MESSAGE FROM SHARON GOMULKA
President of the Detroit Chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black;
member of Holy Transfiguration (OCA) Church, Livonia, MI
Frederick Douglas, a former slave, abolitionist and orator, said, “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.”
Many people, especially among African Americans, in our communities, prisons, and on our streets are broken men and women — not all African-Americans, but many.
It is very hard for men to straighten, strengthen, repair that which other men have so well crafted and perfected. That which was intended for evil in the forms of slavery, Jim Crow, and welfare.
Where is justice for the oppressed and the widow? Who is the Father of the fatherless? Surely we know the answer, and are called to tell those, who, for too long have not heard the answer from the fullness of Orthodox Christianity.
One such man was sent forth in the Apostolic succession to proclaim this Good News, not just to those who enter this holy temple, but to those who learn upon entering this temple that it welcomes them, too. They see images that look like themselves adorned on the walls of St. Innocent.
No Black person becomes Orthodox because of an Afro-centric message or the singing of Negro spirituals. Like everyone here, African-Americans convert to Orthodoxy because Christ is revealed to all of us through the teaching and preaching of the Gospel in truth and in love, one person or household at a time. They come to the knowledge and fullness of the Truth of Christ Jesus, His salvation and redemptive work when it is faithfully presented in ways the hearer can receive and understand. People, all people, come to know and believe in Christ Jesus where they are welcomed and loved.
I was ushered into Orthodoxy by Fr. Michael Matsko, a very good friend of Fr Roman’s. My formal introduction to Fr. Roman lacked the usual formalities one would expect between laity and priest. He did not wait for someone to introduce us. While he was visiting Holy Transfiguration (my home parish) one day, he forthrightly told me there was a meeting he thought would be of interest to me and that I should attend. I don’t remember him telling me his name. He just got right to the point. That was over 8 years ago. Little did I know of the journey I would begin when I agreed to attend that meeting.
I have marveled at Fr Roman’s tenacity, perseverance, and patience. The Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black is one of the many initiatives he has started in Detroit. Even now he and I co-labor with the founders and leaders of the [National] Brotherhood to plant Orthodox seeds in America for American people of all races and nationalities. We water the dry, hard soil of life in urban spiritual wastelands. Together we strive to sensitize the hearts of the Faithful, to create a vision of Orthodoxy including American minority groups. He has already laid the foundation and begun the work.
What priest writes the images and lives of African saints on the walls of a Russian Orthodox church? Who does that if not one with integrity and conviction of the Truth?
What priest establishes an organization for the evangelization of minorities and urban people of Detroit?
What priest reflects the missionary spirit of Sts. Cyril and Methodius to whom the Russian people owe so much?
What priest pushes even harder in a season of life when other priests have said, “It is time for Matushka and I to let others who are younger do the work”?
Remember F. [Frederick] Douglas’ words, “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.”
Who is the priest that says,
“I cannot repair you, oh broken men, but I know Who can — let me tell you of Him through the Liturgy and Gospel preaching, BSMB conferences and Akathists, OCPM [Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry], OCWM [Orthhodox Chhristian Women of Michigan], and the COCC [Council of Orthodox Christian Churches].
I can not repair you, my neighbor, but let me show you Who can through this temple’s charitable works when you knock on its doors.
I can not repair you, oh broken stranger, but I can truthfully and confidently bring you to the One Who can, no matter the circumstances, your skin color, manner of speech, or zip code. I will pray for you during our church Molebens. I will lead prayers petitioning for peace and an end to community strife and violence, and for healing and reconciliation.”
It is impossible for any man to repair another man’s brokenness, but Fr. Roman demonstrates what it means to trust in the One Who can, and to work in the Lord’s vineyard and spiritually glean all those whom the Lord calls to Himself.
It is very hard to build strong children. Even that, to me, seems impossible, let alone to repair broken men and women. I get easily discouraged when I think of the magnitude of the challenge before us. “Our work is fruitless,” I will say. But Fr. Roman is quick to remind me that with God all things are possible. He will say, “We must wait for the Holy Spirit. It is up to Him.” So true.
Before closing I must acknowledge and raise up someone who I know has made so much of Father’s work possible in very practical and praiseworthy ways. Matushka Rose Marie lovingly, graciously, kindly welcomes all with her hospitality and warmth. No man, can achieve much without the support and love of his wife. We honor Father Roman, but, let us stand at the gates and praise his and our Matushka Rose Marie (Prov 31:25-31).
For me, I will continue to walk on the paths set before me by greater and holier women and men. I have much to learn. I am blessed to have Fr Roman as a friend and mentor. May you continue to teach us all for many years to come.
From my family, to yours, Fr. Roman and Matushka, may God grant you many, many years!