There are so many things to be divided over this year. The arguments about the Black Lives Matter movement, whether or not it is disrespectful not to stand and salute the American flag when the National Anthem is played, Clinton vs. Trump; you would think that an African-American priest would speak from the topic of racial reconciliation. It would be expected that an inner city church would be catering only to a black congregation. Somewhere in the madness that is American society, we ought to see that there is a higher common ground that we all should humble ourselves to aim for. The aim for that common ground is what I experienced Friday, August 26th thru Sunday, August 28th. This was the weekend we observed the Feast of St. Moses the Black.
Fr. Jerome Sanderson of the Bulgarian Archdiocese was the guest speaker for the VABSMB Symposium held at St. Basil Orthodox Church on Friday night. In his talk, Fr. Jerome described the formation and mission of our Brotherhood. We are a multi-ethnic, pan Orthodox fellowship committed to sharing the Gospel with people from all walks of life and the study of the African saints and their influence on the Church. While struggles for justice are (unfortunately) necessary in our society, we must see that there is a greater existence for us to aim for; to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God and in His righteousness. As Orthodox Churches reach out to communities beyond their ethnic origins, God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. St. Basil is an Antiochian parish with a motley crew of Eastern European descendants, Ethiopians, white, and a slowly growing number of black converts. It doesn’t take much to create such a fellowship. Often, it only takes a mere reaching out and making friends.
After an all-night bus ride, I had the pleasure of spending time with some of my first friends in the Brotherhood in Pittsburgh Sunday. Subdeacon John Norman and his lovely Ethiopian wife, Hiwote, drove me around town to a few notable places before arriving at the FOCUS Pittsburg Center. There, the newly formed St. Moses the Black Antiochian Orthodox Mission was holding its first Orthros and Divine Liturgy with the newly ordained pastor, Fr. Paul Abernathy on the feast day of St. Moses. When he was serving as a Subdeacon, Bishop Thomas declared more than once that he would make Paul a priest if he would find a wife first. Kristina is an absolute jewel. And so is this little parish community in the city’s Hill District. The Hill was once filled with Greeks, Slavs, and Syrians as well as blacks working in the steel mills. Hyper segregation and white flight has dramatically changed the ethnic make up of the district. But, the Church named for a Nubian holy man is a place where hope for the poor and a common humanity in Christ is restored.
But, my day and journey was far from over. The same day, John and Hiwote drove me to the Antiochian Village in Ligoner for my residency program for the Antiochian House of Studies. I would be there until Friday, September 2nd. Looking at the somewhat racially ambiguous skin tones fo the iconography reminded me of the fact that first century Antioch was a very cosmopolitan city with people from all over the world. Two of the clergymen who ordained Barnabas and Saul were Africans (Acts 13:1). I was merely taking a seat reserved by Lucius of Cyrene and Simeon called Niger (Jeff McKinney took the other one). It was a blessing to meet classmates and professors from various parts of the country (some I met through Facebook), and the world; including Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Middle East. A couple of days later, my friends Jason Gagnon and Sam Mosher and I walked over to the camp chapel. There was a Byzantine and Coptic icon of St. Moses and a box of his relics. I don’t disregard marches and protest to take a stand against injustice. But, perhaps more of us should make friends and take walks with them.