the Divine Liturgy, “Thine own of Thine own …” offered to God, whereupon it is returned … redeemed.

Now, I would like to turn to the offspring of this Parish: the Sons of St George. Some of these men were baptized and nurtured here; others, like me, became Sons by adoption.

Click on the “Son of St George” links for more info.

I shall not mention all the men who have served here, only the ones whom I have met, only one of whom has passed on to life eternal, one whose name is almost synonymous with St George: Archimandrite John Namie. Fr John’s legacy lives on here, through the wonderful stories you all share. This Son of St George also left his indelible mark on another salvific oasis in Pennsylvania known as Antiochian Village (and the other camping programs, like our own Camp St Raphael, which have grown up from the seeds Fr John planted). May his memory be eternal!

Speaking of Pennsylvania, another Son of St George — Tommy Joseph, now Bishop THOMAS of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic — now serves the diocese which surrounds Antiochian Village.

Not long after you cross into the Republic of Texas, if you’re traveling from the East, you’ll bump into a Son of St George at a parish which was established by St Raphael of Brooklyn; that would be Archpriest Michel Pavez.

Travel to our State Capitol and you’ll find a thriving parish adjacent to the University of Texas, St Elias, where a Son of St George labors with love, Archpriest David Barr.

In another college town, Norman — home to the University of Oklahoma — a Son of St George, Archpriest Justin McFeeters, will, next month, host Bishop BASIL as they open the doors of their new temple dedicated to the Great Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension.

But, as some sort of fate would have it, Pennsylvania (particularly Pittsburgh) is never far from St George. Archpriest Joseph Shahda, not only shepherded this community during some of its most exciting times of transition and growth, but without his labors in the mission field our Diocese would be smaller, our witness weaker. As he prepares to become a Jiddo, he is remembered as not only a Son of St George, but a grandfather already to many.

I hope you will forgive me if I don’t say many words about “Mr Pittsburgh” my friend and boss Archpriest John Salem. That may seem unfair — but, you see, he’s still the Father here. And we all thank God for that! Many years, Abouna.

Recently, a truly remarkable thing happened in this Space among this People: a literal Son of St George was ordained to the Priesthood and placed just north of us in a parish which was, itself, born of St George — Fr Anthony Baba of the Church of St Anthony the Great in Spring.

And, next month our former Youth Director, Deacon Michael Sakran, another life-long Son of St George will be ordained, in this Space among this People, to the Holy Priesthood.

May God grant eternal memory to Fr John Namie, and may He grant these remaining Sons of St George many, many years of fruitful ministry.

I thank you all for letting me (and my family) be a part of, forgive me this, such a Winning Team.

Which brings me to Deacon Symeon Kees. Symeon, or as we used to say “Dana”, is every bit a literal Son of St George. He has been raised from his “birth” – that is, from the time of his conversion to Orthodoxy – by the loving oasis that is St George. As a Son of St George he has served as choir member, chanter, altar boy, teacher, catechist, bookstore manager, and deacon. Thank God y’all are finally going to give him something to do! 🙂

I know that you will, as you have done for me and all of these men, bestow on him something that, to my knowledge, is unique to St Church Church; that is, you will love him into becoming a better man, a better husband, a better priest as he serves this Space and this People.

Finally, I would like to say that, in a very real sense: All of us men gathered here today are Sons of St George – not just those of us who are ordained. And I think all men, Sons of St George, will agree:

It’s the women of St George that truly help to make this Space and this People so very, very blessed.

To all:

THANK YOU and MANY YEARS!

IMAGE: The granddaughter of Fr Thomas Hopko placing a red egg on the grave of Fr John Namie, Pascha 2008.

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