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A Priest, A Friend, A Mentor
By Caye Caswick

I first met Fr. Andrew via the Internet. I knew something in my life was missing and it was the regular structure of church. I, as many others in my 20's, had stopped attending and put other priorities before church. Something kept gnawing at me. I suspect it was a little guilt and that fabulous realization of turning 40 and how it can really make a better person out of you (those of you over 40 will know instantly; those under will realize it soon enough). Anyhow, I found the St. Luke website and sent Fr. Andrew an e-mail inquiring about services. He invited me to attend Divine Liturgy. Pearl happened to be the greeter that morning and she welcomed me and gave me a visitor's card to fill out. I was a little apprehensive about being called out as a visitor, but once I was and waved to the congregation, it actually felt very good. It also helped people recognize me during coffee hour.

Now some seven years later, that simple e-mail has enriched my life in many ways. Fr. Andrew must have recognized a need in me to busy myself, and as he does in his role as leader, he assigned me to the Lost Sheep Ministry. He also encouraged me to select a "big brother or sister" in the parish to whom I could buddy up; that was Matushka Alexandra. What a fabulous friendship we had. Then he encouraged me to take on the 9/11 or as it's now known, Patriot's Day Memorial. After the first Memorial, I got to thinking about how my father had served in the Army and refused to ever discuss that part of his life. Years ago my sister and I discovered a diary dad kept during WWII and felt wicked reading it, but so glad we did, as he died with all those secrets. Later I told Fr. Andrew that it was a good ministry for me as my dad was military, but didn't want his girls to know about that – so this helped me to deal with those mysterious questions.

Fr. Andrew and I go to dinner fairly regularly. We both enjoy trying restaurants, not to mention food is something we share a love of. I never imagined myself a sashimi (raw fish) eater, but thanks to Fr. Andrew, I love it. Occasionally one of us will e-mail the other and say 1, 2, 3 Sushi! Meaning, let's go out for sashimi and chat. I attended the AAC in Toronto as an observer. My intention was to streamline my time in the hotel – so I purposely booked a room a mile away in a bed-and-breakfast so I could also have time to explore the city of Toronto. That never actually happened, because I had so much fun and met so many people that I wanted to attend all the services, plenary sessions, meetings and elections.

I have been doing genealogy now for about 7 or 8 years. That planted the seed in me to return to Orthodoxy as my grandmother's church provided some of the initial pieces to my genealogical puzzle. Through an e-mail group I belong to, I met some folks in Minnesota who were going on a trip to Slovakia to consecrate a church and to visit their ancestral villages. I mentioned it to Fr. Andrew who also knew one of my contacts. He came back from a Deanery meeting encouraged to hook up with the Minnesota group and do our own little European Pilgrimage. He said he'd drive if I navigated – a deal I could not pass up. He made the rental car arrangements; I arranged the flights, booked hotels and mapped out our routes. We both made other suggestions to each other such as let's go here, let's visit that, let's see this and before long we had an itinerary that would make most travel agents blush. What an incredibly rewarding trip. We stayed with cousins in my ancestral village – who I had written but never before met. I folk danced in a quaint Slovak village and learned a bit about Kroj, or traditional folk costumes. We visited Fr. Andrew's ancestral village in Poland. We visited Matushka Pat's ancestral village. We visited the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in Poland and got a custom tour of Warsaw. We saw the Black Madonna in Czestochowa. We saw Krakow. We went to Auschwitz – and I cannot even think about that place without tearing up, a must-see if you are ever in Europe. We rounded out the trip with an evening in Vienna before flying home. Oh, did I mention we also attended the consecration of a new Orthodox church, silly me, that almost slipped my mind. We got lost (OK Father, I was the one who got lost, but I was also the one who "asked" for directions); we got found and mostly we learned a lot about each other and our roots.

Then there was last year's visit to Antiochian Village where we rented a van and drove to Pennsylvania with fellow St. Lukians and one of my Slovak cousins who is now spending her second summer with me (genealogy, talk about full-circle!). Again, I met so many interesting Orthodox Christians and had hours in the van to chat and share stories. And then (as if I haven't used those two words enough already) the 2008 Holy Land Pilgrimage came up. At first I wasn't interested, “Too expensive, too dangerous, don’t want to travel with a large group,” excuse after excuse. Well, that did not deter Fr. Andrew from continually mentioning it in casual conversation and in a variety of e-mails. Well, of course I went and oh boy, I again met the most interesting people and had some amazing experiences.

I think that now I look at Fr. Andrew in many ways as my own father. He is an incredible mentor and friend. It was special to be at his 40th Anniversary celebration and see how his suggestion to Jerry to be ordained on that date shows his amazing forethought and selflessness. I feel blessed to have had so many rewarding experiences with such a good priest (I've known many priests, as my dad worked for the railroad and transferred a lot, so we moved every few years during my youth) and I look forward to many, many more years of counseling, mentoring, friendship and fathering.

Thank you Father Andrew for answering that first e-mail. May God grant you many years.

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