On March 5, 2023, the First Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, known as Orthodox Sunday, a Pan-Orthodox Vesper Service was celebrated honoring the Triumph of Orthodoxy (843 AD) at the Sts. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church in South River, New Jersey. As a parish of the Orthodox Church in America, under the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, His Eminence Archbishop Michael, ruling Hierarch, was the host for the evening celebration. Under the watchful eye of the Very Reverend Archpriest David Garretson, Parish Rector, the host parish truly offered the finest of Orthodox hospitality, both liturgically and in fellowship.
At the request of Archbishop Michael, His Grace Bishop Irinej of the Eastern American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church was the main celebrant for the Triumph of Orthodoxy Vespers. In like manner, His Eminence invited His Grace Bishop Thomas of Oakland, Charleston, and the Mid-Atlantic Diocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, to be the evening’s homilist.
Concelebrating with Bishop Irinej were twenty Orthodox priests, from various jurisdictions of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, assisted by Deacon Stephan Karlgut from the Orthodox Church in America. Deacon Darko Tripkovic of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America assisted His Grace Irinej. Given the limited altar space, an additional fifteen clergy were in prayerful attendance.
The magnificent czarist era Russian church was established through the ministries of St. Patriarch Tikhon and Saint Alexander Hotovitsky. Over 200 Orthodox faithful from numerous canonical jurisdictions – OCA, Greek, Antiochian, Russian, Serbian, Georgian, Carpatho-Russian and Albanian filled the church. Responses were beautifully rendered according to various Orthodox traditions by the Spirit of Orthodoxy Choir under the direction of Stratos Mandalakis (www.spiritoforthodoxy.com). A collection of $3,000 was taken for the IOCC for relief for those suffering due to the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
Bishop Thomas in his inspiring and lively homily spoke, among all else, about the restoration of holy icons and, as such, the need for icons in our lives. He compared icons, to that which they are, “Windows to Heaven”. He captured the imagination of the those in attendance by posing the question: “What would life be like worshipping, living, learning, or working in a space with no windows?”. The contained spaces of our lives must be like our churches, which, he noted, in addition to physical windows, must also contain icons to provide us with light: light from the outside and light from within.
Following the resplendent service, all were invited to join in fellowship in the parish hall, where a truly sumptuous Lenten table awaited the festal gathering.
As clearly manifest this evening, the iconic likeness of our unity is, indeed, the Triumph of Orthodoxy.