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Report by A J Kostiha on OCA All-American Council 2018 St. Louis Missouri


..This year, the 19th council of the Orthodox Church in America, presided over by His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, was held in the large, interesting city of St Louis, Missouri State, Diocese of the Midwest, from July 23rd to 27th. With the blessings of Archbishop Irenee and Father Michael, I was able to attend this great and important event, which I combined with a holiday to other places, mainly to visit my many family members in Kansas and Oklahoma states. The church council generously paid my council fees, all other expenses were paid for by myself.

The council itself took place in the beautifully renovated historic station hotel with new additions, a very large, comfortable hotel with excellent facilities and service. We were all given excellent room rates, and most things were very well organized. Unfortunately, there were very few Canadians attending, and a few of us, especially myself, had major difficulties checking into the hotel. Both of my bank cards would not work, therefore, I was not able to use them. This was a very stressful situation. I missed much of the first day as I had to make many phone calls to my bank and credit union to fix this problem.

During this time, I had the honor of a short visit with Vladyka Ireney, and also met Anna Miller, the diocesan secretary. From the beginning, it was wonderful to see so many clergy and laypeople gathered together for this important event; I especially noted the large numbers of children/youth present, adding their interest and enthusiasm to the event.

I especially enjoyed spending much of my free time just watching people and looking over the many interesting and often beautiful items for sale and on display in the many stalls/booths on the main concourse. This was very educational. I am including some photos of this and photos of the hotel itself. In general, I found the food/meal services were very inconvenient, inadequate and rather expensive; parking also was inconvenient, and expensive, but available. I often feel expenses are too high for such events in some respects. Each day began with divine liturgy and ended with vespers, there was also an akathist served after liturgy. The Thursday morning hierarchical liturgy was especially beautiful and impressive.

There were many activities and sessions/meetings for the large numbers of youth, our future. They are here now, and need to feel they belong, to be educated and guided in our holy orthodox faith. This was strongly emphasized. There is an excellent video regarding all this; one of the main themes is that our youth are the future, but they are here now, and need support and encouragement now.

The council was divided each day into different meetings, lectures, business sessions and forums/plenary sessions to deal with a wide range of topics and issues regarding the church. Some were private; some were open for all who wished to attend, some involved discussions and voting on certain matters, mostly dealing with American issues. There was a strong emphasis on youth issues, reports, elections, discussion forums and plenary sessions which covered a wide variety of topics and issues pertinent to the theme of the assembly, for the life of the world.

Each day had a busy schedule, beginning with liturgy at 6am, ending with vespers at 5pm.

There was a wide range of church business and reports and topics for the various sessions and forums. Much of this, while important and interesting, applies more to America than it does to Canada. This is my observation after attending some of the forums and plenary sessions. It is really wonderful to see the church at work and to participate in this, as well as to observe and learn. The church needs to be revitalized and struggles with todays society, but this has always been an issue. Repentance, honesty, unity and cooperation are necessary, and can be clearly seen in todays world and current events.

On Thursday, there was a magnificent divine liturgy celebrated, followed by more business/plenary sessions, discussion forums and youth activities. The plenary sessions mainly dealt with reports, housekeeping issues, clergy issues. A lot was presented in a very short time. The church struggles with todays society and needs our support. Honesty and repentance are needed for the church to grow, along with unity and mutual cooperation and respect. Some awards and gifts were presented to some of the clergy present, at the end of liturgy.

There was a well attended formal banquet on Thursday evening, at which there were several speakers, including Archbishop Leo of Finland and Archbishop Michael of the Czech Republic, a good example of unity and cooperation between autocephalous churches. I was pleasantly surprised that Archbishop Michael of Prague was present. I have attended liturgy many times at the cathedral of Sts Cyril and Mefodius in Prague on visits to some family members there. I was very pleased that I was able to understand most of his speech. As orthodox Christians, we are all connected through the sacraments and love, as we struggle with todays society.

The next day, the council came to an end as most people prepared to return home, however I stayed 6 more weeks. I went on a 3 week road trip after the council. The first day was Sunday, so I attended liturgy at the beautiful, historic Russian orthodox church of St Michael, near downtown St Louis. Sadly, the church is in bad repair, and almost empty. It was a similar situation in Pittsburgh, at St Marys church. I found this very distressing, and thankful that Holy Resurrection church, which went through some very difficult times, never reached this point.

Thanks be to God and a few dedicated people. My trip took me to many places, such as some small towns in Tennessee, one of which has a small, well attended ROCOR church in a beautiful rural setting. At each, I was warmly welcomed to their coffee hours, which we no longer have. I slowly drove back to Kansas city/topeka to visit some family members before flying home from KC. As usual, I attended the small, well organized active Antiochian parish in topeka, a very positive experience, I was practically adopted!

After nearly a month in Kansas, I was ready to come home.

A J Kostiha

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