Source: Orthodox Christian Laity
West Palm Beach, Florida, is the Epiphany City for the Orthodox Christian Community in Southeast Florida. The faithful gather from Fort Meyers, Miami, Coral Gables, Kendell, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Davie, Boca Raton, Lantana, West Palm Beach, and Fort Pierce. The Metropolis of Atlanta proclaims the event one or two weeks after the ceremony at Tarpon Springs, Florida, on the actual feast day (January 6).
For thirty years, this inspirational event has been organized and implemented by the parish community of St. Catherine. St. Catherine Parish is located on the Southeast corner of Flagler Drive and the Lake Worth Intercoastal Water Way and is the gateway to Palm Beach. Neighbors provide the use of their docks for the bishops, clergy, and divers to participate in the tossing of the Cross into the Water Litany, proclaiming the sanctification of God’s creation and His People. The world and all of us are once again given the opportunity to be renewed and to understand that participating in the life of the world is a sacramental way of life. The Holy Trinity is made manifest for each of us to help us in this responsibility. The congregation gathers at the waterfront to pray and watch.
Before the cross toss, clergy and faithful celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the spacious Cultural Center of St. Catherine, which is converted into a Church with magnificent monumental icons depicting the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at the Baptism of Christ. The bishop presides with numerous clergymen from various jurisdictions. The Pan-Orthodox Choir is composed of members from the various participating parishes. Their participation enhances the liturgy and is inspirational to see what beauty unity of purpose brings to our faith community.
For thirty years, I marvel at the fact that within forty-five minutes, when the entire congregation departs the church to walk and participate in the cross toss, the sanctuary is converted into a banquet hall with tables rolled out, tablecloths placed, and chairs rearranged. Hundreds of people return after the waterfront services to enjoy a lamb shank dinner. This conversion and setup amazes me every year. Many hands make it happen. The community has had thirty years of practice. The parish community of St. Catherine executes the details of this event.
This year, the Pan-Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta event of Epiphany 2024 in southeast Florida was canceled. It conflicted with the schedule of the Metropolis of Atlanta’s all-southern states Hellenic Dance Festival (HDF) held in Orlando, FL, January 11-15. This weekend is extended because of the Martin Luther King Holiday. So, it is an opportunity for families from all the states that make up the Metropolis to travel to Orlando. Orlando is accessible and has the facilities to accommodate hundreds of folks who will flock there.
My thought is, why could we not host both events? They are not related, and they are not exclusive. A Metropolis as large and affluent as Atlanta can do two events simultaneously. They have different purposes. The parish community hosts the Southeast Florida Epiphany event. It does not depend on Metropolis resources. All the potential divers in Southeast Florida will not be attending the HDF. Many bishops are available to preside at the Epiphany celebration. The folks who look forward to the yearly Pan-Orthodox Epiphany event and some new folks would attend.
It sends the wrong signal to our children in the Southeast to cancel the Epiphany event because of the HDF. What are the priorities of the church? What takes precedence: celebrating ethnic cultural events or the holy days of the liturgical calendar as a Pan-Orthodox faith community? As a church elder who has traveled throughout the Orthodox Christian communities in the United States these past 36 years, anecdotally, I observe that cultural dancing is not the church’s mission, and it does not retain our children within the church. Other agencies in our community need to take over these ethnic and cultural exercises. We need to teach our children to dance, sing, and fellowship as young people.
The church’s mission is to teach faith to our youth in meaningful ways so that they understand the wholeness of the faith. The church needs to offer them creative outlets to practice their faith. Our youth search for meaning and their roots as the children of God. They learn the meaning of Christianity from other sources and eventually leave our church. They leave, because they cannot relate to what they have not been taught.
George E. Matsoukas
OCL Executive Director Emeritus