Father John Kreta Interview:
This is file #19, cycle 3. Today’s date is Jan. 11, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Father John Kreta of the All Saints in America Orthodox Church. He is going to talk about his life and times and his various careers and particularly about the church that he managed so well. But first we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
JK:Father John Kreta
JM:What is your birthdate?
JK:July 6, 1957
JK:The lower East side of Manhattan in New York
JM:What are your parents’ names?
JK:My father is Father Joseph Kreta and my mother is Marie Gambal Kreta.
JM:Do you have siblings?
JK:I had an older brother Peter who passed away of cancer in January of1995. I have a twin brother Stephen and a younger sister Maria.
JM:I want to know what you did before you became a priest. What was your occupation in Alaska?
JK:I had several. My undergraduate degree from the University of Alaska was in Television production. I worked at a public television station in Fairbanks, Alaska, as an on air talent, a camera man, a director and various other technical things. Upon graduating from college I was looking for a full time position in the television field, but it was difficult to find. I was in Kodiak, Alaska, which is a big fishing village so I went into commercial fishing. I was in commercial fishing between school and full time eleven years.
JM:What kind of fishing?
JK:I did them all: crab fishing, and canner crab fishing. I was the captain of a salmon tender, actually two different salmon tenders. I did that for about 8 years. I did some halibut fishing and some Dungeness crabbing off my own boat.
JM:Oh my word. I am New England I expect cod. I think you said that your father and grandfather were priests.
JK:Yes, my older brother was a priest and my uncle was a priest.
JM:But you said you did not want to be a priest.2.
JK:I had no desire to be a priest. I figured we had enough in the family. To be honest with you the example that my grandfather, brother, and father gave of a priest was one that I felt I could never live up to. It was something that I really didn’t think was my calling or desire to try and follow in their footsteps.
JM:What changed your mind?
JK:We started this mission parish here in Salisbury, at the time we were meeting in Sharon. There were just a few of us. I did go to seminary when I was a commercial fisherman. I was a young man and single and making a good amount of money fishing. So I would go one year to the Caribbean and one off-season to Austria skiing and various other things. I decided one year to go to seminary just for one year.
JM:What seminary was that?
JK:That was St. Herman’s Theological Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska. When I was in college, I had a roommate whose father was a Baptist minister. My dad being an Orthodox priest, we got into very many late night discussions about the theology and God and various other things. I realized that there were some questions that I had so I thought I would go to seminary for one year just for my own self, not for the desire to be a priest, to answer some questions that I had. You get a lot of time out in the middle of the ocean by yourself on wheel watch, thinking about God, who am I, what is my existence, what is God, what is this all about, what is life about -all those questions. I enjoyed the seminary experience very much and enjoyed what I was learning and then ended up staying. While I am in school, I might as well get my Master’s so I transferred from St. Herman in Kodiak to St. Vladimir’s Theological seminary in Yonkers, New York where they offered a Master’s Degree.
JM: Then how did you come to this area?
JK:I met this beautiful woman in Trumbull, Connecticut. She was born and raised in Connecticut and really didn’t have any desire to leave Connecticut. She fell in love with some guy from Alaska. We had some discussions and here I am!
JM:You said you met her at a stop light!
JK:I did. It was my first year in seminary and I was heading to a church in Trumbull, Ct. to serve with the bishop. We stopped at a stop light and this beautiful woman pulled up next to us. I gave her a smile and she gave me a big smile and a wave. I thought I was in trouble because she started following us all the way to the church and into the parking lot. It turns out that she was the Choir director and the President of the Parish. We didn’t meet or talk much for three years. It was after that in the all American church council when all the churches get together, that we actually went on our first date about 4 weeks after that,
JM:The All Saints church was founded in 1990?
JM:But you did not actually have building until 1994. (See File #55, John Mongeau) What is the size of the congregation?
JK:Right now it is about 35. When we started it was about 5.
JM:You have music in your church, but it is all A cappella?
JK:Correct. The idea is with our orthodox theology that we offer everything to God, including the gifts that God has given us in our voices. It is a much more natural way of worshipping rather than an external instrument. It is much more internal by using our voices.
JM:Do you use incense?
JK:Yes, we do.
JM:Do you have icons?
JK:Yes, we do lots of them.
JM:Yes! It is a beautiful church. I was delighted to be able to see it. I am assuming that each icon has a specific purpose?
JK:Yes, there are different types of icons. We have icons of Christ; we have Icons of the Mother of God; we have icons of various saints and we also have icons of the various feasts that we celebrate: Christmas, Theophany, and the Meeting of our Lord, Easter and Good Friday. Each of the icons is like a theology in lines and colors. Not just any pictures can be an icon; it has to have a theological basis, it has to be rooted in Scripture. It has to be included in the church worship; it has to be rooted in the church tradition. You just can’t paint any icon like Christ coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. There are certain features or certain theologies which cover everything that has to be depicted in that icon.
JM: Then it would be something like Doom Paintings.
JK:I don’t know about Doom Paintings.
JM:They are frescoes on church walls in England. The congregation was illiterate so they were using the pictures to enhance the service and teach the Word of God. Would explain a little bit about “Mind, soul, and body”?
JK:We believe that when you worship God you are praising Him with all that you have and all that you are. The “are” is mind, soul and body. The idea is that we offer all of that back to God in gratitude and thanksgiving for all the blessings and everything He has given us, most importantly life, and salvation. In the Orthodox Church the singing of certain melodies which have been designed specifically to stir the soul, to bring the soul to a prayerful meditation. The icons and incense are visual and sensual to there is a very physical presence in the church. The icons incense, tasting of Communion, receiving the body and blood of Christ in Communion, and the singing use all five senses in the church worship
service. The congregation stands and we do a lot of kneeling and bowing down so that is another form of physical worship with the body. All of that we offer with our soul which is geared toward moving our soul in a way to communicate with God so we can be closer to God.
JM:Then the members of the church are fully participating in the service.
JK:Exactly. The priest doesn’t lead the service as much as the priest leads the people. The priest is not any more than the people. As a matter of fact in the Orthodox Church the priest is not allowed to serve the liturgy if there is nobody there because you need the amen of the people when you consecrate the gift. So the priest cannot just go and serve liturgy by himself, he has to have the presence there of the people there in order to do that?
JM:Do you have a mission statement for your church?
JK:I guess we do, but I don’t remember it. I don’t know it word for word but I can give you the gist. We gather together and worship God in the Orthodox manner to spread the gospel to those that have not heard it and through education to worship and to give service to the community.
JM:Do you have a Sunday school?
JK:We do. Right now we have 6 children.
JM:Do you teach it or do you have someone of the congregation do it.
JK:Someone in the congregation teaches it, but I oversee it.
JM:Do you have a standard curriculum or do you tailor it to the children?
JK:We do both. We have the standard curriculum and we also do own thing depending on the abilities of the children. Through the 25 years we have had different levels of children with different capabilities. We have altered it as to whom we are teaching.
JM:Is you curriculum based on the Bible?
JK:Yes, both New and Old Testament.
JM:Do you have a youth group of teenagers?
JK:No not right now they have all left for college right now.
JM:Does the clergy rotate?
JK:When you are ordained, you are ordained to a particular altar and stay with that altar. Priest can be transferred for various reasons. The ideal would be that you serve that altar and serve the people. The priest is a servant, like Christ, so you serve the people that are there. The reason you call the Rector or Priest Father is they become your spiritual father. If you are really going to have a spiritual father,
you are there when they are born, when they are baptized, when they marry and when they die. Being the Spiritual Father is like being any father: you are there for the life of parish and your parishioners.
JM:You have been here since 1990 so in this town you are the longest serving clergy we have.
JK:Thank you for letting me know that.
JM:I mean that in the best sense. If your clergy rotates out after 2 or 3 years, it is a very different situation. You can’t build up the trust as easily. Do you do an outreach program?
JK:We do when we can. Right now the biggest thing that we do is we have a clothing drive every summer before school. We give away free clothing for a family that needs school clothing or school supplies, backpack and or books. We used to do a coat drive in the winter, but there are now a number of them so it is not necessary right now.
JM:Are you the Chancellor for New England?
JM:What does that mean?
JK:The Chancellor is the assistant to the Bishop of the diocese. The chancellor is the second in command. He stands in for the bishop when the bishop is not there. He helps with all the administrative work of the diocese and the parishes.
JM:For the whole 6 states of New England?
JM:That is a large area.
JM:Why is Christmas on a different date from other churches?
JK:It is all in the calculations and the formula that governs Passover. One is based on the Julian calendar and the other is based on the Gregorian calendar. There is a difference between the Western and Easter churches because of that formula.
JM:When does your church celebrate Easter?
JK:All the orthodox churches celebrate Easter on the same day.
JM;Do you fast?
JK:Yes, we do. We feel fasting is a very essential part of the Christian life and part of the spiritual life. The reason for that is when we worship we worship with mind, soul, and body. Fasting is not depriving ourselves of something. I tell my parishioners, “The Devil fasts better than you do.” The purpose of fasting is to bring ourselves back in balance. Often we become very physical and our spiritual side struggles. We fast with particular foods so that we can focus on Heavenly food, the Bread of Life, rather than having a gourmet meal. God is the source of all things: our food, our life, and our breathe: we have to remind ourselves of that. As Christ said, “Man can not live on bread alone, but by the Word of God.” During the greatest fasting period of the church, we have more services during that time. You would replace those things which you are not having with prayer, with more attention to the Scriptures. Some people give up lunch and they use the money that they would spend on lunch to give to the poor. You reprioritize those things that are important. Fasting gives you the clarity to do that. Fasting makes us more attuned to the spiritual side.
JM:Do you fast at other time besides Lent?
JK:Yes we fast prior to Christmas, Easter and the Fast of the Domissions (the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God) in August. We fast from April 1 to the 14th. We have a St. Peter & Paul Fast and we also fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
JM:Are those fish days or no food at all?
JK:No they are fish days. On Wednesdays and Fridays we have fish, vegetables and things like that. It is not full abstinence. The full fast is the one we do prior to receiving Communion. Sunday mornings we do not eat breakfast before Communion.
JM:Do you do Confession?
JK:Yes we do.
JK:One of the differences with our church is that we get away from the rigid requirements such at attending Church on Sunday. It is not mandatory to attend church every Sunday, but that you do come to church. If you don’t come every Sunday, it is not an obligation but if you are not coming, why not? Where is your love of God? Why would you choose not to be here? Especially with confession, we state that if you don’t come to confession at least once or twice a year, then something is wrong with your spiritual needs. You should at least be doing that. I have some parishioners who come every week, and others who come during fasting periods.
JM:Sort of an as needed basis?
JK:The idea of confession is not going through a laundry list of sins, God already knows what we have done wrong, but coming to God and saying, “I see that these behaviors are keeping me from You
and keeping me from having a better relationship with You. They are separating me from You. I am sorry and I want to do better.”
JM:An excellent explanation. Thank you.
JM:Baptism, you do it differently than others because you do immersion?
JK:Yes we do, full immersion, three times. In the Name of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
JM:Even with babies/?
JM:How about your marriage service?
JK:Oh it is beautiful. In the Orthodox Church we have adopted this idea of the term Sacrament. The true meaning of Sacrament is mystery so it is the mystery of Marriage, the mystery of Baptism, the mystery of Communion, the mystery of Ordination and the mystery of Confession. There are aspects of each sacrament that are mysteries. God in H his wisdom does things that we don’t completely understand. In the mystery of marriage two people are joined to one. It is hard to comprehend that in a rational sense, but we believe in the mystery of God. One of the things that you will not hear in the Orthodox Church is “until death do us part.” When you are united in marriage, it is for all Eternity. There is no contract between a man and a woman in the Orthodox mystery of marriage. It is a union of God by God for all Eternity.
JM:Communion? How do you do that? Do you do it with wine?
JK:When we talk about a person we talk about body, mind and soul, so when we gather for Communion we use wine and bread.
JM:Really bread or wafers? Do you do it by Tincture?
JK:Real bread. No, the Body is consecrated separately from the Blood. Then they are combined. They are combined in a common cup, in the chalice. When the people come to receive Communion, they receive a portion of the Body and Blood from the same chalice.
JM:What is the Blessing of the Lake? (Twin Lakes: Lake Washining)
JK:We just celebrated the Feast of Theophany that is Epiphany, the baptism of our Lord. That is when Christ was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. When we bless the lake, we realize that it is the revelation of God through the baptism of Christ. The revelation to man of who God is is in the form of the Trinity. When Christ comes into the waters of the Jordon, he sanctifies the waters of
the Jordan. When we bless the lake, we sing the Song of the Feast. We dip the cross of Christ into the water three times too.
JM:Is this where the blessing of the houses comes in?
JK:Yes, I go to all the houses and bless them. I love it because it gives me time to spend with the people of my parish one on one, and it gives them some time to ask me questions. We talk a little bit and offer a prayer as a blessing to the house and hope that this year is blessed with God’s presence and His blessings. It is one of the happiest times for a priest to be able to go and share that feeling.
JM:It seems to me, as my opinion, that you as a priest are much more involved with your congregation that some of the other denominations.
JK:It is interesting that you would say that because I often feel that that is my greatest sin that I am not as involved as I would like to be. Not my greatest sins, but one of my many. Unfortunately because our parish is so small, I have to work full time at a secular job. So the time I would normally spend being a priest and being involved as a spiritual father is taken up with secular work. I sometimes feel not quite as available. I think sometimes my parishioners feel oh I don’t want to bother him. I would rather they bothered me. They are supposed to.
JM:What haven’t I asked you that I should before we go on to something else?
JK:I don’t know. I don’t think so.
JM:Have I covered all of the basics?
JK:I think so, yes. One thing would be that my father was a priest and my grandfather was a priest so our priests can marry.
JM:Didn’t you tell me that you couldn’t be ordained until you were married?
JK:Right, it is not that you can’t be ordained until you are married, but it is just that once you are ordained, you can’t marry. It is a little bit of a different take. You don’t have to be married to be ordained: it is just that in the Orthodox understanding once you become ordained you have devoted your life to the church so you do not take on the responsibility of a family. If, however, you have a family you can still be ordained. You are not taking away from that but you are actually moving toward the ministry.
JM:I would think that if you have a family rather than being celibate, you would have a better understanding of some of the stresses of family life that someone who is not married wouldn’t understand.
JK:Yeah I think with everything it is a two sided coin: there are pros and cons for both of them. I think personally there is a place for both. Priests aren’t super human they are like everybody else. You
bring your own prejudices from you own marriage into your counseling. You may not have the same objectivity that you would have if you were celibate. There is a nice balance in having both. On the other hand, having to work full time and still go to church and do all the things that we do also gives me that perspective that you were talking about. I know it is hard to go to church on Sunday. I know I have to get up and go to work the next day. I know all those things.
JM:That would make you more compassionate I would think.
JK:It makes me compassionate but it also gives me (sometimes) the strength to say, “Wait a second that is not a good enough excuse.”
JM:I really want that story that you told me about the gentleman who thought your church was St. John’s.
JK:When we started the church, we did not have a building until 1994 when we were able to purchase the summer chapel on Twin Lakes from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Because it has been a summer chapel it had no insulation, no heat, no water and no plumbing for a kitchen or bathroom. When we first bought it, we took out a mortgage to pay for it and with the extra money we put in a furnace so we could have heat. We had no plumbing as we were pretty small taking on a mortgage was enough of a leap of faith so we had to have a little outhouse on site. One day I was at the grocery store in line, the person in front turned around and asked where I was a priest. I told him all Saints of America. “Where is that?” “It is on Twin Lakes.” “Oh yeah St. John’s.” “No, it is all Saints of America.” Well, I was just there and I am pretty sure it is St. John’s.” “Well I am pretty sure, too. St. John’s is the Episcopal church in town.” “OH no, no.” I described it to him; he was convinced that it was St. John’s. I didn’t understand how he could be so confused. I was going to Vespers on Saturday. I am thinking about how this guy be so mistaken. I drove up to the church and saw our little sign that said All Saints of America Orthodox Church. I am shaking my head and then I looked at the porta-potty and on the door it said Santa-john. I immediately went to the church council and said, “We have to find the money to put in a bathroom.”
JM:Thank you so much Father Kreta. I really appreciate this.
JK:Thank you very much.