Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Orthodox Church
Archpriest Steven C. Kostoff
4285 Ashland Ave, Cincinnati OH 45212 - (513) 351-0907

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Update from Guatemala

July 27, 2015


Dear Parish Faithful,
I believe that most of the parish knows that we support one of the children at the Residence San Miguel del Lago (the former Hogar San Rafael orphanage).  This is a young boy named Gabriel and I often mention his name in a litany during the Liturgy.  Please read the letter from  Madre Ines letter concerning that support below.

For those who have entered the parish in the last five years or so, you may not be as familiar with the San Miguel residence, since we haven't sent a Mission Team down since about 2010.  Therefore, I would recommend scrolling down this page, as well as clicking on the links below, to familiarize yourselves with the remarkable work of Mothers Ines, Ivonne and Maria with these "abandoned, abused and orphaned children." 

I would especially suggest the link to the friendsofthehogar. There are about five short videos there that offer a visual summary of the community's history with the children and the building of the new San Miguel facility which was consecrated in November 2013.  I was blessed with being present at that consecration.  It was an amazing event and experience. You will also be amazed at the beauty of the natural setting of the new facility at Lake Atatlitlan.
If you are ever interested in visiting San Miguel as a member of a Mission Team, you should be able to attach yourself to another team in the future even if we are not currently sending a Mission Team down.  (Perhaps something to revive in the future).  Please contact me for further details. It will probably be an experience that you will not easily forget.
Fr. Steven

* * *

Subject: Lettter for sponsors, thank you Father Steven, Presbytera Deborah and parishoners for sponsoring Gabriel

Guatemala, July 2015
Very dear friends, greetings to you the sponsors of the children at the Residence San Miguel del Lago.
As you know the residence is located at the premises of the Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Trinity. At the Residence the children you sponsor have all they need, from infancy to college. They have their home, school from preschool to college, medical needs covered, sports and exercises from mountain climbing to swimming, kayaking, running, soccer, etc. They also have workshops to learn trades like carpentry, photography, arts and crafts, cooking, baking, raising fish, rabbits and veggies, etc. They also have excursions and outings from malls and cinemas to climbing volcanoes.
Thank God He has moved your kind hearts to sponsor these children so what is needed can be provided.
Our desire is to see them one day founding their families around Christian values. For that to happen they need many years of education and TLC and healing within the monastic family God has provided for them. You are raising your own and know that "it takes a village to raise a child". So you are the village!  To raise them as Orthodox Christians, a Church is needed. You are an important part of that Church. The Orthodox Church will expose them to the loving Presence of their Father in Heaven and receive the healing from above. Thank God what is needed is here for them. They are so blessed and so are we, you and us, taking this holy work God has entrusted to all of us.
Mother Ivonne keeps you updated about the child you have under you wings. You will find the news at facebook  (  or the web page of the Residence ( and the Foundation ( And you are welcome to come any time to see the child you sponsor.
We are extremely thankful for your faithful support, without it we cannot meet ends each month. If ever you can send a little extra it will help more. Different economic factors have made that the numbers today are not as many years ago, when we calculated the daily cost at US$10.00 ... now it has doubled. So whenever you can give a little more it will be appreciated. Nevertheless, what you already give from your heart is much needed and appreciated. God will provide the rest of the budget as He only knows and has done so far.  

But please encourage your your loved ones to help the children by donating to the general fund of the Hogar.  This will help us to keep up this beautiful task of raising and educating the children.
The work of love God has asked from you and us is experienced as a joyful task and His joy is the reward. Thank you again and again.
In His love,
Mother Inés, the nuns and children with me in Christ

The Explosive Growth of Orthodoxy in Guatemala

August 29, 2012
SVS Seminarian shares his 'on-the-ground' report of missionary travels in Guatemala from June 12 through August 9, 2012.

27 August 2012 • By Seminarian Jesse Brandow

Whenever someone speaks of “American Orthodoxy,” there is usually an unspoken understanding that the term refers to North American Orthodoxy: the United States, Canada, and sometimes Mexico. This way of speaking is indeed convenient, considering that the majority of Orthodox parishes in the Western Hemisphere are still located in North America. However, in the past few years a great change has occurred in Latin America that makes it increasingly inaccurate to focus on North America as the western outpost of Orthodoxy. Just two years ago, in 2010, the Orthodox Church received a large group of Guatemalan converts numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Now Guatemala, and possibly all of Latin America, holds tremendous promise of becoming fertile ground for the Orthodox Christian Church.

The seed of Orthodoxy in Guatemala was planted by the nuns of the Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox orphanage in Guatemala City. Many people are familiar with the incredible work of Mother Inés, Mother Ivonne, and Mother María. In fact, just this year a group of seminarians from St. Vladimir's Seminary traveled with the seminary Chancellor/CEO Archpriest Chad Hatfield to see the work of the nuns and to assist at the orphanage. It is through these nuns that the Guatemalan soil was first prepared for the Orthodox Church.

Now, with the recent chrismation of a new group of Guatemalan converts that numbers between 100,000 and 200,000, the Orthodox Church is ready to blossom in Guatemala. The magnitude of the event cannot be overstated. Almost overnight, Guatemala has become the most Orthodox country in the Western Hemisphere (by percentage of national population). Furthermore, the Orthodox communities in Guatemala continue to grow rapidly and attract attention throughout Guatemala. There is still, however, little information available to the broader Orthodox world on the history and character of these new communities. For this reason, I traveled to Guatemala this summer, spending two months visiting many of the Orthodox parishes, meeting the leaders of the communities, and accompanying the bishop of the Guatemalan Church—His Eminence, Metropolitan Athenagoras—as he made his historic first visit to the new parishes in Guatemala. I returned to the United States with the desire to share what I saw and the conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work with power in Latin America...

Full article with much more on the St Vladimir's Seminary website.
Visit Seminarian Jesse Brandow's blog, with extensive personal accounts and numerous photos of his travels, here.

New Dormitories at the Hogar to be Blessed Feb 2, 2013

May 18, 2012
Upcoming Major Event at the Hogar in Guatemala
I just received information that the new dormitories for the children at the Hogar will be blessed next year on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord – February 2, 2013. 

Over the years many of you through the parish have made substantial financial donations for the building of these dormitories.  From what I saw last summer, they are absolutely beautiful new facilities.  And, of course, we continue to support one child for the entire year ($3,650.00).  We have invested a good deal of time, energy and resources in support of these “abandoned, abused and orphaned children” at the Hogar.  I am sharing this information in case there are any of you who may want to travel to Guatemala and participate in what will certainly be a splendid fiesta.  Considering what we have put into these structures, it would be great if someone did represent our parish.  Of course, this would not be an inexpensive and easy trip, but again, perhaps something to think about.
- Fr Steven

Special Benefit Dinner for the Hogar ~ Fri April 27, 2012, Toledo OH

Photo from the March 3, 2012 Walk with Angels Benefit Dinner in Chicago
Photo from the March 3, 2012 Walk with Angels Benefit Dinner in Chicago
Photo from the March 3, 2012 Walk with Angels Benefit Dinner in Chicago
March 26, 2012
Bishop Matthias
the Friends of Hogar Rafael Ayau

invite you to the

Walk with Angels Benefit Dinner

Featuring keynote speaker
Igoumeni Madre Ines Ayau
Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Trinity
and the Orthodox Orphanage Hogar Rafael Ayau in Guatemala

Madre Ines will be the featured speaker for the evening.
She will share the fascinating story of the orphanage's establishment
and its ongoing ministry to the neediest of children.
Friday, April 27, 2012 at 6:00 pm
Tickets $75
(charitable Donation of $40)
Sylvania Country Club
5201 Corey Road
Sylvania, OH  43560
Hosted by
His Grace, Bishop Matthias
and Friends of the Hogar Rafael Ayau
Proceeds to benefit the Walk with Angels Capital Campaign
to complete the new orphanage Hogar San Miguel

To order tickets, contact Matt at:

To donate for the Walk with Angels Capital Campaign,
visit the Friends of the Hogar website.

Watch for more info, including possible car pool arrangements.

Memory Eternal, Adriana . . .

Memory Eternal Adriana!
Memory Eternal Adriana!
Memory Eternal Adriana!
Adriana at far right, her sister Reina beside her..
Adriana at far right, her sister Reina beside her..
Adriana at far right, her sister Reina beside her..
¡Memoria eterna a Adriana!
¡Memoria eterna a Adriana!
¡Memoria eterna a Adriana!
January 31, 2012
Dear Parish Faithful,
I just received this message from Catherine Fuller.  She was the team leader on our last visit to the Hogar in June.  The young girl who died came with us to Antigua and spent the day with Di Carter and me and the rest of our team. Catherine’s last sentence pretty much sums up this unexpected loss.  We will pray for her for forty days.
Memory Eternal!
Fr. Steven

From: Fuller, Catherine (HHS/OMHA) [mailto:Catherine.Fuller@HHS.GOV]
Sent: Friday, January 27, 2012 3:00 PM
To: Steven C Kostoff
Subject: FW: Memory Eternal to one of the Orphans at the Hogar, Adriana

Fr Steven,

I don’t know if you heard, but I am sending you this email that I sent to friends this afternoon.  It occurred to me, you may not have heard, so I am sending it to you too.

I am filled with grief.  I just learned that one of the orphans in Guatemala (who I have a special bond with) began having problems last night and  was “bleeding out” so they rushed her to the hospital.  She died this morning of liver failure.  Adriana was 12, a very sweet, young girl who had a 14 year old sister that she adored.   She is pictured below on the far right.  Her sister Reina is to her immediate left.  Please pray for the soul of Adriana and for her sister Reina and all the children who will miss her so.  Such a tragedy for the children who have suffered so much already.


“Let the little children come to Me…
for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

~ Luke 18:16 ~

On this feast of Saint John Chrysostom,
our beloved child Adriana, twelve years old, slept in the Lord.
Memory eternal to Adriana!

“Dejen que los niños vengan a Mi…
pues de ellos es el Reino de los Cielos”.
En esta fiesta de San Juan Crisóstomo,
nuestra querida niña Adriana, de doce años de edad,
se durmió en el Señor.

¡Memoria eterna a Adriana!

HOGAR DVD and CD Available for Ordering

Order Online NOW! Audio Sample included...
Order Online NOW! Audio Sample included...
Dec 16, 2011
HYMNS of the HOGAR CD - Orthodox Hymns sung by the Children of the Hogar
Documentary DVD
Order both together for only $22!

Dear Friend of the Hogar Rafael Ayau,

In our eagerness to tell you about our holiday gift offer - buy a CD and get a DVD FREE - we forgot to mention that a “sneak preview” of the DVD is now available on Vimeo.  Please follow this link:
Remember, from now until January 6, 2012, your purchase of the CD "Hymns of the Hogar” for $22 includes the DVD "A Home Forever, The Story of the Hogar Rafael Ayau" documentary video for FREE. 
Or purchase the 25 minute DVD by itself for only $14.
Prices include shipping and handling.
All proceeds will benefit the Walk With Angels Capital Campaign to raise funds to complete construction of Hogar San Miguel, the new home for the children.
For fast service, please send checks to :
Friends of the Hogar
c/o Catherine Fuller
18137 Clifton RD
Lakewood OH  44107
Online ordering is available here!

Contact Catherine at for more information.
Your help today is a child’s tomorrow.
Thank you for your support.
Catherine Fuller
Hogar Nativity Greetings for 2011

Dec 16, 2011
Very dear friends of the children, monastics and staff at the Hogar Rafael Ayau,

In this wonderful season of blessings when we remember our greatest blessing, the birth in the flesh of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, we want to thank you for the blessing you are for all of us at the Hogar Rafael Ayau.

THANK YOU! With your presence, your gifts in kind and money, the miracle of raising all these God ́s children is possible.
Keep on showing your love and charity to those near you and not so near like us at our HOME Rafael Ayau in the coming 2012. These keep us going.

Our news this Christmas are in the with pictures worth a thousand words, month by month at Facebook, and FHRA page Hope you enjoy them.

Our heartfelt thanks and our prayers for each one of you in this wonderful Christmas Feast, may God bless you again and again, each one and your family. And may these New Year 2012 be of peace, health and blessings while we meet again.

In His love,

Madre Ines, the nuns, the Priest, the staff and children with me in the New Born Christ.

View and print the actual Nativity Greeting in pdf format...

New Documentary on Guatemalan Adoptions

Oct 10, 2011
Dear Parish Faithful,
This is apparently a documentary that Mother Ines just sent to me.  She is featured in it as is the Hogar.  The primary reason that our own attempt to adopt two children a few years back from the Hogar was precisely this bureaucratic resistance on the part of the Guatemalan government We had our senator involved, but to no avail.  Recalling that time, it was very frustrating.  The film is twenty minutes long, so if you are at all interested, you may want to find an opportune time to watch this. I was only able to watch the first five opening minutes today, but it seems to have been well-made.  Mother Ines is in those opening scenes as is the Hogar and the  monastery church.
Fr. Steven

Watch the documentary below, or go to for more info along with the film.

Introducing Gabriela

June 25, 2011
Dear Parish Faithful,
I would like to share a photo of the young girl who will replace Francesca as the new recipient of our parish sponsorship (see attached photo).  She is the girl on the right wearing the Love and Peace shirt.  This photo was taken in Antigua where she spent the day with us last week.  To review our sponsorship, we cover the basic living expenses for one child for the entire year at $10.00 per day.  This primarily covers food, clothing, living quarters and education.
Gabriela is a bit older that Francesca, in that she will turn twelve in November.  She has an older sister (Elisa) who also lives at the Hogar.  Her mother is alive, and appears occasionally.   There is no trace of her father.  Gabriela is a very bright girl, also very warm and friendly.  Madre Ivonne may send us some more information.

Fr Steven

Impressions of the Hogar, by Di Carter

June 25, 2011
Dear Parish Faithful,
Di Carter was kind enough to provide a written summary of her visit to the Hogar last week.  I very much enjoyed reading her insights about the Hogar and hope that you will too.  Please see the attachment.
It appears that we arrived just in time to spend some time with Francesca, for as I mentioned the possibility upon returning last week, she has already been transferred to another orphanage together with her older brother, Hugo.  A rather sad development.  Please continue to pray for her.  Our parish sponsorship is being transferred to another young girl, an eleven yr. old named Gabriela.  She, too, is a lovely girl, with a very friendly and kind spirit.  I will try and send a photo soon.
Fr. Steven

Impressions of My First Visit
To the Hogar San Rafael Ayau Orphanage

By Di Carter

As it was  my first visit to the Hogar I did not know what to expect but I did anticipate feeling very sad at the sight of so many children who had been abused and abandoned. But the Hogar is not an unhappy place and I was soon caught up in its lively atomosphere. The children really do have fun and seem to enjoy life.

There were nine people on our team and we were soon put to work. Our tasks included making and planting a new garden bed, painting the side of the church and the bell tower, clearing French drains and doing the mowing.  In the afternoons we spent time with the children doing crafts, swimming, going on outings and generally making friends.

Soon after we arrived, Mother Ivonne spent some time telling us about the Hogar and the children and as she spoke I realized that she sounded exactly the same as any of us relating the joys and frustrations of being a parent. She really is their mother.  Read the full story...

Hogar Mission Trip Recap, new photos added!

Click for larger view...
Click for larger view...
Click for larger view...
...and to navigate between
...and to navigate between
...and to navigate between
...all photos on the page!
...all photos on the page!
...all photos on the page!
June 20, 2011
Dear Parish Faithful,

Just received these photos from our mission team leader, and could not resist sending them because one of them is a great photo of Francesca. Captures her over-all "spirit" well.  You also get a glimpse of the monastery cathedral's magnificence.

Fr. Steven

Added 3:50pm, 6/20/11
Hogar Mission Trip Recap

June 18, 2011
Dear Parish Faithful,
Buenos Dias!
Di Carter and I returned yesterday evening from our Mission Team trip to the Hogar in Guatemala.  We were the two members representing our parish on what proved to be a nine-member Team, and I was also the “spiritual leader” of our Team.  We both thank God for a wonderful week at the Hogar and the accumulated encounters and experiences that made our trip memorable.  After two long flights and a week together in close quarters, we still remain, not only on speaking terms, but very close friends!  Di agreed to write a summary of her first visit to the Hogar – complete with a description of an extraordinary Pentecost Liturgy at the monastery cathedral of the Holy Trinity that overlooks Lake Atatlitan and is itself overlooked by a row of stunning volcanoes.  We will look forward to Di’s account.
For the moment, I would like to focus on our own Francesca, the little girl we have been sponsoring for the last two years.  Continue reading...

Hogar Mission News

Updated June 4, 2011

DONATION UPDATES: Please bring any further donations for the Hogar to church this Sunday.  Please include a list of what you have donated.  We would like to start packing our two extra suitcases – that we hope to fill up – as soon as possible, as Di Carter and I will be leaving for Guatemala on Thursday, June 9.  If you would like to make a monetary donation, please see our treasurer, Steve Joachim...  Not to sound “competitive,” but I am hoping that our parish can “hold its own” when the gifts are presented with the other parish(es) that make up our Mission Team and which are going to bring  their own donations.
The Church School students are donating from their own money for a birthday gift for Francesca that we will deliver on their behalf.  If you are so moved to “build up” their collection, the decorated box is in the church hall when you first walk in.  I understand that we will be allowed to treat Francesca to a day in Antigua, which is always a real treat for the children when they are chosen.
Thank you so much for your generous donations.  As I have said before, it is hard to convey how deeply appreciative – and happy – the children are when they are given gifts by fellow Orthodox Christians from the States.

Dear Parish Faithful,

On Thursday, June 9, Di Carter and I will be leaving for Guatemala.  We are two of the  members of a Cleveland/Cincinnati Mission Team visiting the Hogar.  We will each be able to carry one extra suitcase with us that we can fill up with any items needed by the monastery.  Hopefully, I will soon come up with a list of items that anyone could donate if they so choose, and Di and I will deliver them. Because of our generous sponsorship of Francesca, we will not have an official collection in the parish.  However, if you would like to contribute to the St. Miguel home for the children still under construction (as shown to us in the DVD recently brought  by Bishop Matthias), please see our treasurer, Steve Joachim.

If anyone would prefer to provide an article of clothing - in this case a skirt - for one of the older girls at the Hogar, this attachment provides the names of the girls and their sizes.  We did this two years ago, and it was very well-received and appreciated by the girls.  Please let me know if you would like to make such a purchase.

I have already received some response to our collection of donated items to the Hogar; and had many further questions yesterday.  Since there will be plenty of more room in our two suitcases, I would like to further comment. If you look at the list, there are not that many highlighted items, so we will have some repetition in our donated items. That is fine, because it builds up supplies for the future.  However, if you are looking for some variety, most of the donations so far have been of markers, colored pencils and mattress covers.  Also, some glue and toothpaste. Although it is getting late, I may send out in a day or two some more specific requests for clothing.

I was also asked about a monetary donation.  Please give your donation to Steve Joachim, and he can prepare a check of the entire total from the parish.

Fr. Steven

Clothing Guide
(names of the ninas and their sizes)

Hogar News, December 2010

Feliz Navidad from the Hogar!
Feliz Navidad from the Hogar!
Dec 21, 2010

Dear Parish Faithful,

I contacted Madre Ines at the Hogar with the good news that we will be able to sponsor Francesca for 2011.  We have received many generous donations for this sponsorship, and I am therefore forwarding a quick thank you note from Madre Ines that she sent after I recently informed her of this year's sponsorship.    (I also informed her of our parish participation in Mother Paula's recent tonsuring).  For those who would still like to participate in this sponsorship with a donation, please see Mickey Callender.
Dearest Father, bless.
Yes I read your article as soon as you sent it. So good! Thank you so much. Is great Mother Paula in now Mother Paula!
Thank you also for sponsoring Francesca another year. It’s a BIG help for us. It would be so good if all the children found a faithful sponsor like you and your parish…. Our life would be much easier.
We count on your prayers.
Have a blessed Christmas and give our greetings to everyone in you wonderful Parish and blessed New 2011.
In His love, Mother Ines

Madre Ines has further confirmed that the older senoritas from the Hogar will tour the States following their participation in Bishop-elect Matthias' consecration on Bright Saturday.  (Fr. Matthias has been the spiritual father and confessor of the nuns and children of the Hogar for many years now).  The senoritas, as I wrote of earlier, were invited to perform a selection of folk and religious songs at the Kremlin in October.  They will offer the same type of performance in their upcoming tour of the States, I believe.  After writing to her about this, Madre Ines informed me that our parish will be at the very top of their list for visiting!  At least one of the nuns will accompany the girls, of course.   We will anticipate this wonderful event in the future, and I will keep everyone informed as their plans are formulated.

For all news at the Hogar, and photos of the senoritas' Kremlin tour, visit the Hogar website.

Lastly, here is the Hogar's 2010 Christmas Card!

in Christ,
Fr. Steven

Interview with Madre Ines, Hogar Trip to Holy Russia

Posted Dec 2, 2010

Dear Parish Faithful,

Below is a link to an excellent interview with Madre Ines, where she speaks of the future possibilities of Orthodoxy in Guatemala.  Recently, all of the older girls at the Hogar were invited to Russia through Madre Ines' contact with the Russia ambassador to Guatemala (a believing and practicing Orthodox Christian).  The senoritas visited the Kremlin and met the Patriach of Moscow!  They performed as a choir at various places, dressed in the native Guatemalan clothes.  There are photos on the hogar website if you are interested:

We are continuing to collect donations from everyone who would like to participate in sponsoring Francesca for 2011.  This would be a Christmas gift well-received by a young girl who depends on persons other than her parents for love and support. Although Francesca may have a living parent, and is therefore not "technically" an orphan, she has been "abandoned and abused" in her early formative years.  I am glad that we are able to participate in her healing process as parish sponsors.  I am grateful that the innocent and pure prayers of one of God's "little ones" ascend to His throne on behalf of the parish faithful of Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit Orthodox Church in Cincinnati.

If you would like to join in that sponsorship, please speak with Mickey Callendar, our parish treasurer.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven

Orthodoxy in Gutemala - An Interview with Madre Ines of the Hogar Rafael Ayau

Friends of the Hogar, Hogar Appeal 2011

Nov 5, 2011
Dear Parish Faithful,

I am forwarding this power point presentation from Judge Catherine Fuller, an Orthodox Christian from Cleveland, OH.  She will be the team leader on our Mission Team to the Hogar next June, and she is a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Hogar, a support and fundraising organization for the orphanage.  For those interested, the power point presentation will inform you of the progress made in Guatemala on the new facility being built for the children of the Hogar away from the city and on the grounds of the Holy Trinity Monastery where Madre Ines is the abbess.  This project becomes more urgent as the area around  the Hogar in Guatemala City becomes more dangerous and unstable as time goes on.

The Friends of the Hogar are appealing for donations.  With this in mind, I was hoping to begin an appeal carried over from last year of ongoing sponsorship of  Francesca, the young girl sponsored by our parish for 2010. This sponsorship:

1) Relieves the Hogar of the funds needed to feed, clothe, and educate her for a year, so that those funds can be directed toward their building fund.

2)  It also allows us a much more "personalized" approach, as we are directly supporting a child rather than a "fund."  The wonderful photos of Francesca sent throughout the year brought her smiling face to our attention, so that we could "see" the recipient of our donations.

3)  Perhaps most importantly it brings great satisfaction and a sense of security and hope to one of the children - in this case Francesca - who knows that there are other Orthodox Christians caring for her.  This is a huge  morale- booster as Madre Ivonne always reminds us.

I already began this year's appeal with last year's parish sponsors a couple of weeks ago - and we have already received some pledges.  I thought to now make this a parish-wide appeal again, based on the enclosed attachment from Judge Catherine Fuller.  Perhaps this year will work better for you than last for a donation.  As before, I am suggesting a $50.00 donation - or more or less.  With enough sponsors this relatively modest request adds up to the needed amount of providing Francesca with the $10.00 a day needed for her annual support.  It also makes this a communal project.  If you recall, we actually surpassed that amount in last year's appeal.

Please see Mickey Callender with your pledge/donation if you would like to respond to this year's appeal to sponsor Francesca for 2011.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven

Friends of the Hogar PowerPoint for 2011

Hogar Mission Trip Planned for June 2011

You can be in this picture!
You can be in this picture!
You can be in this picture!
Sept 22, 2010

Dear Parish Faithful,

Our parish has been invited to be part of a two-city Mission Team to the Hogar in Guatemala next June.  We will form a team together with other members from Cleveland.  The team leader is from Cleveland; and as the accompanying priest, I will be the team's spiritual leader.   This is something of a "special" invitation, for we would be there for the monastery's big Feast Day celebration.  I can guarantee you that that will be a marvelous event!  We will also be able to spend some time with our parish-sponsored young girl, Francesca, and see how she is doing.  The dates are June 10-17, 2011.  We already have  one committed member from our parish, and two are tentative.  Please let me know if you are interested, and then we can speak further.  A visit to the Hogar is quite an experience, so if you ever have thought of it, here is another opportunity.

Fr. Steven

Hogar Update - September 2010

Updated Sept 16, 2010

Dear Parish Faithful,

A few more photos sent from Madre Ivonne, this time with Francesca receiving her birthday gifts.  It is nearly impossible to put into words the joy of the Hogar children when they receive this kind of support from fellow Orthodox Christians living elsewhere.  But the smile on Francesca's face should more than compensate for the inadequacy of words.

Parents, please share these photos with your children.

Fr. Steven


HOGAR UPDATE ~ June 2010 #2

Posted June 21, 2010

Dear Parish Faithful,

Attached, you will find a photo of Franchesca, the young girl we are sponsoring at the Hogar in Guatemala City.  Madre Ivonne just sent this to me.  I don't think this is the birthday party that our Church School funded on her behalf, though.  That will be coming up and it will be outside of the Hogar.  However, she was already shown  the video of our Church School singing her "feliz cumpleanos," and Madre Ivonne told me how much Franchesca enjoyed that.  Parents, please show this photo to your children. Also included is a photo of Franchesca opening up her birthday card from us...

in Christ,
Fr. Steven
HOGAR UPDATE ~ June 2010

Francesca working...
Francesca working...
Francesca working...
Posted June 3, 2010

Dear Parish Faithful,

Here is a photo of Francesca, the young girl we are sponsoring this year at the Hogar in Guatemala City.  I just received this from Madre Ivonne.

Francesca's birthday is on July 8.  And I believe that she will turn eight. Our goal was to raise about $50.00 from within our Church School for a gift for Francesca.  However, our Church School children raised around $150.00 for her birthday gift - quite remarkable!  We will send this to her in time for her celebration.  I suggested the following to Madre Ivonne, which she approved of:

$50.00 for a pizza and ice cream party with her dormitory friends
$50.00 for new clothing or other personal items
$50.00 for her bank account which we helped her establish at the beginning of the year.

Madre Ivonne asked me to thank everyone for the support - as does Francesca.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven



Dear Parish Faithful,
The news has informed us that recently Guatemala has suffered two "natural disasters" - a volcanic explosion and a hurricane-like storm.  I wrote to Madre Ivonne, concerned over their well-being.  She replied to me and I am now sharing that reply with you.
Fr. Steven

Dear Father Steven:
Bless me.
Thank you for your concern.
Yes, tons of ashes here at the Hogar.  Ashes and rocks at the Monastery.  The roof for the cars and rabbits collapsed because of the weight.
We have been cleaning and everyone is safe.  After the ashes we had the huge storm.
Everything passed, thank God for prayer.  The children felt safer when we were in church praying.
Let us pray for people who lost everything, who died, and the missing ones.
We know you are praying for us, thank you.
In His love,
Forgive me,
Madre Ivonne

De: StevenK []
Enviado el: martes, 01 de junio de 2010 06:36 a.m.
Para: Undisclosed-Recipient:;
Asunto: Guatemalan disaster
Dear Madres Ines, Ivonne, and Maria,
Christ is in our midst!
We are so very sorry to hear of the recent natural disaster in Guatemala, and the loss of human life.  We hope and pray that you are well at both the Hogar and the monastery, and that both locations have not suffered too badly under these adverse conditions.  When the opportunity arises, please send us a short note to assure us of your well-being.
May the Lord protect and guard all of you!
In Christ,
Fr. Steven C. Kostoff
Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit Orthodox Church

More photos of Francesca, April 2010

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

Christ is Risen!

I recently received these photos from Madre Ivonne of Francesca, the young girl we are sponsoring this year at the Hogar. Under close inspection, you can see that she is holding photos of our Church School classes and the interior of our church that we recently sent down to her. In the third photo Francesca is reading the Hours during Holy Week.  Parents, please share these photos with your children.

Fr. Steven

Francesca at the Kliros

Posted March 5, 2010

Dear Parish Faithful,

I just received this photo from Madre Ivonne of the "nina" we are sponsoring this year at the Hogar - Francesca Maria.  She is at the kliros, which is the place that the various appointed children of the Hogar chant and sing during the services. Since Francesca is only seven (her birthday is 7/12), she is there quite early, which means she must be a good reader.   This privilege of chanting builds up their self-confidence, the childrens' sense of contributing, and further helps them in their reading ability.  It also helps them learn the order of the various services.  The winning smile on Francesca's face pretty well captures her personality - she is a lively and good-hearted young girl.

Also, knowing that she is sponsored is also a huge confidence-builder.  Even though it is at a distance, Francesca will now feel wanted and cared about. This is a "good work" - may it be blessed by God!

Fr. Steven


Updated December 13, 2009

Dear Parish Faithful,
By clicking on the angel you will be directed to the Nativity Greetings for 2009 written and sent from the Hogar Rafael Ayau community in Guatemala. I would assume that this greeting was written by Madre Ines.  She outlines the past activities for 2009 and the current state of the Hogar, as well as the plans for the new home for the children - San Miguel.   She also includes a financial report for 2009, audited by an external firm.   Please take the time to read her warm and heartfelt greetings to all who offer support to the "abandoned, abused, and orphaned children" of the Hogar.  Our parish has been blessed by God to be a part of that support system for many years now.
As you know, our Nativity Charity Appeal for 2009 is a parish-family project designed so that we may sponsor one of the Hogar children - a ten-year old girl - for one full year.  Your commitment to this appeal in the form of a $50.00 donation will feed, clothe, house, and educate that child for five days.  When those five days are over, then your fellow-parishioner's donation "kicks in" for the next five days.  With enough such donations, we will then reach our goal of $3,650.00 and cover every single day of the upcoming year.  May it be blessed!
Fr. Steven

Click the angel for the Nativity message from Madre Ines, the nuns, and the children of the Hogar Rafael Ayau in Guatemala City, Guatemala.




July 27: "A Part of Their Lives" ~ Reflections on the 2009 Mission Trip, by Anastacia and Alexandra Taylor, on the BIG IS GOD blog!

July 3: 2010 Mission Trip tentatively scheduled for June 9-16
Just received notification from Madre Ivonne that we have been invited to provide a Mission Team for the Hogar from June 9 - 16, 2010.  It is certainly early, but something you may want to think about.  Madre Ivonne usually asks for a commitment by the early Fall so that she can block that week into her schedule.  Please get back with me if you are at least tentatively interested at this point.
Looking ahead: since the Hogar does not have a permanent priest, I have been invited to serve at a special event in the life of their community on the weekend of October 17-18.  As of now, I have tentatively agreed, and will inform the parish of traveling details in the future.

June 19:
I wanted to bring up an item of two that would further supplement my summary of our Mission Team trip from yesterday.  In terms of "interconnected events," or "meaningful encounters," when we arrived at the Hogar, we were introduced to a long-term missionary by the name of Ben Logan.  Ben is from an OCA mission in Nicholasville, KY (Southern Diocese).  Ben was a retreat participant last September when Madre Ivonne was here as our guest and retreat leader. As we all were, he was deeply impressed by her presentation of the Hogar... Continued on our Big is God Blog...

June 18:
Having returned from a week at the Hogar San Rafael Ayau in Guatemala City, I would like to offer a summary of this year's Mission Team activities and experiences.  Over-all, I can write assuredly that the entire trip was muy excellente.  I believe that we maintained a good balance between our work project assignments, and accessibility - and thus fellowship - with the ninos, ninas and senoritas... Continued on our Big is God Blog...

Our Cincinnati Mission Team 2009 has returned from Guatemala "safe and sound" and is all accounted for, I believe.  For this we thank God.  I will send out a more detailed report by the end of the week.  I did want to briefly mention here, that on the Sunday before we departed for Guatemala, we had another great collection that took us beyond $4,000.00 in raised funds.   BIG IS GOD!  Again, I will provide more details soon.


The Church School sponsored Charity Sundae Sale brought in $440.00 for the Hogar! Thank you for buying a sundae and supporting our Mission Team to Guatemala.
Over-all, our Hogar collection has been tremendous.  In addition to many items - including new clothing for all of the older senoritas - we have collected close to $2,500.00!   "Awesome," especially when you take the economy into consideration. Yet, there will be one more Sunday for those of you who would also like to make a contribution.  We will have the basket by the Cross following the Liturgy.


Our appeal for sponsorship of the senoritas at the Hogar in Guatemala received a tremendous response already, and thirteen of the fourteen senoritas are now covered for receiving a special gift from our parish faithful!  We deeply appreciate the commitment and concern - together with the generosity - of our sponsors.  May God bless your efforts.  I am hoping that someone will agree to sponsor one last senorita.  Please get back with me if you choose to do so.
We will continue to receive monetary donations for the Hogar on the next two Sundays with a basket by the Cross.  There is also a list of other items requested by the Hogar in case someone would like to make a donation from that list.  That list has been sent out, but please let me know if you would like to see it again.
These developing, expanding and essential ministries to prisoners [via the Kairos Prison Ministry] (MATT. 25:31-46) and to "abandoned, abused and orphaned children" (DEUT. 24:17, 21; JM. 1:27) are a deeply encouraging sign of spiritual maturity within the parish.  It is the application of  Gospel principles to real-life situations and needs.  I hope our parish circle of participants will continue to grow.  And may the Lord continue to bless and strengthen our endeavors.

~ Fr. Steven


We had an excellent opening collection yesterday
for our donation to the Hogar in Guatemala that our parish Mission Team will deliver in about three weeks time - we will depart for Guatemala on June 8.  There is hardly a greater ministry than supporting "abandoned, abused and orphaned children."  Please lend your generous support through a monetary donation or by volunteering to purchase some of the items on the "needs list" - mailed out last week, I believe - to be brought to the church for eventual packing.  Please see below entry for May 12 for the Hogar "Needs List."

~ Fr Steven


Dear Parish Faithful,

Christ is Risen!

Our mission team will be assigned a painting work activity and we will need to raise $500 to cover expenses for this, so monetary donations are greatly welcomed (make donations out to Christ the Savior and earmarked for Guatemala).

In addition, the orphanage is in urgent need of the following items:

1)  Clothing - Teenage girls
2)  Toiletries - Diapers ­ medium & large
3)  Dormitories - Plastic Matress Covers (Twin Bed)
4)  Kitchen/Refrectory/Nannies - Plastic silverware, Blender, Jelly
                                Plastic Glasses/Cups
                                Trash Bags (Medium & Large)

Teen names and sizes are forthcoming. There will be a donation sign in sheet on the table in the fellowship hall and a designated table for donations. Please be sure to sign in with any donations that you bring. Thank you for your prayers and generosity of behalf of these abandoned and orphaned children.

In Christ, Presv. Deborah - Team Leader



From Fr Steven:  Monday evening, May 4, we will have an organizational meeting for our Mission Team to the Hogar in Guatemala in June.  We are hoping to then begin a month-long project of purchasing needed items for the Hogar, a Church School sponsored fund-raiser, and a general donation fund etc. for those who would like to contribute to the welll-being of the orphanage.  Details to follow.
An Ice Cream Sundae sale sponsored and prepared by the Church School in order to raise funds for the Hogar San Rafael Orphanage in Guatemala City, is scheduled for Sunday, May 31 following the Liturgy.

Scroll down for a slideshow covering the Consecration of the new Church at the Lavra Mambre in Guatemala, the monastic "parent" of the Hogar Rafael Ayau orphanage.



From Fr. Steven ~ We have sent in our final information concerning our Cincinnati Mission Team to Guatemala and the Hogar for June 8-15, 2009.  Actually, we have a multiple-parish team, but Cincinnati is where it has been organized and where our team leader is from.  It was a bit of a challenge, but we were able to put together a twelve-member team:
  • Christ the Savior/Holy Spirit - Cincinnati
    • Fr. Steven Kostoff - team priest
    • Presvytera Deborah Kostoff - team leader
    • Anastasia Kostoff
    • Paul Kostoff
    • Luke Loboda
    • Anne, Anastacia and Alexandra Taylor
  • All Saints of North America Mission (OCA) - Columbus, OH
    • Anthony Jula
    • Megan Jula
  • St. Elias - Sylvania, OH (Antiochian Archdiocese)
    •  Roberta Royhab
  • St. Paul - Dearborn Heights, MI (OCA/Bulgarian)
    •  Mara Livezey
After Pascha, we are hoping to begin a collection of needed items that the team will take down in June.  This will be our first return to the Hogar as an organized team since 2006.
Fr. Steven


Scroll down to find:
  • Slide show from the consecration of the Lavra Mambre's new church.
  • Fr Steven's reflections on our recent Autumn Retreat
  • Articles on the Retreat by Francis Fowler-Collins
  • A slide show covering the retreat
  • A brief history of our involvement with the Hogar
  • Links to the Hogar's website, and info on how you can donate and help support the Godly work of the nuns.
  • A look back at previous CTS Mission Teams
  • MP3 Audio Files from Madre Ivonne's talks

We hope to continue to add more features over time to this page, so keep checking back! Remember to scroll down to see all the sections!

Big is GOD!

Ortodoxo Lavra Mambre Church Consecration

The Consecration of the New Church of the Orthodoxo Lavra Mambre

A photo essay from our dear friend Sister Vicki of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, Ellwood City PA. Fr Steven was also present for this historic event. We hope to add captions, but wanted to post the slide show in anticipation of our 2009 Mission Team trip to the Hogar. Enjoy! Ola!

(30 images)

2008 Autumn Retreat - Articles and Reflections

Webmaster's Intro: With so much to share, we decided it best to use the "blog" format (as with Fr Steven's Meditations and our Orthodox Q&A Forum). Below are a few lines from each entry, with direct links to the full article on our new  BIG is GOD blog. May it be blessed!
~ ~ ~
NEW! Posted October 16:

Healing Abandoned Children at Hogar Rafael Ayau
Frances Fowler-Collins

It is difficult to raise children well under any circumstances, but it is especially difficult when all the children in question have been abandoned and most have also been abused...

Madre Ivonne and two other Orthodox nuns operate the “Hogar,” or Home, an orphanage that shelters about 100 Guatemalan children of both sexes, ranging in age from infancy to the mid-teens. The nuns’ work with the children is shaped by a coherent theory about how children, including children who desperately need physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, should be brought up. Full article here...

~ ~ ~

A Reflection on the Retreat, from Father Steven...

Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

To begin: I believe that we had an outstanding retreat. I expected as such, but the retreat clearly exceeded my expectations. This, of course, was primarily due to the preparation and presentations of Madre Ivonne. For ultimately, the success of a retreat is dependent upon the retreat's leader or main speaker. Madre Ivonne not only did not disappoint us, but she also inspired us by revealing to us what a person with strong faith in Christ can accomplish. Full article here...

~ ~ ~

Miracles Mark Story of Guatemalan Orphanage
by Francis Fowler-Collins

“Miracle after miracle.” That is how Madre Ivonne Sommerkamp described her twelve years at the Hogar Rafael Ayau in Guatemala City. Full article here...

~ ~ ~

The Money Trail - Retreat Donations Reach Almost $6K!
From Fr. Steven:

Dear Parish Faithful,

I must begin with a confession: apparently, I am a man of "little faith." Based upon on the fact that we have had two very extensive fundraising drives over the course of the last year-and-a-half or so, we did not make a special collection for the Hogar in anticipation of Madre Ivonne's visit here. The decision was to allow for all of the money collected as registration fees/donations for the Retreat to go to the Hogar. Full article here...

2008 Autumn Retreat: A Slideshow...

Fr. Steven introduces Madre Ivonne

Large Crowd Attends 2008 Retreat - 09/27/08

Healing in Christ: From Orphans to Children of God

Whether you missed the retreat, or want to relive the experience, these snapshots capture some of the fullness and feel of the day. We hope to post MP3 audio fles of Madre Ivonne's talks here on this page soon, God willing.

(14 images)

Fr. Steven introduces Madre Ivonne
Madre Ivonne ...
All were moved and engaged by her presence...
A full church greets Madre Ivonne.
Powerpoint preso,
and slideshow dramatized the talks.
The church hall was filled for brunch and lunch.
Madre Ivonne greets a family during the break.
Bookstore sales added to the donation to the Hogar.
Madre presents gifts to Fr Steven from the Hogar.
History and Links

Ever since one of our parishioners at Christ the Savior~Holy Spirit (who is now an Orthodox nun at the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City PA) made her first mission trip to the Hogar Rafael Ayau Orphanage in Guatemala some ten or so years ago, our parish has continued to grow in our love for and efforts on behalf of this wonderful oasis of Christ's love. The Hogar is home to some 100 abandoned and orphaned children, rescued in many cases from hopeless lives of poverty and abuse to this nurtering shelter run by the nuns of the Monasterio Ortodoxo Lavra Mambre under the protection of the Antiochian Orthodox Church of Guatemala.

From that first parishioner's journey (as a member of an OCMC team), Christ the Savior has organized or participated in numerous mission trips to the Hogar, and we are currently looking forward to our next mission team effort in June 2009. Please contact Fr. Steven to learn how you can help support or join our mission team.
We invite you to join us in support of and prayers for the Hogar Rafael Ayau, the children, and the nuns, who rely on tangible expressions of God's love to continue their holy work.

BIG is GOD!!!


Official Website of the Hogar Rafael Ayau 
Donations to the Hogar
Sponsoring a Child at the Hogar ~ A Parish Family Project

updated Dec 4, 2009

From Fr. Steven ~

We will officially begin our Nativity Charity Appeal for 2009 this coming Sunday in honor of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker.  And we seek his intercessory prayers for a successful completion to our project.  Our goal is to be able to financially sponsor a "little girl" at the Hogar in Guatemala City for one year ($3,600).  As you have probably noticed, I am using the term "little girl" in referring to her.  To make it a bit more personal, however, I do have this (updated) note that she wrote when she first appeared at the Hogar:
"My name is _____.  I don't know when is my birthday, but I am ten years old.  I am in second grade, and I like to study and swim.  I need to be sponsored.  Thank you very much for your love and support."
We will have a basket by the Cross or you can turn your donation in to Mickey Callender.


Original post from Fr. Steven, Nov 23, 2009:

Dear Parish Faithful,
The forty-day Nativity Fast began last Sunday, November 15.  This is the Season of preparation for the Lord's Nativity on December 25 through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
My purpose here is to propose a parish-wide or parish family project that would allow us to fulfill the Lord's command to practice charity/almsgiving.  When I returned from Guatemala, I immediately wrote a meditation in which I shared the hard and troubling truth that a little girl that we met in June had been sexually violated previous to her entrance into the Hogar. The Hogar has a program that allows for sponsorship of individual children.  This is of tremendous benefit to the Hogar because it provides essential financial support for its strained budget.  And it allows for others to participate in the Christian ministry to these "abandoned, abused, and orphaned children."  The Hogar encourages parish sponsorship of a given child, since individual sponsorship can prove to be financially challenging; and because it is a communal project that brings a parish together through a common purpose. Continue reading Fr. Steven's full message on our Meditations blog...