Your Eminence, Metropolitan Panteleimon, Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,
My beloved brothers in the Lord, Metropolitans and Bishops,
Reverend Fathers and Delegates,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I, in the midst of them." (St. Matthew 18:20)
As we commence this 34th Clergy-Laity Congress, I would ask that all of
us pause for a moment, and consider this promise of our Lord Jesus
Christ. We have traveled from all across the United States, this
blessed land of liberty, to gather together in His Holy and Divine
Name, a Name that is above every other name, a "highly exalted name,"
as the Apostle Paul writes in his Epistle to the Philippians . . . in
order to do what? What have we come here to Orlando to accomplish?
If we are true to our calling as Christians, if we are justified in
bearing His Name, then we must -- above all else -- reflect His
presence in our midst.
In the final analysis, this is why I address you as brothers and
sisters – because we truly are brothers and sisters. This is
no mere formality, some formulaic salutation that we just say for the
sake of sounding like Christians. Through Jesus Christ, we are bone of
bone, flesh of flesh, and blood of blood. His Divine Blood flows
through each of us as we partake of Holy Communion. We share His Holy
Flesh and become, not only one with Him, but one with each other. And
we are linked and joined together like the bones which make firm the
body of the Church. Remember the Scripture, and recall how even on the
Cross, not a bone of Him was broken.
And if we are in truth brothers and sisters, members of one family,
then I hope and pray that through the coming days, the most pervasive
demeanor and most enduring impression will be the love of brothers and
sisters for one another.
I know that this Congress faces challenges. I know that there are a
multitude of issues and concerns pressing on the hearts and minds of
all. But I also know that when all is said and done, only three things
will finally remain: faith . . . hope . . . and love. And the greatest
of these is love.
Whatever we may accomplish over the next few days, whatever decisions
and resolutions, whatever procedures and policies we follow –
even if we end up moving mountains the Scriptures speak of –
if we conduct ourselves without love, then we have accomplished
nothing. Indeed, we have become nothing. For without love, all of our
words will become sounding brass and a clanging cymbal.
But think, my brothers and sisters, think of what we can accomplish
with love in our hearts and grace flowing from our lips. Think of the
witness and the proclamation that can come forth from a Congress
dominated by the love of Christ! Think of what this Congress can be
For this Congress, my first as your Archbishop, is commencing in a new
era for our Church, an era that has its beginning in the emergence of
Greek Orthodoxy at the common table of American religious, cultural,
and I dare say, political life.
During these years, our Church began its journey flowing outward into
the life and pulse of America. Yes, we were an immigrant Church,
brought to these shores by the brave and hardworking protoporoi, among
whom I am proud to count my own grandfather, who was a priest in the
first days of the Archdiocese.
Those early immigrants struggled, built churches and schools, and
ultimately fulfilled the role of apostles and evangelists, for they
brought our faith with them. It didn’t matter that many of them could
neither read nor write. Neither did many of the Apostles. But they knew
their Orthodox Faith. They knew what it was to believe in Christ, as
has been handed down for nearly two thousand years in the unchanging
and unbroken line of apostolic succession. When we consider their
sacrifice, their labors and their faith, we can do nothing less than
dedicate every fiber of our being to living this legacy of faith,
fulfilling their dreams of hope, and following their example of love.
The fact that we are having our 34th Clergy-Laity Congress; the fact
that we have so many hundreds of churches; the fact that we have a
theological school and college -- which are fully accredited and a
member of the Boston Theological Institute, and ready to begin the Fall
semester with at least 25 new students in the School of Theology --
with a possibility for 13 more; the fact that St. Michael’s Home for
the Aged has just concluded its expansion and continues the needs of
elderly; the fact St. Basil’s Academy continues to serve the needy
children of our Archdiocese, and with the active support and help of
the Philoptochos societies across America, we are continually seeking
new children to come and benefit from the loving care that St. Basil’s
offers; the fact that the Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s budget
continues to grow and the work of spreading the Gospel is being
vibrantly carried out; the fact that our faithful, the good people of
our Archdiocese, are contributing more generously than ever before to
the stewardship ministry of the Church; all of these, are the proofs of
their faith, their hope and their love. Now the question for us will
be: What will we leave to the generations that come after us?
I can tell you, from my past few days with the Young Adult League, that
the expectations of our youth are very high. You should know that they
are ready to engage the Church on every level, in the most sincere and
genuine way. They are committed! And they expect us to be committed as
well. Indeed, it is a very hopeful sign that there were as many
delegates to this, their annual convention, as there are to this
Congress. This is cause for rejoicing! Our Youth are ready to live as
Greek Orthodox Christians in the 21st century, and they are looking to
us to bequeath to them an Archdiocese that is spiritually healthy, and
prepared to give them their rightful place at the table. Now is the
time to open the doors of Archdiocesan administrative leadership roles
to the young people of our Church. Now is the time to harness their
creativity, their vitality, their inspiration, in order to revitalize
and even re-create, if you will, the ministries of our Archdiocese. The
day is long gone when we can afford to only teach and instruct these
youthful and dynamic members of our Church community. Now is the time
let them take their place at the table; to let them show us the way,
and to let them lead.
For unlike our grandfathers and grandmothers, who had every expectation
that their local "Greek Church" would always be the uniform,
homogeneous, and unvaried community that they had founded, we know that
our Church is changing in ways our parents never anticipated. But don’t
think that they wouldn’t have welcomed newcomers to their table.
There’s no hospitality like Greek hospitality.
Today, we know that our Church can no longer be self-understood as an
isolated peninsula in the greater culture. We have expanded and
embraced a broad and diverse community, precisely because we are
Americans. Inclusivity is the American way. And as we face the 21st
century and the New Millennium, our goal must be to find a place at the
table for all the members of our Church.
Today, to have one half of the pews of a local parish filled with
converts to our Faith is not unheard of. They need a full place-setting
at the table. This is the reason I have put such an emphasis on adult
religious education. We create difficulties for converts when we
receive them into our Church without ministering to their needs for
knowledge, information, history and teaching. If it is true, as St.
John Chrysostom says: ‘that all should partake of the banquet of
faith," then we should give them the means to enjoy the bounties of
The non-Orthodox and the non-Christian spouses of our members need a
place at the table. Just because our Church does not practice
inter-communion does not mean that we do not extend a warm welcome to
all, and so fulfill the law of love. How are we going to sanctify
families, if they do not feel welcome in our parishes? Yes, we need
inter-faith ministries, and we have established them. But on Sunday
morning, my friends, which means more? a pamphlet at the pangari, or a
smile and a handshake? Let us not be deceived that these are intangible
qualities. We make our churches what they are, according to the measure
of faith and grace that we are willing to accept and to practice. Is it
really enough for us to wait for them to come to us, or do we take the
initiative and reach out to their needs on the local level? If we truly
are one family, as we claim to be, we must embrace all those who are
even loosely connected to our parishes, and offer them the same place
at the table that we would offer our own brother or sister, our own
sons and daughters. Recognizing that the spouses of Greek Orthodox
Christians are part of our wider family can only enrich our parishes
and our Archdiocese.
And what about those whose lives have been broken, or in some sense
shattered by personal circumstances? What about single parents, people
who have gone through divorce, and the children of divorced and broken
homes? What about families that have blended from just these kinds of
situations, situations our immigrant parents and grandparents did not
expect from their children. Is there going to be a place at the table
for everyone in our Church?
The complexion of our Church has changed and is changing still. The
table must be ever-widened so that everyone feels welcome and sees
themselves as being part, at least in some degree, of the greater whole.
There must be a place at the table for our non-Greek speakers and our
non-English speakers. There must be a place at the table for fellow
Orthodox Christians from other ethnic traditions, so that they feel
honored and respected by their Greek Orthodox brethren. There must be a
place at the table for all women who desire to serve the Church. There
must be a place at the table for all of our youth, because our future
is created in the present.
If we take nothing else away from this Congress, I pray that we shall
take away an expanded view of ourselves as Greek Orthodox Christians,
who are part and parcel of American culture. And with that expanded
self-understanding, comes the willingness and the responsibility to
share our faith fully with others, even if they don’t fit into our
pre-conceived notions of who should belong to our Church. Let our stamp
on American religious culture be the love of Christ, a message of hope
that is filled with the content of our faith.
We can and should spend the next few days debating and discussing the
process by which all this should happen, but it will never happen
unless we demonstrate in tangible ways our love for each other, our
understanding of our own Faith, and a vision filled with hope.
I know that this task is not easy. At the end of this month, I will
mark two years since my election as your Archbishop. Change, accepting
change, and negotiating change is difficult, especially when we all
care so very deeply about what we believe.
But these are times of change. As a Church that is composed primarily
of Americans of Greek descent, we are in a process of evaluating and
coming to judgments about what means to be Greek Orthodox Christians
who are part of America. America has been called a melting pot, but
this is really not accurate. We want to retain those precious
characteristics of our heritage, our language and our history. We don’t
want to lose them. But we want them to work in this great and marvelous
experiment called America.
And from coast to coast, the circumstances of our Church vary widely,
such that what works in a community, for example, in Chicago, might not
work in Atlanta. So as we consider ourselves as a whole, we are left
wondering whether we will be able to find the means to hold on to the
core, the heart of our identity.
If you know the history of our Church through the centuries, you know
that this is nothing new. The legacy of Hellenism is something that
goes back thousands of years before the coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ. And it took centuries for the harmony between Greek thought and
Christian belief to come to pass. Remember how in the early Church, it
was often the Greek Christians who felt excluded, who felt that they
were being left out of their place at the table.
But God has His own ways of bringing about His will for His children.
The Lord said it best: What is impossible for man, is possible with
God. As we face the challenges of finding our way in this vast American
culture, let us keep our hope in God, Who will always show us the way.
Our task is to remain faithful to Him; to our Holy Tradition; and to
the life of the Church. This faithfulness to tradition is the very
thing that is inspiring so many converts to come to Orthodoxy in recent
years. They are yearning for the authentic faith of Christ, as it has
been preserved in our Holy Orthodox Church. And this is what our young
people are looking for as well. They have benefits that our parents and
grandparents never had. But for all our material, educational and
social success, our youth still crave the spiritual riches of our Greek
Orthodox Tradition. Our responsibility to them; our responsibility to
our forebears; and our responsibility to ourselves is to live out our
Faith in all its fullness. This wonderful land of America gives us the
right to do so, with a freedom unparalleled in the world. What a shame
it would be if we sold our birthright, as Esau the brother of Jacob
did, for the satisfaction of our own egos. You may remember the story
of Esau and Jacob. Esau traded his inheritance to his brother than for
no other reason than he was hungry. He felt the need for immediate
satisfaction. It was an all or nothing proposition. But the life of the
Church, the life of Christ, is a continuous spiritual process. We
cannot legislate spiritual maturity for our Archdiocese. It emerges
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. At any given moment, in any
given locale, we must do the serious work of the Church, and find the
best means to bring all our faithful to the fullness of the life in
Christ. And this means we all must change.
For some of you, change brings about new hope and a new sense of pride.
For others, it brings disappointment and frustration. For yet others,
it brings feeling of insecurity and even fear.
I want you to know that I do understand the difficulty and the
complexity of this event of change. For example, the recognition of the
vitality and creativity of this vast western hemisphere, and the
establishment of new eparchies in Canada and Central and South America
by the Patriarchate, has caused some of you to fear that the
Archdiocese is being compromised. On the contrary, this is a logical
and needful step in the development of these countries, and it is the
love of the Mother Church which is expanding opportunity for all
Orthodox living in the Western Hemisphere.
How then are we to respond? With fear-mongering? With panic? With
forecasts of doom and catastrophe? Rather, as mature Christians, let us
keep all these developments in the proper perspective, and not allow
ignorance, or agendas foreign to the work of Christ to prevail in the
Church. The agenda of the Church is plain and simple. It is not about
power. It is not about money. It is about the Christian service of love
and ministry of reconciliation that is centered in the transformation
of the human person by living the Liturgy in the power of the Holy
The same could be said for other issues of the past two years: the
elevations of the Diocesan Bishops to the rank of Metropolitan, the
changes at the Hellenic College/Holy Cross, the reorganization at the
Archdiocese headquarters in New York, the transitions in the National
Boards – all of these can be seen from different angles and
perspectives. This is natural enough. But what is unnatural is to
misuse these changes to create fear and confusion among the faithful.
Our joint responsibility, your duty as leaders of the Greek Orthodox
communities from around the nation, is to protect and promote the
mission of the Church. And that mission is the salvation of the world.
That mission is one of love, mercy and forgiveness. That mission is the
same mission our Lord gave to His Apostles: "Go therefore into all the
world. Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe
everything I have commanded you." This mission is not American. It is
not Greek. It is not Russian or Serbian, or Bulgarian or anything else.
It is Christian. And it can only be fulfilled by people who live, think
and act as Christians. For as the Lord said: "They will know that you
are Christians if you love each other." We can say whatever we want. We
can write whatever we desire. But if love is not manifest in concrete
deeds and actions, the world will not believe us.
The same goes for this Clergy-Laity Congress. It doesn’t matter how
many resolutions we make. You cannot legislate love. So remember, my
friends, when you are trying to persuade your neighbor over the next
few days, and convert him or her to your own way of thinking, think
about converting your own heart. If we demonstrate our love for each
other, then and only then, will we have the certainty that the will of
God has been performed.
As I consider the period of change, both as your Archbishop and as a
person, I readily admit that is has been difficult and complex for me.
When I arrived in this blessed Archdiocese, I quickly learned that the
expectations of some, were not the expectations of others. I realized
that the hopes and dreams of the faithful of this Church spanned the
whole range of their own personal experience. I have been challenged
every day by the innumerable expectations of so many, to find the means
to meet the needs of all. I know that what is pleasing to some, can be
disappointing to others. I know that change can be painful, because I
too have experienced this pain.
But I must tell you that as I have traveled the length and breadth of
this Nation, I have been encouraged by the faithful who attend Church
every Sunday, who minister to our youth, who instruct our children in
the faith and in our heritage, who sing in the choirs, who support with
their time, their talent and their resources the ministries of their
local parish, their Diocese and this Archdiocese. When I have embraced
these people, and looked into their eyes, and witnessed their faith in
action, and seen that they truly believe in their Church, I am
strengthened. I am renewed and I am refreshed. The prayers, the
encouragement, the support, and the love of the Greek Orthodox People
of America has been my greatest joy during these past two years.
Whenever the administrative burdens of this Church have weighed heavy
on my shoulders, it has always been the good, humble, decent Greek
Orthodox Christians of this Archdiocese, who have inspired me to carry
You see, I hope that each one of you who is here at this Congress
understands that it is the hundreds of thousands of Greek Orthodox
Christians who make up this Archdiocese that are the real reason we are
here – all of us. We don’t represent them, for we are not a
government. We serve them; for they are our family. They are our
brothers and sisters.
As Archbishop, I am also grateful to the members of the Archdiocesan
Council for their service; but I must tell you, no more grateful than I
am to the thousands of parish council members who give so willingly of
their time, their talents, and their resources to serve our Church
I am grateful to the members of Leadership 100 who have given our
Archdiocese a bountiful endowment, but no more grateful than I am to
the yiayiades who live on Social Security and never miss a tray that’s
passed in Church.
I am grateful to the committee chairs and members, but no more grateful
than I am to the youth workers, the Greek and Sunday School teachers,
the choir members and altar boys, who every day offer of themselves to
make our parishes work together for the glory of God.
This is the meaning of liturgy – the people’s work, and
throughout our Archdiocese, there are people who strive to make the St.
George’s and St. Nicholas’ and St. Katherine’s places where anyone can
feel welcome, and find a place at the table of our Church.
I am grateful to the National Board of Philoptochos and the Boards of
our national institutions, for their sacrifices for these invaluable
national ministries. But I am no more grateful to them, than I am to
the tens of thousands of faithful Philoptochos women who have been the
backbone of our communities for decades. And as much as I value the
contribution of the Trustees of our National Ministries, I value the
employees of these same institutions, and all the volunteers who do so
much to make them what they are.
I stand here before you today, as your Archbishop, full of gratitude
and full of hope for the future, because I see in your faces the
limitless possibilities that God wants us to have. We can accomplish
great things together, for the sake of our faith and the sake of our
precious children, but I say again, only if love guides all of our
deliberations and actions.
During the past two years, it has been my utmost desire to be a
responsible steward of the offerings of the faithful of this Holy
Archdiocese. A faithful steward is a steward not only of financial
resources, but of the deeper treasures of the human heart.
We are called to be good stewards of the unity of this Archdiocese. The
spiritual, administrative, and canonical unity of this Holy Archdiocese
of America must be preserved, enriched, and passed on to a generation
yet to be born. We are called to be united in faith, in good works, in
fellowship – in, by and through love. As vast as our Church
in America is, as diverse as the personal experience of each one of us,
as complex as the character of our communities, we are one, united,
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America!
We are called to be good stewards of the faith that has been passed
down to us. Religious education has been given the charge and is
creatively producing materials to meet the needs of young and old
alike, those born Orthodox, those who are embracing the faith every
day, and those who have not even heard of the Good News of Orthodox
Christianity. Religious Education is a priority today, and into the New
We are called to be good stewards of the preaching ministry of the
Church. New initiatives are taking place and must be further developed
to preach Orthodoxy, to live Orthodoxy, and offer Orthodoxy to this
great country of America. Home Missions is a priority today, and into
the New Millennium.
We are called to communicate the Faith using every means at our
disposal through the incredible advancements of our Information Age.
For this reason, the Communications Department of the Archdiocese has
been empowered to use the Internet, to use the Orthodox Observer, to
employ a revitalized Publications effort, to expand our video ministry
through GOTelecom, to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to our own
people and to the world. Communications is a priority today, and into
the New Millennium.
We are called to be good stewards of our most precious resource
– our families. For this reason, new initiatives are taking
place and must be further developed to reach out to our non-Orthodox
spouses, to our venerable aging parents, to our children, to single
parent families, to the neediest amongst us. Families are a priority
today, and into the New Millennium.
The Lord said that a good steward is one who brings new treasures out
of old ones, and we have an ancient and awesome heritage, the legacy of
Hellenism. For this reason, new initiatives are taking place, not only
to enrich our faithful with the treasures of the Greek language, but
with the whole panoply of Greek culture, philosophy and learning. The
legacy of our forefathers is a priority today, and into the New
We are called to be good stewards of the material blessings that God
has showered upon us in this great land of America, and that the
faithful entrust to the Church out of their own gratitude and love for
God. For this reason, every effort has been made, and will continue to
be made, to offer the faithful of this Archdiocese, the most
comprehensive and exhaustive procedures, audits and a fully open and
disclosed program of financial accountability. That which is offered to
the Church, is offered to Christ Himself; therefore, it is not any law
that requires accountability, but rather our Lord Who demands it, and
we shall be faithful to His demand. Financial accountability is a
priority today, and into the New Millennium.
Finally and most importantly, we are called to be good stewards of our
Parish Communities. The life of every Parish begins at Hellenic College
and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Holy Cross is the
pride and joy of this Archdiocese of America. I know in my heart that
Holy Cross is the key which will open the gates to the New Millennium
of Orthodoxy in America.
This Clergy-Laity Congress must make a commitment and take a stand to
ensure that every young man and every young woman, who aspires to the
priesthood or a life of service in the Church, has the opportunity to
fulfill their calling. For it is these young men and women who will be
serving us today and our children tomorrow. As an Archdiocese, it is
our holy obligation to ensure, that as we enter the new Millennium,
every Parish will be ministered to by a devout, well-educated,
well-trained priest. It is our sacred responsibility to encourage and
nurture vocations to the Holy Priesthood within our families, within
our local parish, and throughout the Archdiocese.
At this moment, I would like to thank all of the retired clergy of our
Archdiocese, who after four and even five decades of faithful,
dedicated service, continue to minister to the needs of those parishes
that at times do not have the resources to maintain a full-time priest.
The dawn of the New Millennium is no time to speak of scaling back the
ministry of this Archdiocese, of consolidating parishes for lack of
priests, of closing parishes which have sanctified the faithful for
generations. At the dawn of the New Millennium, is it even conceivable
that we will preside over the closing of churches which our parents
opened? Do we honor the sacrifice of our forefathers and the blessings
of God by retreating from the two thousand year old mission of the
Church? Saint Paul never closed a church. St. Peter never closed a
Church. St. Andrew never closed a church. In America, the land of
liberty, of freedom of expression and freedom of religion, do we even
have the right to consider closing a church?
The Vineyard of the Lord, Which His right hand has planted, our beloved
Archdiocese of America, has a single root -- Hellenic College and Holy
Cross. The fruit of this vine is what feeds and sustains our faithful
all across this great country. I want to take this moment, to thank my
beloved brother in the Lord, Metropolitan Isaiah, for the love and the
care with which he has cultivated this vine over the past year. All of
us who have gathered together for this Clergy-Laity Congress can do no
less, than to offer our very best: our prayers, our talents and our
resources to ensure that Hellenic College and Holy Cross continue to be
the light set on the Hill, that will illuminate our way into the New
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, truly we have gathered in His Holy
Name. Let us rejoice in His presence among us. Let us rejoice in each
other. Let us set about our work in the knowledge that He is with us
through His grace, love and His infinite mercy. Amen.