The Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America [FOCA] held its 91st national convention at the Sheraton Hotel between Hershey and Harrisburg, PA September 1-4, 2017. The annual gathering was sponsored by the New Jersey District.
Highlighting the annual gathering was the issuance of a letter by the FOCA’s spiritual leader, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, expressly endorsing the FOCA for its good works over the decades and encouraging parishes and individuals to participate in its worthy activities and programs. The FOCA also presented this year’s “Gifts of Love” proceeds of over $12,500.00 to His Grace, Bishop David of Sitka and Alaska toward the restoration of the historic Saint Nicholas Chapel in Kenai, AK. In addition, a youth council, cosponsored by the OCA and FOCA, took place under the direction of Priest Benjamin Tucci, the FOCA’s Junior/Youth Director. Also participating in the convention was His Eminence, Archbishop Michael of New York and New Jersey.
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 reacquainted. The traditional procession and opening Prayer Service by Metropolitan Tikhon marked the beginning of Saturday’s sessions. A Memorial Service also was celebrated by Archpriest Theodore Boback, FOCA National Spiritual Advisor, and Deacon Peter Ilchuk, the new convention planning chairperson.
National President Marge Kovach then called the convention to order as routine business was undertaken. Archbishop Michael updated delegates on the married student housing project at Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, for which the Fellowship raised $300,000.00 in 2015. Unfortunately, the intended building proved to be unsuitable, so plans are now being made to convert the former orphanage into apartments for married seminarians. “We are forever grateful to the FOCA for this major gift – the largest in your history – and ask for your patience,” said Archbishop Michael. “All of you are invited to attend the opening upon the project’s completion—and rest assured that the Fellowship will be properly recognized.”
In his remarks to the assembly, Metropolitan Tikhon noted that “we are continuing to expand the collaboration between the FOCA and the OCA. Three members of the Holy Synod are here again this year.” He expressed thanks for the FOCA’s many contributions, especially those involving Alaska and married seminarian housing. With reference to the previously mentioned letter, Metropolitan Tikhon said that it “was an easy letter to write, given the FOCA’s generosity.” He continued by 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 Benjamin Tucci.”
President Kovach then formally presented a ceremonial check for over $12,000.00 (as contributions continued) to Bishop David and Dorothy Gray of the Kenai, AK parish. Mrs. Gray noted that this gift will enable the Kenai faithful obtain matching funds from historical associations. Bishop David 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 also will be given to Yupik Moravian children.
Saturday evening Great Vespers was celebrated by Father Theodore and Deacon Peter. Basil Kozak directed the choir at services throughout the convention. Conventioneers enjoyed the truly spectacular and inspiring performance by “The Tamburitzans” from Pittsburgh, the renowned folk dance and music troupe of college students who performed a wide range of Balkan, Greek, Spanish, Romani and other ethnic dances.
The Sunday morning Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was concelebrated by Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop Michael, and Bishop David; Archpriests Theodore Boback, William Evansky, and Daniel Ressetar; Priest Benjamin Tucci; Archdeacon Joseph Matusiak and Deacon Peter Ilchuk; and several subdeacons and altar servers. In his homily, Bishop David focused on the parable of the wicked husbandmen and the vineyard, emphasizing that everything is a gift from God. “We are so rich, the richest people who ever lived,” Bishop David observed, “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 the Liturgy, Metropolitan Tikhon presented Basil Kozak with a primatial gramota for his many years of service as convention choir director.
Sunday afternoon was filled with a variety of informal activities and get-togethers, while the “Fantastic Fare and Sweet Sounds” banquet and dance was held in the evening. On behalf of Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop Michael read the aforementioned primatial letter and then delivered his own remarks. “As a bishop, I want to honor your legacy and history, but I also wish to see the Fellowship grow for future generations,” he said. “For next year’s All-American Council in Saint 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 banquet address, President Kovach cited specific acts of generosity, emphasizing that “this is why we join, this is why we stay, this is why we persevere—not because there is something in it for me, but because together we can make a difference.” She then awarded four $1,000.00 college/university scholarships.
The closing sessions were held on Monday morning. Daria Miskiv and her New Jersey District convention committee were congratulated for a job well done. Elected as officers for 2018 were President Marge Kovach, Vice President Allison Steffaro, Recording Secretary Matushka Danielle Ilchuk and Treasurer Michael Bowan. Father Boback remains National Spiritual Advisor and Becky Tesar continues as Immediate Past President. In closing, delegates and friends formed a large circle, recited the FOCA’s motto—“Pray, Study, Toil, Be Temperate”—and sang “Faith of Our Fathers,” the FOCA anthem.
During the convention, youth enjoyed a special program focusing on “gratitude and giving,” conducted by Father Benjamin Tucci and Rebecca Kozak. The program included an inspiring session with Archbishop Michael, a [rainy] outing to Hershey Park, and a visit to the Turkey Hill Experience. They also assembled “back to school” kits for needy students.
The 2018 FOCA Convention will be held at the Union Station Hotel in Saint Louis, MO, July 20-23, in conjunction with the 19th All-American Council July 23-27. On-line updates will be available prior to the events.
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. Visit the convention gallery on the OCA web site and Facebook page for an assortment of photographs.