Over the past few years, the Russian Orthodox Church has started organizing Institutes, held each Summer, that offer Orthodox clergy from other local Churches to build relationships and get to know the Russian Church firsthand.
The program was first offered to Priests of our Orthodox Church in America in 2018, and this year, through the invitation and blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon and His Eminence, our Archbishop Irenee, I was selected to take part. Joining nine other Priests from various OCA Dioceses in the US, and led by His Grace Bishop Daniel of Santa Rosa, I am honoured to be representing the Archdiocese of Canada.
My flights worked out in such a way that I flew out from Vancouver at 11pm on Wednesday evening, arriving at JFK Airport in New York City, where I would meet up with the rest of our group. Happily, I knew at least one other member of the group personally, Father Daniel Greeson from Tennessee, whom I met about thirteen or so years ago at the Society of Biblical Literature / American Academy of Religion meeting in Washington, DC. Father Daniel is a great guy, and now serves as a Priest at St. Anne’s Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Since Fr. Daniel and I would both be in NYC early on the Thursday, we arranged to meet up at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.
I arrived to Grand Central around 8am on a Thursday morning, and it was like Grand Central Station or something in there! It’s a busy place, with lots of people getting on and off trains on their way to work.
Fr. Daniel and I met up, and through the miracle of an app he had, we found a nearby location to drop off our bags for the day, while we got some much needed coffee, breakfast, and then made our way on foot through the concrete jungle that is mid-town Manhattan. It was already hot and sticky by 9:30am – destination – Central Park! After all night flights on cramped planes it felt good to breathe some fresher air and enjoy a walk through this amazing park, which I had never visited before. It was great to catch up with Fr. Daniel in person.
Central Park, later out by the great 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, is a green space of unparalleled significance. I appreciated every aspect of our visit to the park, except perhaps the over-enthusiastic drumming busker who didn’t quite know when his solo was over. Nevertheless, being in the Park provided some respite from the weariness of long days of travel.
Some of the unique elements of the Park include some dynamic water elements, which I am not sure date back to F.L.O.’s original vision – but they sure are pretty.
All in all, Central Park is a stellar public place, free for people to enjoy. Whereas certain landscapes have the tendency to “rob” people of some of their humanity by their dullness or homogeneity, Central Park is highly diverse in its character, and teems with activity. You can tell that it’s used by people of all ages and backgrounds every day. The vitality of the Park lifted our spirits, rejuvenating us for our return to the urban and equally vibrant streets of New York.
After a satisfying NYC bagel lunch, we found a Subway to take us back to JFK. So, having retrieved our suitcases, we did just that. Arriving at the Airport in good time, the security line was not busy at all, and we arrived at our gate to meet up with our fellow travellers, the first of which was Father John Wehling, Priest of the St. John of Chicago Mission in Rogers, Arkansas. As the early birds at the gate, we were able to enjoy some friendly conversation while we waited for the others to arrive. I soon discovered that Fr. John had roots that included service in the Free Methodist Church, so he and I shared some of that Wesleyan theological background, as part of the common trajectory that ultimately led us both to the Orthodox Church. We also appreciate some of the same movies, and perhaps encouraged by some sleep-deprivation, the three of us “urban achievers” enjoyed the levity of recalling some of the more ridiculous lines from some of those films. In the words of the Gospel According to St. Mark, “Let the reader understand.” (Mark 13:14)
Fr. John Baker from Chicago arrived, and then, en masse, the rest – led by His Grace, Bishop Daniel of Santa Rosa (Diocese of the West).
Boarding the plane in due time, we embarked across the Atlantic, for six hour flight before a few hours layover in Amsterdam. I couldn’t really sleep on the plane, but did watch the movie Almost Famous, a personal favourite.
I didn’t take pictures at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, but it was there that we all began to register our growing fatigue. Air travel is hard on the body. Still, we were able to visit as we waited, each of us getting better acquainted.
Boarding another plane again in what felt like morning, but may have been afternoon of some indeterminate day, we completed our final leg to Moscow. Arriving in a sort of mental and physical ‘fog’ brought on by 36+ hours of being jammed into log metal tubes hurdling through the air at high speeds.
We met our guides, checked into our hotel, and fell into an immediate slumber.