Catholics and Orthodox Join Together in South River, New Jersey to Honor Our Lady and Pray for the Defense of Life and the Family

Before beginning the North American leg of the From Ocean to Ocean Peregrination in Defense of Life, I met with His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, who leads the Orthodox Church in America, along with some of his brother priests in Syosset, New York.  His Beatitude has represented the Orthodox Church at the March for Life in Washington, DC. 

I explained the nature and purpose of the peregrination to Metropolitan Tikhon and asked for his support.  He was very gracious and fully in support of the mission to honor Our Lady and ask her prayers for the defense of life and the family. Catholics and Orthodox are united in honoring Our Lady as Theotokos, in defense of life from the moment of fertilization to natural death and in defense of marriage as a union between one man and one woman who are united for life and open to the transmission of new human life.   Metropolitan Tikhon most generously gave me an icon of Our Lady of Kazan.  Russian soldiers had the original icon carried before them as they drove Napoleon out of Russia in 1812.

Father David Garretson is pastor of SS Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church in South River, NJ.  He heard about the From Ocean to Ocean Pilgrimage in Defense of Life by an email sent from Poland, and scheduled a visit even before I met with Metropolitan Tikhon.  Fr. Garretson is an interesting man.   Besides his duties as pastor, he is the chair of the Metropolitan Council’s Human Resources Committee. Father David is also a union organizer and negotiator with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.  He works to ensure fair wages and working conditions for people in the theater, motion picture and television industry.   Many of whom are immigrants who are often unfairly exploited by their employers. Fr. David sees this as consistent with his pro-life commitment that sees every human being as made in the image and likeness of God who life and rights must be respected from the moment of fertilization to the moment of natural death. 

Fr. David asked me how I overcome discouragement despite the enormous challenges posed by the culture of death.  I responded that in human terms the challenges we face are impossible to overcome, but with God all things are possible.  That is the reason for the From Ocean to Ocean Peregrination in Defense of Life. If we have confidence in Our Lady, she will crush the power of the culture of death.  Fr. David took me to a good Polish restaurant in South River for lunch.  In the 1950’s through the 1980’s there was a large influx of Polish and Russian immigrants to the area with is in Central New Jersey, not far from Rutgers University in New Brunswick. 

At 3:00 P.M., a group of clergy and a choir of Orthodox seminarians from St. Tikhon's Seminary greeted the icon and she was processed into the church and placed on the tetrapod which was draped with a fine cloth.  Fr. David said that when you enter an Orthodox church you should have the feeling that you are leaving this world and stepping into heaven.  I definitely had that feeling.  Not only is Our Lord present there in the Holy Eucharist, but the church was physically beautiful, especially the interior.  I have always been impressed by the iconostasis in Eastern churches.  The iconostasis  or icon screen is a screen or wall with doors which serves as a support for icons.  It marks the boundary between the nave and the sanctuary. It also represents a separation between the human world and the Divine world. The iconostasis at SS. Peter and Paul Church was particularly beautiful, as was the dome.

From 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. the church was open for veneration by the faithful.  At 5:00 P.M. a large crowd of about 200 people, both Orthodox and Catholics, gathered for a prayer service called the “Molieben to the Most Holy Theotokos”.  “Theotokos” is a Greek word which means “God-bearer”.  Orthodox and Catholics agree that Mary though human gave birth not simply to Christ’s human nature, but to the Divine Person Jesus Christ who existed before her.  The Council of Ephesus defined this truth in the year 431 AD. 

Father David preached in defense of life and marriage.  He spoke of how life is sacred because human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. He also spoke in defense of natural marriage as the foundation of the family and society and exhorted us not to give in to feelings of discouragement and persevere in our efforts in defense of life and the family. As the service ended, Orthodox priests did a non-sacramental anointing of anyone in need of physical, mental or spiritual healing. 

At 7:00 P.M. we prayed the Great Vespers together.  The choir of seminarians sounded heavenly.   The icon was processed solemnly out of the church as the choir sang and placed in the vehicle.  After the service Fr. David invited me and the Orthodox seminarians back to his home.  We had an opportunity to socialize, to learn from each other and eat some Chinese food that Fr. David had delivered for us. I enjoyed their company so much that I left later than I expected and arrived late at night at my next stop at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Merchantville, NJ, back to the southern part of the state in the Diocese of Camden.

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