Over the recent Labor Day weekend of September 1-4, 2017, the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America (FOCA) held its 91st national convention at the Sheraton Hotel between Hershey and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – it was sponsored by the New Jersey District. Highlighting the annual gathering were the issuance of a primatial letter by the FOCA’s spiritual leader, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, expressly endorsing the Fellowship for its good works over the decades and encouraging parishes and individuals to participate in those worthy activities and programs as well as the presentation of this year’s “Gifts of Love” proceeds of over $12,500 to His Grace, Bishop David of Sitka and Alaska toward the restoration of the historic St. Nicholas Chapel in Kenai, Alaska. Also,
a youth council co-sponsored by the OCA and FOCA took place under the direction of Priest Benjamin Tucci, the Fellowship’s junior/youth director. His Eminence, Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey, participated throughout the convention, too.
Festivities opened on Friday evening with “Hersheyland,” a mouth-watering life-size version of the Candy Land game with eight imaginatively-decorated gingerbread men moving across the game board as conventioneers had the opportunity to mingle and get re-acquainted. The traditional procession and opening prayer service conducted by Metropolitan Tikhon marked the beginning of sessions Saturday morning followed by a memorial service officiated by Archpriest Theodore Boback, the FOCA national spiritual advisor; Deacon Peter Ilchuk, the new convention planning chair, assisted. National President Marge Kovach then called the convention to order as routine business was undertaken. Archbishop Michael provided an update on the married student housing project at St. Tikhon’s Seminary for which the Fellowship raised $300,000 in 2015. Unfortunately, the intended building proved to be unsuitable so plans are now being made to convert the former orphanage into a series of apartments for married seminarians: “We are forever grateful to FOCA for this major gift – the largest in your history – and ask for your patience. All of you are invited to attend the opening upon the project’s completion and rest assured that the Fellowship will be properly recognized.”
Metropolitan Tikhon noted; “we are continuing to expand the collaboration between FOCA and OCA. Three members of the Holy Synod are here again this year.” He expressed thanks for our many contributions, especially to Alaska and married student housing. His Beatitude also announced that he was releasing a letter of endorsement which, “was an easy letter to form given the FOCA’s generosity.”
Further stating, “I would like to see you expand your reach and ‘rethink’ the organization. How do you ‘fit in’ in a broader range of parishes, especially in the South and West? I encourage you to continue working with the youth and Bishop David and our new youth director, David Lucs, as well as Father Tucci.”
President Kovach then formally presented a ceremonial check for over $12,000 (as contributions continued) to Bishop David and Dorothy Gray of the Kenai parish for the restoration of the St. Nicholas Chapel. Mrs. Gray noted that this gift will enable them to receive matching funds from historic associations. Bishop David, who decided not to deliver his formal remarks, thanked the members “from the bottom of his heart” and noted that last year’s Yupik/English coloring books – funded by the FOCA – have been distributed and they will also be given to Yupik Moravian children.
Vespers was served in the convention chapel later that afternoon by Father Boback assisted by Deacon Ilchuk. Basil Kozak directed the group choir in the responses as he did all weekend. And that evening’s entertainment was a truly spectacular and inspiring performance by “The Tamburitzans” from Pittsburgh, the renowned folk dance and music troupe of college students whose concert entitled “Passages” featured a wide range of ethnic peoples, including those in the Balkans, Greece, Spain and even the Romani.
The hierarchal Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning was concelebrated in the chapel by Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop Michael, and Bishop David assisted by Archpriests Theodore Boback, William Evansky, Daniel Ressetar, Priest Benjamin Tucci, Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak and Deacon Peter Iluchk as well as several subdeacons and altar servers. In his homily, Bishop David focused on the Gospel parable of the wicked husbandmen and the vineyard, and reminded us that “all is a gift from God. We are so rich, the richest people who ever lived. But we seem to always want more and never have enough. What we have is not ours but God’s and we must always give back and help others in need.” Following liturgy, Metropolitan Tikhon presented Basil Kozak with a primatial gramota for his years of service as convention choir director.
The afternoon was filled with a variety of informal activities and get-togethers while others enjoyed the indoor-outdoor pool. The evening featured the “Fantastic Fare and Sweet Sounds” banquet and dance. Archbishop Michael, substituting for Metropolitan Tikhon (who had to leave early), read the new primatial letter (the text of which will be released separately) and then delivered his own remarks. “As a bishop, I want to honor your legacy and history but also wish to see the Fellowship grow for future generations. For next year’s All-American Council in St. Louis, I encourage you to make and show the most spectacular video possible showcasing your many activities, including the charitable contributions, the sports tournaments, the summer camps, and more. Introduce those attending to the Fellowship and invite them to join this worthy organization, not from a sense of pride but for the work of Christ the Lord, His Gospel and His Church!” In her address, President Kovach cited those specific acts of generosity emphasizing, “This is why we join, this is why we stay, this is why we perserve. Not because there is something in it for me, but because together we can make a difference.” She then awarded four $1,000 college/university scholarships. Dancing, both modern and folk, followed the dinner.
The final sessions were held Monday morning. Daria Miskiv and her New Jersey District convention committee were congratulated on a job well done. Elected as officers for 2018 are: President Marge Kovach, Vice President Allison Steffaro, Recording Secretary Matushka Danielle Ilchuk and Treasurer Michael Bowan. Father Ted Boback remains national spiritual advisor and Becky Tesar continues as immediate past president. In closing, delegates and friends formed a large circle, recited the motto “Pray, Study, Toil, Be Temperate,” squeezed tightly and then sang “Faith of Our Fathers,” the FOCA anthem.
A youth council with the theme “gratitude and giving” was held during the convention with Father Tucci and Rebecca Kozak leading the activities. The young people had an inspiring session with Archbishop Michael and outings to (a rainy) Hersheypark and the Turkey Hill Experience. In addition, they assembled “back to school” kits for needy students.
Next year’s convention is scheduled for July 20-23, 2018 at the Union Station Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri in conjunction with the OCA’s 19th All-American Council being held on July 23-27. For updates visit: https://19aac.oca.org/. The Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America, founded in 1927, is an official organization of the Orthodox Church in America. Detailed information, including how to join, may be found at www.OrthodoxFellowship.org.