To the faithful Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Western America :
1. Over the course of the last 12 months, I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit and extend pastoral blessing in all the faithful parishes of the Diocese. As the faithful communally worshipped our Lord during the Divine Liturgy, " decently and in order " (1Cor 14:40), love and spiritual unity have increased. Celebrating this year by the Grace of God the forty-fifth anniversary of the Western American Diocese we are all in one accord and one heart united in One Faith to glorify the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The importance of remembering that it is only by Christ that the Church and His people continue to exist is essential for the flourishing of our Diocese.
In this spirit, I joined with the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in Western America , and joyously proclaimed this new liturgical year 2008 "The year of liturgical renewal"". We call upon everyone to work together, encouraging one another to live an active Christian life, regularly receive the Holy Sacraments, and sincerely participate in the liturgical life of the Church, where we truly come to know the power and love of God for us.
2. Canonical visits and activities . I witnessed this truth personally from my canonical visits to Parishes from north to south ( Alaska to San Diego ), east to west
( Colorado and to Hawaii ), and to suburban and remote areas alike. By the grace of God, I was able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Parishes, anniversaries of Parishes, and anniversaries with the Priesthood.
a) During a short period, I have journeyed across an extensive amount of territory, visiting the Parishes, Theological schools, and conferences. It was also an extraordinary honor, to say the least, to be appointed by the Holy Assembly of Bishops to lead the Western American Diocese. " the bishop should be the 'eye' of the Diocese, not a migrating bird " are the words of Fr Justin Popovic which are constantly on my mind.
b) In a prayerfully participation in the gift of the priesthood of the Church of Christ, we ordained two new deacons of our Diocese, our brothers and concelebrants in Christ, Father Paul Germain and Father Gregory Edwards. May the blessing of the Lord be upon our newly ordained deacons and upon all of us.
c) In response to the Resolution of our Diocesan Assembly (2007), and as a result of our insistence, the Holy Assembly of Bishops (May 14-25, 2007), rendered the following decision: "The Holy Hierarchical Assembly praises the joint work of Their Graces, Bishop of America and Canada and the New Gracanica Longin and Bishop of Western America Maxim, who in the spirit of brotherly love share pastoral care over the Serbian Orthodox Parishes in the West coast of America (five parishes of New Gracanica Metropolitanate), leading them to administrative unity". May our Lord grant a speedy fulfillment of our desire! (We already visited some of these parishes in Saratoga , Phoenix and Arcadia ).
d) Celebrating the forty-fifth anniversary of our Diocese we considered that there is no more blessed way to express the great joy and thankfulness for our many blessings than by building to the glory of God the first Orthodox Monastery in Southern California . We pray that this Serbian Monastery, dedicated to the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord God and Savior Christ in the Temple, be a spiritual oasis for all Orthodox Christians and every God-seeking, thirsty soul.
e) The Diocesan Administrative Board held its regular meetings, addressing issues such as the progress of structural repairs to the residence, plans for the June visit of Bishop Atanasije and Fr. Stamatis, plans to transfer the remains of Fr. Sabastian Dabovich to the Western American Diocese, the Monastery Property in Escondido, the possibility of purchasing the property next to the Diocesan Residence etc.
3. The return of Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovic and Diocesan Days. The eleventh Diocesan Days celebration in the Western Diocese was a historic moment. Its impact on Orthodoxy and certainly on the Serbian Orthodox Church in America is yet to be assessed. After 67 years abroad, Father Sebastian Dabovich crossed the Atlantic Ocean one last time to be back home with his flock.
The entire weekend, August 31-September 2, 2007, was marked as the gathering of the Church of Christ . This liturgical and celebratory gathering was presided by the hosting bishop, and by visiting bishops, Metropolitan Christopher of the Midwestern Metropolitanate, Bishop Porphirije of Jegar, Bishop Irinej of Australia and New Zealand , Metropolitan Joseph of Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Bishop Kyril of the Russian Orthodox Church, the clergy, the monastics, and the faithful. T he remains of Father Sebastian were interred within the church which he founded in 1892. Numerous clergy, monastics and faithful of the Western American Diocese were in attendance at the Memorial service and the Holy Liturgy.
The Diocesan Days event again inspired us not to forget our debt of protecting our sacred traditions. The faithful were joyously inspired by the homilies and messages of His Grace, Bishop Porphyrije. His profound remarks gave us strength and renewed eagerness to empower the Serbian Orthodox Church in America. Jackson 's gatherings of our faithful are especially important, since, the forms of ecclesiastical bodies known as "parishes" and "communities" cannot be autonomous or exist apart from one another.
4. Blessed Visits of our Guests . Through the visit of Bishop Athanasius, Fr Stamatis and Bishop Porphyrije, we realized how a remarkably wide field of truly great work is open to us - a work aimed at the invigoration, cultivation and growth of a dynamic and illumined faith, within the clergy and lay people of this blessed Diocese. We visited our churches (in West Coast and Chicago ) as well in the Russian Church (in San Francisco), Greek and American churches and monasteries. We also spoke with our brothers Americans, Greeks, Russians, Antiochians. We were especially pleased to visit and serve in the newly established Greek, Russian and Serbian monasteries where the monks and nuns are American born.
a) The Clergy Brotherhood of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the USA and Canada held its annual meeting on Wednesday afternoon, May 30, at St. Steven Cathedral in Alhambra , CA . The meeting was held as part of a two-day conference for clergy being sponsored by the Western American Diocese. With nearly 70 clergy in attendance the Conference begun with the presentation "A Testimony on Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World" by Bishop Athanasius. The second presentation gave Father Stamatis on "Priestly Ministry in a Changing World"; he also spoke on "The Icon and the Kingdom of God". The Brotherhood extended deepest thanks to our Western American Diocese for the invitation to the Clergy Brotherhood to participate in the clergy seminar we organized and which provided continuing education opportunities for our clergy, and to St. Steven's Cathedral for the additional assistance and hospitality.
b) St. Steven's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Alhambra , California , also hosted the First Annual Young Adult Conference of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North & South America on Saturday, June 2, 2007. Some thirty young adults from across the country joined several of our own for a unique one-on-one experience with Bishop Atanasije. His Grace addressed the group on the conference's theme of seeking eternal life with Christ in a variety of ways as the discussion progressed throughout the day.
c) Iconography Course, Monday June 4th-Wednesday June 13th ; Instructor: Father Stamatis Skliris, "Holy Icons: A 7-Day Theory and Practice Workshop". Twelve students lived and learned in theory and practice about the creation of icons, guided by Father Stamatis Skliris. Fr. Stamatis , a famous parish Priest, Iconographer, and Medical Doctor from Athens , Greece is renowned in Europe as an Iconographer and has adorned many books with striking icons and illustrations. Father Stamatis has imparted his creative, Patristic knowledge of Icon illustrating to aspiring Iconographers and helped them to more fully develop their potential.
5. Social-cultural-academic activities . I have also had the opportunity to take part in various ecclesial and cultural events.
a) On my visit to St Vladimir's Theological Seminary, I expressed my thanks and congratulations to the Dean of this seminary, Fr John Behr, for his kind invitation, and to the new Chancellor, Fr. Chad Hatfield, as well. I assured them of my prayers and support for their important work and ministry. We had the special opportunity of sharing some of our academic experiences and work in theological studies and teaching at the Dean's Installation and Symposium at the Seminary, September 14-15, 2007.
b) A Pan-Orthodox Commemoration of the 1,600th Anniversary of the Repose of St. John Chrysostom took place on Tuesday, November 13th, 2007, at St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Church, Los Angeles , California , where we were asked to deliver the homily.
d) During the time of the California Wildfires, in a Letter to the Governor we offered support and prayers for victims ( October 24, 2007), expressing our heartfelt concern on behalf of the Western American Diocese to all those who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and their livelihoods.
e) Among many Orthodox Priests we were present at the meeting of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation at Loyola Marymount University , October 27, 2007.
6. Pan-Orthodox relations . In hopes of establishing a new tradition, I continue to get together and concelebrate the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with my brothers, the Canonical Bishops in the West Coast. I t is precisely in such love and Pan-Orthodox unity that I hope the faithful Orthodox of our Diocese, can continue to harmoniously preserve, emphasize and enhance the establishment of a strong and unbreakable unity within the Orthodox Churches. At the invitation of His Grace, Bishop Joseph, the canonical Orthodox Bishops in the West Coast held their historic first gathering on Bright Tuesday, April 10, 2007 in Los Angeles , California . Bishops on the West Coast held their second meeting at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco , California on Thursday, July 19, 2007. The hierarchs met to build upon the work which they began at their first meeting held in Los Angeles . We also had a pan-orthodox Vespers at the Getty museum for the Sunday of Orthodoxy (February 25, 2007) were we presided and gave a homily. Similar blessing for Inter-Orthodox fellowship and witness was a Pan-Orthodox Vespers at the Saint Steven's Cathedral (March 18, 2007).
7. Impressions and future goals . Although I've been bishop of this Diocese for only the past 20 months, I am delighted to express great joy and enthusiasm from the rich, albeit brief, experience I have been having . I would like to extend my sincere thanks to my precious priests, the pious and distinguished clergy.
a) In the local communities, the parishes throughout the Diocese, I have been warmly welcomed and deeply touched. The Parish as a worshipping, eucharistic, and eschatological community is not indifferent towards the world or the problems of this present life, but is interested in orienting its members, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, toward the uncreated reality of Eternity.
b) Also, to the monastics of our blessed Diocese I would like to express my deep appreciation for the warm reception and the plentiful love they have shown me. Without the ascetical ethos as manifested in monasticism, our modern civilization and society would reach the tragic dead-ends of its life.
c) New missions of the Western Diocese . The venerable Peter of Korish Mission in Anchorage , Alaska and St Lazar Mission in Honolulu , Hawaii . By the grace of God, initially the Divine Liturgy was served once every two years, but since 2006, the Liturgy is served every two or three months and will continue until the conditions are created for a permanent priest.
The responsibilities are great and awesome in any context, but certainly this is especially the case in North America today. Indeed, today Orthodox Christians face a challenge: to preserve, whole and pure, the faith "once delivered to the saints” while at the same time presenting it in a vibrant and compelling way to a society that in many respects is estranged from God.
8. Publishing activities . Some people read for entertainment, some to quench the thirst for knowledge, while others read for spiritual growth. The latter readers are certainly aided by the publishing activity of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Sebastian Press is the name given to our publishing department that in a short time has added a few new titles.
a) Our publishing activity aims at the inculturation of the Orthodox ethos and mentality within modernity and vice versa , focusing on existential human needs in the light of Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection. We want to continue the publishing activity in his Diocese making new titles available to children, young adults, families, and all those eager to dive into reflective pastoral and theological thoughts of contemporary theologians and pastors, as well as of those of the Church's antiquity. Sebastian Press of the Western American Diocese Keeps Adding New Titles to its Repertoire.
b) Sebastian Wine was first offered at the Divine Liturgy during Diocesan Days in Jackson in September 2007. This soft, sweet and well-perfumed wine has been distributed throughout the Western American Diocese. It is believed that this is the first time in the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America that it is producing its own wine for celebration of the Eucharist. This wine is offered to all parishes throughout the country.
9. Finally, dear brothers and sisters, I am sincerely thankful for the experience I have been having with the entire Diocese. As Orthodox Christians who are committed to "Sharing the Truth of the Gospel and the Love of Christ," it is our role to serve truly as "priests" of His creation.
In these difficult times for our Kosovo-Metohija Serbian Orthodox people, deeply astonished with the illegitimate self-proclamation of the independence of Kosovo and its illegal recognition, and the gutting of Serbia 's heart from her bosom, we pray for a more sooner victory of God's justice and true human rights, having love towards everyone as it is fitting us. Let us always have before our eyes and in our hearts the victorious word of the true God: "Who endures to the end will be saved”.
It is my fervent prayer that the Holy Spirit guides all of us in our sacred duties and responsibilities. I hope to continue to fervently serve the Holy Orthodox Church by being able to visit and extend my pastoral blessing to the faithful, and I sincerely pray that we may all continue to yield abundant spiritual fruit; for to God the Father is due the glory, honor, and worship with His co-existent Son, together with the All-holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and unto endless ages of ages. Amen.
Maxim, Bishop of Western America