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Bishop THOMAS Visits St. Raphael Church, Centreville, VA

On December 19th his Grace, Bishop THOMAS arrived at Dulles airport where he was greeted by Mr. Robert Najjar, a parishioner of St. Raphael Orthodox Mission Church in Centreville, VA.

Sayedna presided over Great Vespers on Saturday, with assistance from Father Thomas Palke, pastor of St. Raphael; Deacon Mark O’Dell from Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Linthicum, MD; and Subdeacon Michael (Robert) Rudloff, a member of St. Raphael who lives in Norfolk, VA. Following Great Vespers a light snack was provided by members of the parish. Parishioners were given an opportunity for a question/answer period with His Grace. Bishop THOMAS spoke briefly about the Feast of the Nativity and what it means for us as Orthodox.

On Sunday, December 21st, Matins and Divine Liturgy were celebrated by his Grace Bishop THOMAS, assisted again by Father Thomas Palke, Deacon Mark and Subdeacon Michael. Approximately 70 people were in attendance on this special day. Bishop THOMAS spoke about the importance of the mission moving forward in acquiring a more permanent space. He offered words of encouragement and praise as St. Raphael has grown significantly in its membership within three years. He stated that, in order for us to continue growing, a move is essential. We must be able to provide for a growing Sunday School, and have a church that can offer a full range of services and activities. He also stated that we need to quickly get Father Thomas to a full-time status so that he can devote all of his time to the growth of the mission. He was positive and hopeful that we can achieve these goals in the coming year.

The choir sang beautifully and was conducted by St. Raphael's choir director Ms. Marie Hyder. After Liturgy, the Sunday school children performed a brief Christmas play directed by Sue Garbarino and Tammy Karas. Father Thomas also presented awards from this year’s Creative Arts Festival. Nina Hamm, Tristen Olds and Julia Najjar received awards for drawings. In creative writing, Matt Karas received a second place award, and Katherine Karas received a first place award. The children receiving awards were then photographed with his Grace.

A wonderful and delicious Lenten Middle Eastern lunch was provided by Mrs. Merv Olds and her mother. All were invited to stay and dine with the bishop. Afterwards Bishop Thomas gave the parishioners another opportunity to ask any questions. The afternoon ended around 2:00 PM. Father Thomas drove Sayedna to York, PA, where he was picked up and escorted to Allentown, PA. It was a wonderful weekend with His Grace.

We look forward to 2009 when Bishop Thomas will be blessing our new and more permanent home.