2017 Family Ministry Conference: Speakers

Keynote Speakers

His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh

Bishop Savas served as the Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America until 2009, when he was named Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Church, Society and Culture. With an active presence on the Internet, he has been in the vanguard of engaging issues of contemporary societal and cultural realities from an Orthodox Christian perspective. He has led numerous Young Adult Pilgrimages and accompanied many Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) "Real Break" teams to Constantinople and the Holy Land. He is the hierarchical representative to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, in which capacity he has accompanied mission teams to Turkana in Kenya and Tanzania. He is also the Chairman of the Assembly's Committee for Church and Society. He further serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary as well as being an Adjunct Professor of Dogmatic Theology, teaching courses on topics such as "Looking for God in Popular Culture." He has been an instructor at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology Diaconate Program and served on the board of Saint Basil Academy.

On November 3, 2011, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople elected him to succeed the retired Metropolitan Maximos as Metropolitan of Pittsburgh. He was enthroned at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Pittsburgh on December 8, 2011.


Elissa Bjeletich

Elissa Bjeletich writes and speaks on topics of Orthodox parenting and religious education, and has published several books including Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home, In God’s Hands: A mother’s journey through her infant’s critical illness, and Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent. She writes the Ancient Faith Radio podcast and blog Raising Saints. A wife and the mother of five daughters, Elissa works in the Sunday School and Youth Ministries at Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Austin, Texas. 


Steven Christoforou

Originally from Astoria, New York, Steve graduated from Yale University and Fordham University School of Law. He worked as a Corporate Attorney on Wall Street for two years before enrolling at Holy Cross School of Theology, where he received a Masters of Divinity in 2013. He has served as Lay Coordinator for the Harvard and MIT chapters of Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and has extensive parish experience as a former Parish Council member, Sunday School teacher, and youth volunteer. He also has extensive experience in youth and camping ministries, having led retreats around the country as a member of the Hellenic College/Holy Cross Ambassadors Program, and having served at the Direct Archdiocesan District’s Camp Saint Paul, both as a Counselor and Boys Director. Steve previously served as Y2AM’s Youth Protection/Parish Ministries Coordinator, and later as Interim Director, before His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios appointed him Director in May 2015.


Intensive and Workshop Topics and Speakers

Finding the Tools to Face Serious Illness and Death

Dr. Tom Miller

This workshop will explore the trajectory of illness in our age and how to navigate the unique culture of medicine and understand its limitations. It will expand on healing words and helpful approaches to the sick and dying and how to face this time in our lives with faith and confidence.

Dr. Tom Miller grew up as a Mennonite and originally wanted to have a career as a pastor. But instead he settled on one as a physician. He and his wife Jill spent 5 years in Tanzania as missionaries in a remote district hospital. When their two daughters came into their family they settled in Lancaster, PA, where Tom practiced family medicine for the next 17 years. In 1996 the family went as missionaries to Albania for the better part of a year and there they discovered The Orthodox Faith. They were chrismated in 2010. Jill has been an RN in hospice for the last 20 years, and Tom has been a physician in hospice and palliative care for the last 14 years.


Technology that Unites and Divides: How We Are More Disconnected Than Ever in This Connected World

Jamil Samara, MDiv

Do the many tools and resources available through the internet create a more connected world, as we are led to believe? Or does all of this technology actually inhibit connection by creating barriers which prevent real relationship and self-knowledge? In this workshop, we will explore the opportunities and challenges that technology offers when it comes to attaining self-knowledge, building relationships with friends and family, and forming community with one another.

Jamil Samara is the Director of the Department of Internet Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He is an active member of St. Mary Orthodox Church of Cambridge, MA and has recently earned a Master of Divinity degree from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He enjoys contemplating the convergence of technology and faith and strives to further develop tools and services that benefit the Orthodox Church worldwide. 


Unafraid: Exposing Pornography for what it is, Poison

Nick Lionas, MDiv

Pornography is poison that has infiltrated our lives. EVERYONE is affected by it, whether directly, or indirectly. It's a part of our culture and it plays out in social settings for our families including pressures from friends and on social media. All the while, it is never spoke of. Pornography is more accessible today than ever before and if we don't expose it and be honest about it, it will be something that divides and breaks a part families in years to come. So lets talk about pornography. We can't be afraid to do so.

Nick graduated from Holy Cross School of Theology in 2013 with a Masters of Divinity. He served as the Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for the GOA until returning to Michigan with his family to work in local parish ministry. His many years serving youth and young adults have given him insight into important issues including dealing with pornography. He is the author and creator of wolfyoufeed.com, a resource site for parents and those who struggle to quit pornography for good. He currently lives in Rochester Hills, Mich.


LGBTQ Thoughts and Considerations

Fr. Jerry and Pres. Helene Hall

The Halls have been married for 38 years. Their path into the LGBT community was forged in 1999, when their oldest son came out as gay.  Joined by his three brothers and spouses, the family as a whole continues on a loving journey of dialogue and acceptance.

Fr Jerry and Helene Hall have served Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Akron, Ohio for 29 years.  Marriage and family is a priority in their ministry.  They co-founded the Orthodox expression of Worldwide Marriage Encounter in 1990 and presented weekend retreats for over 10 years.  The ongoing Theosis series is a small group study program that has impacted the lives of many Annunciation parishioners.


Poverty in the Family

Katrina Bitar

This poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants understand what it might be like to be a part of a typical low income family trying to survive from month-to-month.  Through this process, participants are sensitized to the realities of life faced by people who struggle to meet their own basic needs and the needs of their families.

Katrina is Director of the YES Program of FOCUS North America (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve) 

and Director at Camp St. Nicholas, Southern California Deanery, Frazier Park, California, since 2003.


Walking Alongside Faithful with Disabilities

​Natalie Kapeluck Nixon

Walking Alongside our Youth with Disabilities will discuss the challenges faced by youth with disabilities and their parents.  In addition, we will explore ways that we may support these families in parish life and at home.

​Natalie Kapeluck Nixon is the Director for Youth & Young Adult Ministry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.  She sits on the board of directors of Orthodox Christian Fellowship for which she has held several executive committee positions as well as Student Advisory Board Advisor, Interim Program Director and College Conference Advisor. She also serves as a youth consultant for the Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration and to the Assembly of Bishops Committee for Youth.  Natalie serves as Chairman of the Jurisdictional Youth Director Committee and teaches a Youth Ministry Certification Course for St. Sophia’s Seminary. Natalie also serves as the director for the Ukrainian Orthodox Camping Programs and is the co-founder of the Mommy & Me/Daddy & Me camping program. Recently she has begun the St. Nicholas Camping Program for Youth with Disabilities. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband Ethan Nixon and their very exuberant ten year old, Theodore.


Navigating Challenges in Family: The Ministry of Being Present-Intensive Session (see session outline here)

His Grace Bishop John Abdalah

Bishop John (Abdalah) holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Care from Pittsburgh Theological School, a Master of Divinity from St. Vladimir’s Seminary, a Master’s equivalency certificate in Pastoral Counseling from Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. Throughout Seminary and following his studies, he also studied Arabic.

Bishop John is a clinical member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He taught Pastoral Counseling in the graduate program at the St. John of Damascus Institute at the Balamand in Lebanon. Additionally, Bishop John has also edited The Word magazine, has been the Spiritual Advisor for the Antiochian Women, and has served as Dean of the Western Pennsylvania clergy and churches for many years. Bishop John also served for nearly ten years as NAC Spiritual Advisor for the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, and he teaches Priestly Formation for the Antiochian House of Studies, while mentoring the full-time seminarians in the Antiochian House of Studies programs. 

On Sunday, December 11, 2011, Bishop John was consecrated as Auxiliary of the Diocese of Worcester and New England, for the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.


Dr. Albert Rossi (via recording)

Dr. Rossi is the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services and teaches courses in pastoral theology at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He was a member of the SCOBA Commission on Contemporary Social and Moral Issues. He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion and published a book through Paulist Press entitled, Can I Make a Difference: Christian Family Life Today. After teaching at Pace University for 24 years, he retired as Associate Professor of Psychology. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. Dr. Rossi has a brief, bi–weekly podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Becoming a Healing Presence.


Patrick Tutella

Patrick Tutella is the Founder and Director of Caring Connections in Corrections (CCC), a socially focused outreach devoted to encourage laypeople to serve the Church and community in substantial ways.  Utilizing a Care Team Ministry approach based on six foundational principles from the Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers, CCC assists the parish in developing a structure for church members to address practical needs within the parish community.  These Parish Care Teams also provide opportunities for outreach and evangelism when engaged in ministry with “our neighbors” who are hungry, thirsty, transient, destitute, sick, in prison or returning from prison. 

Since 1979, he has served as a correctional chaplain, supervisor of chaplaincy services, and director of an ecumenical ministry concerned with the reintegration of people returning from incarceration.  From January 2008 through June 2014, he served as National Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM), the official prison ministry of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. In this position he traveled extensively speaking and lecturing on ministry to “Christ in the person in prison.”  He has been a featured presenter at churches, cathedrals, clergy/laity assemblies, and Metropolis assemblies.  He also has presented before local, national and international ecumenical audiences.