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Patriarchal Message for the Opening of the 39th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress

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Jul 14, 2008

Your Eminence Demetrios, Most Reverend Archbishop of America, beloved brother in the Holy Spirit and co-celebrant of our Modesty,

Your Eminences, Most Reverend Brothers, the Metropolitans who are Members of the Holy Eparchial Synod,

Your Graces the Bishops,

Reverend Priests and Deacons,

Most Honorable and Distinguished Archons,

Esteemed Members of the Archdiocesan Council,

Eminent Presidents and Members of the Greek Orthodox Communities,and of the National Philoptochos,

And all those gathered for the 39th Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:

Grace be unto you and peace from God, and from us benedictions, blessing and forgiveness.

The biennial convocation of the Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a most beloved Eparchy of our most venerable Ecumenical Throne, comprises another significant historical milestone in the godly journey of the faithful People of God of this Eparchy, who are ecclesiastically ordered under the constant spiritual protection and canonical charge of the Great Church of Christ. The Clergy-Laity Congress is an institutional grand platform, where questions of both Clergy and Laity can be openly aired on issues of current concern in the United States, whether they be of ecclesiastical, parochial, or community life in general. The Clergy-Laity is a place where solutions are sought, views are exchanged, decisions are taken, plans for the future are framed, and the bond of brotherhood is reinforced. Here our unity is affirmed and made firm around the axis of our life, that is the Church, together with Altar and the Eucharist, together with the whole of our Sacramental Life, the Hierarchal structure, and the Church’s tradition and teaching.

The convening of the 39th Clergy-Laity Congress in Washington, DC, the Nation’s Capital and the center of the Federal Government of the great American State, which is “home” for all Americans, has a clear symbolic significance coming from the central theme of the Congress: “Gather My People to My Home.” Beloved, you are coming together in your national “home” – in awe of God, with love and with the best intentions, to carefully consider your broader and fuller gathering into the Spiritual House of your Heavenly Father, that is, the Church. That House is the “home” of all people. As much as it is the home for people like you who know it and recognize it as such, so it is for those who have yet to know it, as well as those who only possess a vague nostalgia for it. The House of our Father has great spaciousness, as the Lord said: In My Father’s House are many mansions, (St. John 14:2). There is room in it not only for us and our children, but for all who come with us. The Table of our Father is laden abundantly for the Supper – not only for us, but for the many.

We Christians have the Lord’s own commandment that we should go forth into the avenues and the alleys, and we should seek out the poor, the hurt, the blind, the maimed, and that we should bring them to the Supper – the Banquet. He has commanded us to run through the highways and the byways to convince, even to compel our fellow human beings to enter in, that His house might be full (St Luke 14:21-24). Every one of our fellow human beings is an icon of God, a person of eternal worth. Christ died for each one, and each one has a place numbered and named for them, waiting in Heaven.

Clearly, our obligation is not confined to philanthropic works, which, as Christians, we are by definition bound to perform for all those in need and whose lives are lacking and whose numbers are increasing geometrically throughout the world in these difficult times. Rather, our chief obligation should be that we love abundantly, manifesting the hope that is within us (I Peter 3:15) to whomever we encounter “outside our home.” There are many who are far from the Church of Christ – deprived of His grace and of the comforting “family” of the Saints. They are spiritually famished, hopelessly struggling and wandering through their dark, dead-end existence and isolation.

But you, beloved, you are so richly blessed by your Heavenly Father! You are the living branches of the Sacred Vine of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople – the children of the precious yet martyred Ecumenical Patriarchate! You are both the heirs and the envoys of the Holy Greek Orthodox Tradition and of a brilliant Civilization thousands of years old, a civilization that is deeply honored throughout the American Continent. You are able to live out the Mystery of the Church in a communion of love. And what is more, because you have the privilege to live in a great, powerful, free and democratic Country, you have been given the open and free society in which to develop without hindrance your spiritual legacy and the values of your Tradition, not only for the benefit of you and your children, but for the benefit of your fellow citizens as well. We have no doubt that your current activities, and what you will accomplish in the future, are replete with the zeal and the “philotimo” – the special quality of the love honor for self and others that spurs us to succeed – that have always characterized our people. This is confirmed by the magnanimity and the love for your people that you have expressed in the past – in so many diverse ways, and also by the progress that you present in every sector that brings honor to you both as the Omogeneia and as the Body of the Church, a cause for which your countrymen rejoice.

As your Patriarch, and as the Holy and Sacred Synod which surrounds us, we always follow from our vantage point here in the shining, spiritual battlements of the historic Phanar, your progress, successes, and growth in Christ with much affection and a lively interest. Even as we feel a certain modest paternal pride for each and every advance you have made, we continue to pray daily for all of you, that you all may remain healthy and make progress in all your good works. We have appointed His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain as the representative of our Modesty and the Mother Church, and he will convey our warmest prayers and love for the complete success of the work of the Congress in person.

Wherefore we wholeheartedly congratulate you and salute Your Eminence, the Most Reverend Metropolitans and the Right Reverend Bishops with love. From our heart we bless each and every member of the Clergy-Laity Congress, the entire roster of the clergy and the laity. We also convey our warmest greetings to the Leaders of the great country of the United States. As a father to you all, we urge you in a spirit of unity to give always and everywhere an overflowing good witness of your faith, proving yourselves in all things as the servants of God … by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God (II Corinthians 6:4-7). Beloved and much-cherished brethren and children: the grace and the infinite mercy of the Lord be with you all.

In Constantinople, July 1, 2008

Your beloved brother in Christ
And constant intercessor before the Lord

B A R T H O L O M E W

Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome
And Ecumenical Patriarch

Delivered at the Opening Ceremonies by His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the 39th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress

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