April 10, 2010
"We need to present a vision of what can happen when we all work together and strive together." An Interview with Archpriest John Moses

On Wednesday, March 3, the final day of the Pastoral Conference, Diocesan Media Office correspondent Reader Peter Lukianov interviewed Diocesan Southern Liaison Archpriest John Moses, member of the Diocesan Council, rector of All Saints of North America Church in Middlebrook, VA, and founder of the Volunteers in Mission (VIM) program, on questions involving life in the south of the Diocese, VIM’s work, and programs for men hoping to serve the Church through ordination.

- Fr. John, in January of this year, the Volunteers in Mission program (VIM) was official launched and the first project was successfully completed in Fort Myers, FL at St. Nicholas Monastery. What are your personal impressions from this week and what kind of feelings did you leave with?

- Really good feelings. You always look at what you do, and there’s always a lot more to do, but you can’t let that bother you, because what you see is a group of people who formerly did not know each other and yet they came together, they strived, work hard together, and accomplish a great deal. There’s a lot of fellowship and a real sense of brotherly love. It’s really a great experience, not only because of what you accomplish physically, but also because of the interaction that happens between members of the team.

- Seeing as it is difficult to finish major projects because you’re limited on time and people have other obligations, how do you feel going into a big project and only being able to partially complete it?

- It’s like I said, you wish you have two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, and you could all stay and just get everything finished, but people just don’t have that amount of time.

- And you feel that the week in Fort Myers made a difference for the monastery?

- Oh, it really made a difference! One, I think that it sort of showed the abbess of the monastery, Mother Andrea, that the people of ROCOR really are interested in her and in the monastery, and that was a great comfort to her. To accomplish what we did, which was to lay the floor, was a huge job; and the folks there worked really hard to complete that phase of the project before the end of the week. We were able to build a concrete landing and also a handicapped access ramp that did not exist there before. So, we really got a tremendous amount of work done but when you get done and you look around, there’s still a lot to do! But you just don’t have the time, and people have to get home to their jobs.

- Are there any talks about future VIM projects, or in general, the future of VIM?

- Yeah, I’ve already as of the second day received inquiries from the Canadian Diocese, about this kind of project. What we need to do is establish a list of projects. They can be a local church that maybe has a small congregation and they’re looking at some jobs that are beyond them and they would like to have some help, it could be something like the monastery in Fort Myers. I’ve been given several notes from people who think that we might could do maybe a week at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross and other possible projects: there are some missions that have opened that might could use some help. So, potentially there’s a lot of projects. Once we have a list of projects, the other part of it is to get a list of volunteers and to get some sense of what their skill may be. And I always try to reassure people: you don’t have to have the skills, because I can get enough skilled people who can tell the rest of us what to do. We can shovel, we can sweep, we can carry blocks, or whatever we need to do for the skilled people, and really get a lot accomplished. But we need to get a list, so that we can figure out all the particulars of a project and set a date, send out notices to all the potential volunteers and say, “Could you go this week?” We are trying to find a way to could send out a questionnaire to all the churches in ROCOR as sort of a talent survey, and have all the members of the church take the talent survey and send it back, and then we can contact them and say, “Would you be interested?”

- So, you’re looking to expand this into a major network. This isn’t just going to be a single project per year?

- Yes, we want to expand it so the other dioceses will pick up the idea. Our diocese does not have to manage this project. It’s a very simple idea: you have a project, you have a group of people, you make the arrangements, and they go and they do the work. It’s not a very difficult idea, so any diocese that wants to pick it up would be wonderful.

- We just finished hearing a very moving presentation by Fr. Gregoire Legoute about the suffering in Haiti, where there is just so much death and destruction. We’re aware that VIM is a very new program, but is there any talk or any ideas of any way that VIM could get involved to help our missions in Haiti?

- We’ve been discussing that. Of course it’ll be arranged according to the needs of the people, and that’s why sometimes you have to really go through a lot of different permutations and variations to figure out what will fit the best. It could be, for the Haiti situation, that once the situation has stabilized enough, we may be able to take a smaller group of skilled people and then hire the Haitians to do the work with the skilled people. The skilled people could direct them about laying blocks or mixing concrete or whatever we need to do. And of course what happens is that we try to get the volunteers to try to raise money at their local churches for their trip, so that the money that they raise can pay for their food and lodging expenses, but also to have money for materials. Now, of course, with the Fund for Assistance, it’s possible that if we went to Haiti, the Fund for Assistance would fund the materials. So, there’s a lot of variables, but as I told Fr. Daniel McKenzie, to be in conversation with me and if he sees the potential for a group to go down, we can begin to make plans. But there’re so many problems there. I mean, what do we do with the rubble? There’s so much rubble, were does it go?

- So, at this point, you’re really looking for financial help in terms of the Haiti situation.

- Yes, right now financial help is the big thing. And to give to the Fund for Assistance is the major way for our church to operate at this time. We’ve even talked about the possibility of setting up a program where individual parishes could adopt an Orthodox Haitian family. And it could be that through that, their support for clothing, food, and temporary shelter, we might be able to go in with VIM teams and set up new houses for them.

- Could you clarify what you mean by adoption, “adopt a family?”

- Fr. Gregoire and Fr. Daniel would set up a list of families in the sense of being supported by a local parish.

- So, not physically bringing them to the US?

- No, not physically bringing them to the US, but simply adopting them. But I’m sure that we could have photos sent back and forth, letters, and so forth, so that a congregation could get to know the family. They could raise money, have charity events, and then the money would go to that particular family to rebuild their home or get them clothing, or whatever it is that they need. Sort of like a Christian Children’s Fund kind of approach: you adopt a child you so-called “adopt,” and send money monthly to support.

- So, in general, would you say that you’re more in need of volunteers or in financial need at this point for VIM to go forward?

- Well, for Haiti, it’s money, but I would like to continue to build the database for volunteers, and I also need for folks to let me know about projects. You know: What are the needs? As the Southern Liaison, I’m aware that some of the new missions in the South could use a team to go in and fix the drywall, repair the electrical, paint, a whole raft of things. That isn’t as exotic as some of the missions, like, say, going to Florida… you know, Florida was a no-brainer, everybody wants to go down and be in the nice warm sun, and pick the oranges off the trees, and so forth and so on… I think that the other benefit is that when people go in a missionary spirit and they use their hands to create something that is of benefit to other people, it’s a wonderful feeling. There may be some of us that used to dream of becoming missionaries, and this is a way of becoming a missionary, and without having to dedicate years of your life; this is just a week, or ten days, or however it would work out.

- We also heard during this conference another extremely exciting idea that was proposed at one of the recent Diocesan Council meetings about a conference for men that were interested in serving the Church through ordination. You spoke about this during the conference, could you elaborate a little more on this?

- Of course. You know, over the years I’ve encountered a lot of men who say, “You, know I’ve thought about being a reader, I’ve thought about being a deacon, a priest, I’ve thought about being a subdeacon.” Particularly for men who come from the South, although it’s not limited to the South, a lot of these men are a little older, they’re second-career men, they have families and mortgages; it really isn’t possible for them to go to Seminary. So, we now have available a couple of distance-learning courses that are available to men who want to study the theology, but there’s a real need to train men in very practical skills, to begin to talk to them about the art of sermonizing in the Orthodox Church. How does one learn to do the liturgies and how do you perform the liturgies? Other topics, i.e., How do you learn to do Confession?

- So, you’re looking to do a more practical approach. Where Seminary is very theological, you’re trying to present a more day-to-day approach to serving the Church through ordination?

 - It’s especially for men who will never go to seminary. This weekend that’s coming up on May 1st and 2nd is sort of an exploratory weekend where the presenters will talk to the assembled men about some of the aspects of personal piety, psychology, what it takes to be a priest, how it can impact your family? You know, understand some of the dynamics and then think about if you want to continue. If they want to continue, then we want to set up, what I’ve called the Holy Cross Pastoral Institute. Basically, all this means is that we want to have these courses, say for example the courses on preaching: the men would come, and certainly we’d talk about the theology of preaching in an Orthodox church, we’d talk about how sermons are crafted, we’d talk about all the particular dynamics of doing a sermon, but then what we’d give them a list of feast days: pick a feast day, go look up the scripture lessons for that Feast Day, write a sermon, and then deliver it to the group.

- This is more of a series of seminars than a one time event?

- That’s right. It’s meant to be a series of seminars in which men can come, hopefully in smaller groups than this particular weekend. I think it’s going to be a pretty large group, but they can come in smaller groups, we can offer these courses throughout the year on different topics, repeat them again, and do all of that. And now the men can be thinking about preparing themselves for ordination. The other aspect is that they’ll need to know their bishop, and we want to create a file on each person to see for example, “Well, this young man, Bishop George recommended he go to seminary.” Well, let’s help this young man get into seminary. Or, “This is an older man who would make a good deacon,” so what is he doing? Oh, he’s doing a learning course. Excellent, how’s it going? Here are these seminars that he can come to, how many seminars has he taken to help prepare himself to become an ordained clergymen? Another idea is that these seminars can be continuing education courses for priests who are already ordained. I know that most businesses, most denominations, require continuing education courses for their clergy so that they go back and revisit the theology of counseling, of preaching, of being a leader in the church, of doing the Liturgy. They go back and they rehash, and relearn, and maybe get refreshed in their calling and the way that they serve.

- So, the initial goal here is really to prepare the foundation for ordination, so that our clergymen aren’t going into this cold.

That’s right. We want to work on the skills beforehand. Of course we emphasize to them, and I emphasize all the time, that going through any course of study does not guarantee ordination. That’s up to your bishop, which is why you have to work on your relationship with your bishop and let him get to know who you are and what your desire is, and what you’re doing to be equipped to serve the Church in some ordained capacity. Ultimately in the end it’s the bishop’s decision, but certainly getting yourself prepared, taking the distance-learning courses or going to Seminary, working on these practical pastoral skills will make you better fitted, better suited, and more “attractive” to a bishop for ordination. Because hopefully in the future there will be more and more missions opening up in the country. I mean, even for this first weekend I’ve had some enquiries from Texas, and this was even before we put up the notice on the website. Somehow, the word got out! There’s a serious need and a serious desire for this program, and I’ve gotten a lot of responses already. So, there’s a heartfelt need for it.

- Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? You’re a rector of a fairly large parish in the South, you’re a member of the Diocesan Council, Southern Liaison, heading VIM projects; now the conference – how do you manage all of this? We’re assuming this is a full-time occupation for you.

- Well, first I have to thank several people. First is my wife, who stays home and works, and helps to provide the financial foundation for me to be able to do anything; and then, the generous giving of the people of All Saints and Christ the Savior Churches, who give me the freedom to do this kind of work. But there are some times when I get up in the morning and think, “How am I going to get all of this done?” I’m sort of looking forward now for the week after Pascha, when it’s quiet and I can rest for a few days. But everything is so rewarding, especially when you see the joy on the faces of the members of the VIM team, because they accomplished these tasks, and the joy of their fellowship. Things like that really have no price, and are really worth working for. I certainly hope that in the future, any priest or layperson will pick up the mantle and go on with it, and let it go far beyond me. That’s perfectly fine with me. I don’t look at these as my projects, I hope that these are projects will continue for many years to come in our diocese.

- As a member of the Diocesan Council, that puts you in a unique position to get things accomplished and start initiatives. What is the role of a Southern Liaison on the Council, and why is it important?

- Well, I know that Metropolitan Hilarion and Bishop George truly love the South. They’re very intimately and keenly aware of the missions there and what the status is, and yet our bishops are loaded up with much work and many burdens. My general feeling about being on the Diocesan Council is just to be the Southern voice, to not let the Council ever forget that there are all of these missions in the South that need their oversight, support, prayers, and love. So, I feel like I’m in a unique position to bring the needs of the South to the table of the Diocesan Council. Sometimes I feel bad about it, because I know that the Diocesan Council has plenty to do without hearing from the South, but I just think that it’s important that there be a Southern voice. If I’m ever voted off the Council, and that can certainly come at any time, I hope that there will be someone else from the South that will always bring the issues and the needs of the South and its churches and missions to the table at the Council. Because, it’s important for them to hear it and to begin to develop programs that will help the people of the South. One of our problems in the South is that distance is a real obstacle for us, so it’s so easy to be isolated in these parishes. And that’s one of the things that the South has really suffered from, is this sense of isolation from parish to parish. So, for me, the development of the Diocesan Council was a chance to create structures and ministries that will bring us together and overcome that isolation. That’s my job.

- Now, it’s March 2010. It’s almost officially a year since the current Diocesan Council was voted in. What can you say about the last year? What are your thoughts on the accomplishments of the Council, and what do you see as future challenges for the Council in the upcoming year?

- Well, it really is remarkable the amount of things that we’ve accomplished in this last year. I think that one of the biggest accomplishments was the successful organization of the visit of the Kursk Root icon of the Mother of God to over 50 parishes in the diocese. It’s just a blessing without measure. I think of some of the smaller parishes and missions in the South. To have the Mother of God come to them, and then all of these people come from all of these surrounding areas and communities come into their little churches was an experience that we really cannot measure. The blessing, the sense of pride – not bad pride, but good spiritual pride – they were blessed by the Mother of God, and they were part of something great and larger than themselves. I think that it did a lot to boost the morale of a lot of these smaller, isolated parishes that the Icon went to. I’m sure even for the larger Southern churches it was a great blessing, but I think all the more so for the smaller missions. It’s a blessing beyond measure.

On an administrative level, we really began almost from the ground zero, and of course, as many people may know, there’s a little money there, but looking at the kind of work that we need to do, the money wasn’t really there. So I think that the Council with its small amount of resources has done a tremendous job, but there’s so much left to do, and I think that the challenge for us in the year ahead is that we really need to sell the ministries of the Council to the local parishes. I think that part of the difficulty is that parish life has pretty much been an individual local parish doing fine on its own: they may like Father, they may not like Father, but generally the parishes are doing just fine. There’s been no creative dynamic structure over the churches to bind them together, and so a lot of the local churches have no ownership in the Diocesan Council. To them, it may just look like a money-collecting agency; and who likes the taxman? Nobody. What most people don’t understand is that the Council has approved many projects for which there is no funding at this time. We put our hope in the Lord and in the good nature of the people of this diocese. Members of the Council understand that in order to successfully revive the diocese, we must keep going forward despite all the temptations that are sent to us by none other than the evil one. We need to present a vision of what can happen when we all work together, strive together, supporting these ministries and these programs, and what they can bring to the local church, and what they can do to help the local parish to grow and to overcome its difficulties and to feel connected to something larger than just itself. That’s our biggest task. It’s really a sales job, and we need to bring the goods to the table and really begin to let folks know. And I think at this conference, I hope that the presentation helped, at least in the minds of those who were here, that it really has been a remarkable year.

- Father, thank you very much for your time.

If you are interested in joining a VIM team in the future, please contact Fr. John Moses at frj1951@yahoo.com, or write to 
3648 Middlebrook Village Road, Middlebrook, VA 2449, or call 540-887-8280.

Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese