A Lifetime of Attending Antiochian Orthodox Conventions

Written by AC2019 Co-Chair Alan Abraham

I remember the year, 1961, I remember the month, August.  My father and I celebrated birthdays together, every summer.  This particular year, we traveled to Youngstown, Ohio, to visit aunts, uncles, cousins.  And then we drove to the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese Convention in nearby Pittsburgh, The William Penn Hotel.  Not just my immediate family, but also aunts and uncles from Youngstown and Montreal. There I met for the first time, Metropolitan Antony, of thrice blessed memory; Danny Thomas was the guest of honor.  My first Archdiocese Convention, embedded in my memory.

My father, Abe Abraham, was a long-time member of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees.  Every year, we traveled to a convention. 1962 was Asbury Park, NJ, along the Boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean.  Dad, mom, and I traveled by car and once again, met the same relatives at the Convention, Nespo and Elsie Kaleel and Mike and Nadia David and their children. In 1963, we visited Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, before going to Washington, D.C., for the Convention. There I met mom’s good friend, Rachel Blair, of Canton, Ohio. She traveled to every convention, as we did. Memories.

The list of cities we toured is impressive: Toronto, Boston (stopped at the World’s Fair in New York City), San Francisco, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Miami (had car engine issues and overnighted in Nashville to get our car serviced.) My sisters and I eagerly awaited our summer vacations to meet our friends from around the country. SOYO and Archdiocese Conventions were our generation’s Antiochian Village, where we met and nurtured life-long friendships. More Memories.

As I grew older, I became active in Teen SOYO, Senior SOYO and served two different times on the Archdiocese Board.  And I continued to attend Archdiocese Conventions in Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Montreal, Louisville, where I met some of my best friends along the way: George Frieje, Ron Nicola, Gary Younes, Rami Younes.  And then I got married, and my wife Debbie and I traveled to the conventions together.  We took a few years off as we started our family and then, we continued the Abraham Family legacy of taking our children to conventions in Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit, Montreal, Palm Springs.  And more memories.

Now my children are taking a few years off to raise their children, but I pray that Grand Rapids will be the beginning of their new family summer vacation plans. St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is honored and proud to place its name alongside the churches and cities that have had the privilege of hosting an Archdiocese Convention.

As co-chair of AC 2019, I invite you and your family to start your own tradition.  Come and pray with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Learn more about our Orthodox Faith.  Understand the role the Archdiocese plays in each of our home parishes.  And have fun with your new friends. Explore the beauty of Pure Michigan, whether you travel upNorth to breathtaking Mackinac Island or to the nearby beaches of freshwater Lake Michigan.  It all begins in Grand Rapids.  “You’ll Love It Here” because we love it here.



Written by AC2019 Co-Chair Kathy Abraham

It is said that anyone in the world can be reached with three phone calls.  Often in the Orthodox community three phone calls are two too many!  This is how one call changed my life.

Many people ask, why do we hold Archdiocese Conventions?  For me, the answer is simple.  Conventions foster our family environment.  The relationships we forge during these conventions are built on our common faith.  We are all members of an extended family that is the church.   These relationships last a lifetime, long after our High School and College friendships fade.  These friendships sustain us through the good times in life, the weddings and baptisms, as well as the sorrows.  The future generations need this now more than ever.

My experience began when my Godmother Laurice decided I needed to attend my first Midwest SOYO Convention with her family.  In two cars, we drove to Indianapolis, Indiana, and from there the rest is history!  I can still remember snacking on pita bread in our rooms, meeting people from across the region, talking and singing late into the evenings.  I can honestly say, most of these people are still pivotal parts of my life, and a few I now call family.

After college, I moved to Canton, Ohio.  My mother decided I needed a little push in finding a new parish.  A CALL was made.  Having served as the secretary of AOCWNA in the Midwest, Mom reached out to her friend Rose. Within hours, I received a call from Rose, a total stranger to me, inviting me to her home for dinner and offering to pick me up for church!  I was picked up every Sunday for several months, and was always invited to dinner whenever there was fresh talame.  I have never forgotten the power of that one phone call!   I found a new home parish in Canton, Ohio, and was quickly drafted to be on the parish council and the SOYO leader and in that capacity, I was mentored by the incomparable Rachel Blair!  Rachel told me that it was my duty to represent our parish at the regional meetings.  I had not been to one since college.  These powerful icons guided me and set powerful examples of stewardship that I try to emulate in my life today.  (Never underestimate your own power.  There is a young adult waiting for your lead.)  To this day, I try to connect the young people in the parish with a contact when they move to a new city or attend college, and because of my relationships outside of my own parish, I am successful in making these connections.  Some remark “is there anyone you don’t know!”  I smile and say “I have eyes everywhere and I will know if you don’t go to church!”  I make a CALL!

My journey continued in the Midwest leading me to serve as the President of what would then be known as the Fellowship of St. John the Divine.  Ironically, my involvement in the Archdiocese began in 1987, when I married and moved to Grand Rapids.  I was traveling to Detroit, Michigan, for what would be my first ever Archdiocese Convention with then NAC President Rob Rinvelt.  We knew each other from our involvement in regional meetings and now shared a parish.  Rob encouraged me to become involved on the North American level.   At the Archdiocese Conventions you have the opportunity to reach out and get to know layman and clergy from throughout North America and share ideas and values.  I was elected NAC Secretary at that meeting, and later went on to serve as President of NAC Fellowship of St. John the Divine.   During my four years as president, I had the opportunity to attend all seven of the Parish Life Conferences during the summer, which afforded me the opportunity to meet nearly all the clergy and many of the laity from across North America while also fostering relationships with the NAC Teen officers as future leaders of our church.  I was fortunate to have worked with a great Spiritual Advisor in V. Rev. Fr. John Abdalah, now Bishop JOHN!   These were the best of times!

As NAC President you are given the opportunity to serve with the amazing men and women of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees.  Giving lay leaders a voice in the affairs of the Archdiocese is unique in the Orthodox World.   The experience and knowledge gained from them is incomparable.  I was admittedly intimidated at first but found that the members of the board are gracious and hospitable not to mention charitable.  If not for these dedicated men and women sharing their time, talents and treasures, our youth and departments would not be where they are today.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my service was working with the North American Student Board which was the predecessor to OCF!  The talent of these young college students and their commitment to the faith was awe-inspiring.  Many of these amazing young adults are now leaders in their parishes and diocese.  To the many “Kids” as I called them, this is YOUR CALL!

The benefit of attending the bi-annual convention is the relationships that are forged and the ideas that are shared.  We are not an island.  We are a community of the faithful.  As an Antiochian Orthodox Christian you can walk into any church in our Archdiocese and feel at home.  There is always a familiar face.   I remember attending a church in Florida, while on vacation and the first person I ran into was an old friend from Ohio!  When our young people move away and leave their parish, they know there isn’t a city that they can move to that we cannot connect them to a church and a mentor within three calls.

And now full circle as co-chair of the Archdiocese 2019 Convention, welcome to Grand Rapids.  Take the Call and don’t miss the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and to forge new and lasting bonds as we celebrate your church family July 21-28th in Grand Rapids: You’ll Love It Here!

40 Years of Celebration in one Memorable Convention

Written by V. Rev. Fr. Michael Nasser, Pastor of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, Grand Rapids, MI

40 is a very Biblical number, often representing a long time. It was the number of days of rain which caused the flood in which Noah, his family and the animals were saved in the Ark. The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 long years, after being set free from slavery in Egypt before entering the Promised Land. Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, just prior to his Earthly Ministry, and in imitation, we fast for 40 days of Great Lent. So 40 is a long time.

As hard as it is to believe, it is also the number of years that we celebrate the good ministry being done at the Antiochian Village. It was 40 years ago, when the total number of campers attending the entire summer was a fraction of those attending any given week these days. It was not known from the beginning as the standard of success that it is now, with over 1,000 campers attending each summer, and whose ministry has contributed to another thousand attending each summer, at the various camps throughout the Archdiocese.

I’m not the only priest of the Archdiocese who credits the Village with being a significant experience in answering our call to the Holy Priesthood, with many of us acknowledging Fr. John Namie’s enduring influence. Even a few of our bishops would say the same! And the number of clergy, youth directors, chanters, choir directors, Church School teachers and Parish Council members (among a myriad of other ministries) who credit their time at the Village as being an important inspiration continually grows. The renaissance in Byzantine chant throughout the Archdiocese cannot be distinguished from the experience of those who attend our camps. We do indeed have much to celebrate!

Such an important milestone needs a GRAND celebration, and that’s just what we’ve planned for the 2019 Archdiocese Convention taking place from July 21-28, 2019 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While we’ll have to put up with luxury accommodations instead of sleeping on bunk beds in the cabins (someone needs to make the sacrifice!), this reunion will bring together campers and counselors from throughout the Village’s 40 years of faith, fellowship and fun. Some of the highlights of what we have planned include remembrances of these blessed years through picture and song. The celebration of this anniversary will be woven throughout the Convention’s events from Thursday’s “Evening Program” of the River View & Family Fair to a special “The Village Remembered” multi-media segment at the Friday “Antiochian Spotlight: From Broadway to Grand Rapids” musical spectacular to the Saturday Tribute to the Village at “The Light the Night Gala” Dinner-Dance. Having been a counselor in the ‘80s and early ‘90’s and then camp’s director in the late ‘90’s and early 2000’s, it’s such a blessing to be the Host Pastor at the Convention celebrating the Village’s four decades. One highlight for me personally will be the “Wine Down with Fr. Michael” gathering that our camp alumni here at St. Nicholas have planned, where I hope to see many of the campers and staff I knew from my Village days.

The impact on each one of the thousands of us who entered that sacred ground through the Arch is immeasurable, as each encountered God and His Church in new and meaningful ways. It’s why that Arch is featured prominently in this year’s Conference and Convention logo, and the Biblical quote which emblazons it is our theme: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13). We’re looking forward to seeing campers and counselors from these four decades reunite, relive their Village bonds, and be renewed in the faith that we learned to live in deeper ways during our days there. Among our 40 years of alumni, we of course have our “Pioneer Villagers” from the ‘70’s (when the staff outnumbered the campers!) and early ‘80’s, those I remember from the “Old School” days in the late 80’s, and the Villagers who enjoyed a much larger program of the 90’s and 2000’s. For a while now, we’ve seen “Second Generation Villagers” (campers who are children of those early campers or staff in the 70’s and 80’s), and now we’re beginning to see Third Generation Village babies at Family Camp! We’re looking forward to the blessed assembly of all those who met their future spouse at the Village, and a group picture of all the “Village Babies.”

So we invite you to “come home to the Village” at this summer’s Archdiocese Convention! No matter which “Country Roads” will take you home, or if you need to leave “on a jet plane,” we promise you a Convention to be remembered, as we remember our time at the Village.