Archdiocesan Clergy Gather for Synaxis and Lenten Retreat

March 18, 2019 to March 22, 2019

Twenty-eight priests and deacons from across Canada – mainly from parishes in the West, but also from as far East as Montreal – gathered together at Entheos Retreat Centre near Calgary, March 18th – 22nd. Synaxis means “assembling together,” and calls to mind the words of the Psalm: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133.1)

The 2019 Clergy Synaxis and Lenten Retreat provided time to be together with our His Eminence, Archbishop Irénée, to pray together, to learn, and to experience some much-needed rest and renewal.

On Monday evening, the clergy from far and wide began to arrive at the picturesque Entheos Retreat Centre, nestled in a forested area east of the foothills of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Travelling by plane and car, they arrived to a warm welcome from Archpriest Phillip Eriksson, Chancellor of the Archdiocese, and organizer of the Synaxis. Brother Priests and Deacons greeted each other – in some cases the joyous reunion of old friends – and for others, the meeting of new fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard.

Tuesday began with Lenten Daily Matins, a service not often offered in many parish settings, but truly filled with edifying liturgical texts that drew our minds to God, and our own need for His mercy. Following breakfast, our speaker, Father Leonard Herrem, facilitated a practical session on Clergy Health and Self-Care. The work of the Bishop, Priest, and Deacon in the Church has its own unique stresses and challenges. One often has to “pivot” from very different experiences as we serve the faithful in our communities. There can be “four seasons” in any one day – as we go from comforting the grieving in a funeral setting, to sharing the joy of a Baptism or Marriage. We may be catechizing inquirers about the Orthodox faith in the same day that we anoint and pray for another parishioner in grave illness. All of these acts take place in the same days that Priests and Deacons are present to the realities and responsibilities of our own homes, families, and relationships. Father Leonard presented some insights for dealing with stress in healthy ways, including the “Thriving in Ministry” peer groups that are being developed to provide support for Priests.

Afternoons allowed space and time for silent reflection and prayer, taking a walk on the scenic ground at Entheos, or taking a good old-fashioned nap!

Wednesday morning we served the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, and received life from the Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Saviour Christ. It goes without saying that this participation in the Holy Eucharist, together with our Archbishop, was the central moment of the Clergy Synaxis and Retreat. Throughout the Retreat, other times were available for Clergy to participate in Confession, repenting from our own sins, and being healed by God.

One of the highlights of the Retreat was the informal times visiting around meals – enjoying friendship and laughter. It is in those times that we got to listen and hear from each other, how things are going ‘back home.’ On Wednesday afternoon, these visits spilled over into various outings, as one group went for a short hike at the breathtaking Elbow Falls, another visited St. Peter the Aleut Church in Calgary – with its new building and Orthodox Bookstore – and yet a third group stayed at Entheos to rest and relax.

On the final evening of the retreat, several attendees stayed up telling jokes! While some were real groaners, a small percentage of them were hilarious, and the mirth filled our hearts with the joy of brotherhood.

The final morning, Thursday, we again served Lenten Daily Matins, and Vladika Irénée offered archpastoral encouragement to all present. The Archbishop presented awards to several priests, recognizing their faithful service to Christ and His Church.

The staff of the Entheos Retreat Centre did an admirable job preparing enjoyable Lenten meals for us all, and special thanks are due to Father Phillip and Matushka Barbara Eriksson, and many others from the local Calgary community, who worked hard preparing for the Synaxis, and making it run so smoothly.

Following a final breakfast and receiving Archbishop Irénée’s blessing, we began our trips home, refreshed and rejuvenated to continue, with our parish communities, our Lenten journey with the Lord  – to the Cross, the Tomb, and the Resurrection on the Third Day.