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“THE LIVING MESSAGE OF CHRIST’S LOVE”

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Enthronement Speech of Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco
Ascension Cathedral of Oakland, California
April 2, 2005

Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Your Eminences and Graces, Esteemed Ecumenical Representatives, Reverend Clergy, Honorable Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Members of the Archdiocese and Metropolis Councils, Members of the National and Metropolis Philoptochos Boards, Distinguished Guests, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:

When the disciples were squabbling with one another about who was most important among them, we learn Christ’s answer from the Gospel of Luke: “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” He then asks, “for who is greater, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27)

These words of our Lord have guided me throughout my life. I have tried to serve without asking the Lord about my place at the table. I have followed the road before me, prayerful that I would not lose my direction or my purpose, which was, is, and always shall be to serve God and His people. I sought to actualize this conviction early in my ministry through my service at Hellenic College/Holy Cross. There, it was my great fortune to play a role in the spiritual development of many of the clergy who are here today, my dear and respected coworkers, the Presbyters and Deacons of this Metropolis, as well as helping to train the Church’s lay leaders, who courageously step forward to assist the Church in fulfilling its mission, thus actualizing their identity as the “royal priesthood.”

The Lord granted me the opportunity to serve His people as a deacon of the Church for many years, under a great spiritual leader, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos—a man whose mission in the Church was beyond what most people at the time could perceive or comprehend. Serving with him, I witnessed firsthand how the Archdiocese functions in its multiple facets: our parishes, the lives of our priests and their families, the efforts of the faithful. I served and I learned. From these years of service I especially learned that we need to listen attentively before moving into action. This lesson has become a part of my character.

When the time came for me to respond to another call of the Church, I was elected as a bishop and asked to serve in the position of Chief Secretary of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Archdiocese. There, I witnessed the impact and importance of this body as it affects the direction of the Church. I gratefully acknowledge the invaluable lessons that I learned from His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and our respected Synodal Hierarchs.

Now, I stand before you, called to serve you, my beloved people of this Metropolis, as your shepherd, following in the footsteps of your much loved spiritual Father and Bishop for many years, my respected friend and co-worker, Metropolitan Anthony of blessed memory.
I would like to take a moment to address a few words specifically to the clergy of the Metropolis. When you were asked to express your opinion regarding the kind of person you wished to become your new shepherd, you responded in a two-fold way. First, you summarized the characteristics of this Metropolis: you painted a vibrant picture with great clarity and depth. Then, you expressed concretely the qualities you envisioned in your future hierarch. Your prayers can be summarized by quoting St. Paul: “a bishop must be someone who is blameless and above reproach, gentle, hospitable, a lover of goodness, wise, righteous, devout, and self-controlled. May he be in all respects a model of good work, and a teacher with a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy and true, that he might preach the sound doctrine of the Gospel throughout this Metropolis for many years to come.”

I joyfully accept this challenge that is placed in front of me.
I have struggled for quite some time in response to your challenge, desiring above all to be a true and sincere shepherd for you and all God’s people in this Metropolis. I believe that we must carefully examine our preparedness to serve Christ’s Church in a manner that meets the challenges posed by this “post-modern” Third Millennium. How will we be responsible stewards of the institutions that comprise the Church, from the parish to the Archdiocese itself? How will we ensure that our liturgical practice and life remain meaningful to succeeding generations? How will we care for our people, their families and relationships, even as we ourselves struggle with these issues?

In the past, a clergyman was respected by his flock more on the basis of his position than of his character. God, the Church, and religion commanded respect; the authority of the priest was above reproach. The faithful did not ask questions or express doubts. Today, in our post-modern environment, this situation has dramatically changed. Respect for the priest is not a given; it must be earned. Our genuine ability to inspire love and respect will motivate others to respond accordingly. Today, people are receptive when the message comes to them through a living example of genuine commitment to Christ and His Church. I am pleased to find so many expressions of such commitment to Christ among you, exemplified through the numerous ministries of this Metropolis.

We earn the respect of others when we nurture their souls, living the message of Christ’s love that transforms us. This reality challenges us to remember that as Christians we are called to be present in the world without falling prey to the charms of the world. This makes us true vessels of God’s grace. The living message of Christ’s love opens the door to our own spiritual life. It enables us to understand the challenges of our particular situation. It cements our genuine relationship with God. We are what we give and our task is to give Christ.

The living message of Christ’s love must be in the forefront of all our labors. We must be fully equipped to share this message in a positive and edifying manner. For this reason, I am committed to providing Continuing Education Programs for the clergy, which will serve to strengthen the intellectual and spiritual reservoir of our Metropolis, and assist in bringing the Church’s message of salvation effectively to its people.

I have heard it said that this Metropolis is the most “progressive” in the Archdiocese. What does “progressive” mean? Progressive in what sense? In the way we interpret the message of the Gospel? In challenging our time-honored Orthodox tradition? In the way that we approach our people? In the way we experience our liturgical life? To me, a “progressive” church is a church that, according to St. Gregory the Theologian “gives the soul wings.” Our Church is progressive when it provides the faithful with opportunities to engage Christ in meaningful ways. To accomplish this task, we must know Christ and pay attention to the world around us—the things in it that can bring us closer to Christ, as well as those things that can take us away from Him.

The 21st century is surely marked by a close connection between word and image. A teenager today can be seen listening to his Ipod, while at the same time watching a high-intensity TV program, simultaneously bombarded by competing commercial messages. We know that the way one responds to a message depends upon how this message is presented. The priest today must be mindful of this connection between word and image and its place within our Church, especially as it is expressed in our liturgical and sacramental life. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that the most important message a priest can offer is the Divine Liturgy. Here we have the Word, the Image and the Deed in their most integrated expression, because through the liturgical actions, hymns, and prayers of the Liturgy we offer our lives to God in thanksgiving, as God offers us His grace and sanctification. The Divine Liturgy becomes a mere ritual unless we connect the Liturgy with daily life. This is the challenge of the Divine Liturgy: to respond to the living message of Christ’s love.

The emphasis placed upon spiritual renewal in this Metropolis is very evident, made tangible through such successful ministries as St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center, as well as through the growth of its monastic communities. At the same time, for many of our people the liturgical and sacramental life has lost its centrality. Many find these words and images alien to their everyday life and experience. In order to address this concern, we need to search within ourselves. Are these valid complaints? How can we respond with a liturgical witness that engages our flock?

Our worship is called “logical;” that is, it has meaning and purpose, it leads us to the Logos, our Savior. The Divine Liturgy fills our faithful with the experience of Christ in their lives. When people worship God meaningfully, their everyday words and actions outside the Church will also gain definition, authenticity, and authority.

One of the greatest challenges we face today is ministering to the family, which is in a state of crisis. Loneliness, suspicion, fierce competition, and mistrust characterize relationships among people. Half of all marriages end in divorce. Families struggle in every aspect of their lives, coping with spiritual, emotional and economic distress. Parents wrestle with and often defer to disturbing influences on their children. St. John Chrysostom describes the situation this way: “The leader of the Church prays for peace to all, just as he would in his own home; but the effectiveness of this peace is nowhere to be found. In times of old the home was indeed a church; now the church acts like a dysfunctional household.”

We, the clergy, are not immune from these ills in our own families, our relationships, and in ourselves. How can we address these issues as we labor to fulfill our mission? We can begin by drawing upon the inspiration found in the God-given tradition of ecclesiastical cooperation—synergy. The word “synergy” refers to the cooperation of the individual with the family, the family with the community, the community with the Metropolis, the Metropolis with the Archdiocese.
As we pursue this calling, we are greatly enriched by the wisdom and experience of others within our parishes and in the world at large. Listening carefully and attentively enhances our ability to make the living message of Christ’s love vibrant and meaningful. Our willingness to seek counsel reflects the depth of our self-awareness. St. Basil writes: “a man who refuses counsel is like a ship without a captain, which is given to the force of multitudes of spirits.” And St. Silouan the Athonite states: “All the disasters that fall on us have their root in our inability to ask for assistance and counsel.”

People in the 21st century are yearning to connect with the spiritual reality of the Church and the wisdom the Church has to offer about living a life in abundance. We must be prepared to effectively reach out our hand to them. This Metropolis has experienced under the leadership of Metropolitan Anthony a surge of expressions that seek to address these needs in various ways. Continuing in this spirit of progress, the Metropolis will begin an initiative directed towards meeting the needs of the family—the foundation of our home and ourselves. This initiative will provide the Metropolis with a framework for responding to the challenges affecting our children, our young adults, our families, and the elderly, endeavoring to bring together the wisdom of our Faith and modern insights.

Under the direct supervision of the Metropolis, this ministry will provide programs for continuing education of our clergy in such areas as spiritual counseling, pre-marital counseling, and theological advancement. It will eventually provide direct services to families and youth, in order to meet their crises and nurture our people, drawing not only from the core of our faith, but also from the sciences and modern studies to address our greatest challenges and answer our most pressing questions.

I envision that this initiative will provide our people with an opportunity to address the issues of real, everyday life as they live their Orthodox Faith. This ministry will seek to provide our clergy with much needed assistance in advancing their pastoral skills as they serve our faithful. As we develop goals and objectives for this initiative, I am inviting all of you to write to me and share any thoughts and concerns you may have, so that we can better shape its course and define its priorities. I hope to begin this project with a solid foundation, as we prepare to meet the future together.

Beloved clergy and faithful of this Metropolis, I come to you as a servant of God. My entire life is marked by our Lord’s words: “I am among you as one who serves.” As such, I embrace you with joy and gratitude for accepting me as one of your own. This Metropolis has always reflected the youthful quality of “becoming.” There have always been “new beginnings” here.

As I extend my hand to work with you in our Lord’s Vineyard, I rejoice to be among you, to build, to grow, to harvest. May Christ our true God, without whom “those who build labor in vain,” grant success to our ventures, so that our labors might bear fruit and become a great harvest of righteousness in His Kingdom, to His everlasting glory, and that of His eternal Father, and of the All-Holy, Good, and Life-Giving Spirit. Amen.