The weekend of May 21-22, 2022 marked the 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of St. George Church in Little Falls, New Jersey. Its founders immigrated from the Middle East with next to nothing, only to build an enduring Orthodox Church to maintain their ties to our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph and His Grace Bishop Thomas of the Diocese of Oakland, Charleston and the Mid-Atlantic led the celebrations. His Eminence told the physical and spiritual descendants that they must continue and build upon the work of their ancestors.
Sayidna Thomas grew up at St. George when it was located in Paterson, New Jersey. His uncle, Fr. Michael Simon of blessed memory and eternal repose, once served as pastor. In the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, His Grace preached on the gospel reading of our Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan Woman (John 4:5-42).
“The Samaritans of this time could be any sort of people,” His Grace said. “I would submit to you that the people you spend the least amount of time with, or even attempt to stay away from, the neighborhoods that you try to drive around, these are the sort of Samaritans our Lord is sending us to go and preach the gospel.
“And it doesn’t mean you have to talk. The saints of our church have told us to preach the gospel, and, if necessary, use words.”
Jesus told the Samaritan Woman – the Great-martyr Photini – all about her life. “Do not be mistaken that you can ever hide from God,” Sayidna Thomas said. “You cannot hide your bodies or your thoughts. You cannot hide what’s in your hearts. You can pretend to be humble, but the Lord knows whether you’re humble or not. You can pretend to be holy and come to church, but the Lord knows what you’re thinking now.”
This loving encounter brought St. Photini and thousands of her fellow Samaritans to the true Faith.
“When called on to speak, we speak the truth that comes from the gospel, and what our Lord wants us to say to one another. Each and every time we open our mouths, it would be worth it to make the sign of the Cross, and ask ourselves, before we speak, ‘Does this sound like our Lord? Does this sound like the saints of the Church? Does this sound like the gospel?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ in the most loving and palpable way possible, go ahead and say it.”
After the homily, His Eminence surprised nearly everyone, including the pastor, Fr. Nicholas Belcher, by elevating him to the dignity of archpriest.
“This is a big responsibility,” His Eminence told the congregation. “We put onto him more things to do. Let us pray for him to carry this cross faithfully and piously.”
After Sayidna Joseph bestowed the pectoral cross and led the chanting of “Axios! He is worthy! Moustahiq!” His Eminence turned to Fr. Nicholas and said, “You are wearing this cross to be blessed, not to be crushed!”
Fr. Nicholas once served as administrative assistant to His Eminence. He currently leads the Archdiocesan Task Force for Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Photos by Subdn. Elio Nicolas