Category: News

Seminarians begin BSMB Chapter at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

This article was originally posted on the website of St. Vladimir’s Seminary:

In September, a new poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal reported that 7-in-10 Americans viewed race relations in the United States as “poor.” The poll revealed that 28% of the public, including 24% of white and 40% of black Americans, stated that race relations are “very bad,” with another 42 percent of all respondents calling them “fairly bad.”

Heartbreaking news.

But here at St. Vladimir’s a new student interest group is addressing the problem: the St. Moses the Black Society endeavors to foster meaningful conversation on race in the Orthodox Church today and to introduce the Orthodox Christian faith to black communities in America. The society, which began to take shape Spring Semester 2017, now officially takes its place alongside four other student-led interest groups, all under the umbrella of our Student Council.

(from left) SVOTS Trustee Carla Ann Newbern Thomas, M.D., Seminarian Dn. Simon Menya, Seminarian Anthony Davis, Seminarian Fr. Chrysostom Onyekakeyah, President Archpriest Chad Hatfield, chapel member Bettye Malone, and Seminarian Loveday Okafor. — Photo from St. Vladimir’s Seminary

The president of the newly organized society is Anthony Davis, a seminarian in the Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of the South, and the faculty advisor is Professor Peter C. Bouteneff. Comprising the society are 10 students, among them three African-American seminarians and three African seminarians.

Seminarian Davis revealed upcoming plans for the budding society.

“First of all,” he said, “I led our initial meeting focused around the scriptural verse, Matthew 28:18–20, in which Jesus directs his disciples to go forth to all other nations, baptizing them and teaching them. I reminded society members that we are supposed to reach out not only to people who look like ourselves; we’re supposed to reach out to everyone.

“Second, we’re going to build our ministry on prayer, especially prayer to some of the African saints,” he noted. “We hope to schedule Akathist services to ask intercession of holy fathers and mothers like St. Moses the Black and St. Mary of Egypt.

“Third,” he explained, “we hope to minister in facilities like Emmaus House of Harlem, rubbing shoulders with people from black communities, and introducing them to the Orthodox faith.”

The society takes its inspiration from the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black, a national pan-Orthodox organization that desires to make the Orthodox faith available to the African American community and to help the broader Church in realizing this goal. In fact, several members of the St. Moses Society participated in the Brotherhood’s 24th Annual Conference held October 6–8, 2017, in Princeton, NJ, which was titled, “Growing Closer to Christ, Growing Closer Together,”. Seminary Board of Trustee member, Carla Ann Newbern Thomas, M.D., spearheaded and organized that national conference, and seminary president, Fr. Chad Hatfield, led the seminary community contingent. (Read related storywhich includes photo of St. Vladimir’s attendees.)

View videos of St. Moses the Black Society members Seminarian Sacristan Anthony Davis and Seminarian Deacon Simon Menya, as they explain how important the daily liturgical life in Three Hierarchs Chapel is to their spiritual formation.

Fr. Moses Berry’s Address to the 2017 Brotherhood Conference

Dear brothers and sisters of the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black,

I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Only one year has passed since our last conference and through the grace of God and your prayers, we are able to assemble again.

We find ourselves in the midst of turmoil and confusion in our country. But Jesus Christ has overcome this world, and if we would only follow his instructions concerning how we ought to treat each other and how we should be disposed towards Caesar, we will prevail.

People are responding to the injustice that we see all around us. The BSMB response will not be lock step with that which I’ve come to call “high secularism”.  High secularism, for which I have respect, is the thought of intelligent, sensitive, well-meaning people who yet remain outside the salvific ark of Orthodoxy. These are righteous people, but unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we should in nowise enter the Kingdom of Heaven” Matt. 5:20.

I will not attempt to tell you how you, personally, should rally around today’s movements and protests. I will, however, address how the Brotherhood can participate in these events.  We can act through prayer, fasting and forgiving our brothers their trespasses.

Very few of us, other than I, have directly experienced police brutality, in my case to the point of being handcuffed at gunpoint and pushed into the backseat of a police car and threatened with being taken to the woods and left for the wolves.  If not for the prayers of right-believing Christians, the descendants of slaves, I wouldn’t have escaped. So, I can, with some authority, talk about how we overcome unjust and cruel treatment at the hands of the godless authorities. We endure it with longsuffering, we turn away from hatred, and we pray for those who despitefully use us and say all manner of evil against us falsely for His names’s sake, for great will our reward be in Heaven.  If we don’t act for the sake of Christ, our labors are in vain. This may sound lofty, but the whole enterprise of being an Orthodox Christian is lofty, and not of this world.

Black lives matter. What we are saying is, “I am a human being. Treat me like one.”   When I proposed to the All American Council of my jurisdiction that we resolve to make every effort to reach out to African Americans, I was met with, “but we should reach out to all people, so why specify African Americans?” In other words, the painfully familiar, “all lives matter”.  Of course, all lives matter, but that’s not the point, is it. This kind of response comes from some of those outside of our experience, and we need to be steadfast and patient in educating them about what it means to be Black in America and Black in the American Orthodox Church. That’s part of what this Brotherhood is called to do. Nevertheless, our engagement with this movement must transcend high secularism.

How do we do that? We march, but as Orthodox we march with holy images, banners, incense and prayers. Were we to publicly proclaim our faith this way, we’d soon find out who our real brothers are, Orthodox or not.  I suspect we’d have friends within the movement and enemies within the Church.  Regardless, if we want to make a change, we reach towards heaven, not to the unrighteous wisdom of this world.

I know a Jewish woman who told me once that the central question of her life was “if they threw me into a concentration camp, the intent of which was to turn me into an animal, how could I remain a human being?” Her answer, she said, was most deeply revealed in the Church. We aren’t promised fairness, kindness, dignity, love, or any other right and pleasant thing from this world.  But we know the source of all those things, and that we are loved. Hold on to that, brothers and sisters and to each other, in Christ. Yes, with each passing year the deception is stronger, “normalcy” becomes more confused, and it gets harder and harder to do those things prescribed for us in Holy Scripture, to yield to the Word of God. This is our struggle, and it is very real.

Do what you feel you must to join your efforts to those crying out for change. Hold fast to the words of Our Lord, “these things have I spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace, in the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer!  I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33.

May God bless you,

Fr. Moses