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Luncheon Response of His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos
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:

In the Gospel of St. John, we find these powerful words of our Lord, read whenever the Church celebrates the memory of a saintly hierarch: “I am the Good Shepherd… the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” As I consider these words, I am deeply conscious of their vast implications, the tremendous demand that is placed upon all those who accept the task of spiritual leadership. The example that is set before us is none other than Christ Himself, who said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). Today, in the courtyard of the church, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios presented me with the pastoral staff, which is described as “the brace and support of the faithful, the staff of instruction to the wayward.” And yet the true pastoral staff by which the Good Shepherd guides his flock, the true image of Christ’s leadership, is the Cross, which remains the most powerful symbol of His ministry of service and self-sacrifice. It is therefore tremendously meaningful to me that my enthronement takes place on the eve of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, for the Cross is the pastoral staff by which the Good Shepherd leads His people.

I am also conscious, however, of the limitations inherent in this image of the shepherd and the sheep, at least insofar as it applies to the bishop and the people. In this analogy, the sacrifice flows in only one direction: the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, but the sheep do not lay down their lives for the shepherd. For this reason, I believe that in order to fully appreciate the relationship of synergy that exists between the bishop and the people, we must look not only to the image of the shepherd and his flock, but also to that beautiful vision offered by St. Peter in his First General Epistle: “You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” We are all citizens of the holy nation, members of the Kingdom of God, called to reflect the values of that kingdom—justice, mercy, and faith—in the here and now. As God’s own people, we have all been graced with royal stature, ennobled by God, who lifts up the heads of those who have been marginalized and deprived of their dignity. As God’s own people, we have all been empowered for priestly service to the world, enabled to offer spiritual sacrifices of love and caring within our families and churches. As God’s own people, we are a community called to service, a gathering to which no one comes empty-handed, and from which no one leaves empty-handed, for everyone has something to give, and everyone has something to receive.

Today’s enthronement service, together with the other services and activities that are taking place throughout this weekend, are a beautiful expression of this vision of mutual service. These events do not depend upon the labors or the sacrifices of any one person. They are rather the common work, the leitourgia, of the entire community. Each one of you who is present today has made a contribution in your own way. You did not come as mere spectators, you came together as God’s own people, gathering together to offer yourselves to God and to each other with reverence, faith and love. The bishop who stands at the head of the assembly leads by example: the bishop ought to be the first to offer himself in service to the community, but also the first to gratefully acknowledge the service and the sacrifices of others.

It therefore seems fitting that I begin my ministry in this Metropolis by giving thanks, by offering my heartfelt gratitude to all those who have gathered here today, and especially to those who labored so diligently to make the enthronement and the surrounding events as beautiful and memorable as they have been. I would like to thank His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy and Sacred Synod for entrusting me with this sacred ministry. I thank His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and the members of the Holy Eparchial Synod for their support and love, both during my service as Chief Secretary of the Synod, and now as I assume my duties as Metropolitan of San Francisco. My special thanks go to Fr. Thomas Paris, the parish council, and the Philoptochos of the Ascension Cathedral, as well as to all those who have labored to make this event such a beautiful expression of love and hospitality on behalf of the Metropolis. I also thank Fr. Michael Pappas and the entire community of Holy Trinity Church for hosting the Salutations service with His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios last night, and Fr. Stephen Kyriacou and the Annunciation Cathedral community in advance for hosting tomorrow’s Divine Liturgy, my first liturgy as Metropolitan of San Francisco. My sincere gratitude goes out to Mr. Theofanis Economidis and the Metropolis Council, as well as to Ms. Valerie Roumeliotis and the Metropolis Philoptochos Board for their dedicated service throughout the process of preparation for these events. I extend my deep appreciation to all the clergy who have gathered here today, my concelebrants before the altar of the Lord. And I also sincerely thank all the laity who have gathered, my co-workers joyfully laboring in God’s great field to bring in the harvest of the Lord. Finally, and most importantly, I give thanks to Almighty God, who has accounted me worthy to take up such an awesome task, who has called me in my unworthiness to serve as the Metropolitan of this sacred Metropolis, and I pray that God may grant to me, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord,” so that I might serve the people of God in this region with deep humility, with profound respect, and with unfailing love.

I would like to conclude my remarks by offering two pledges, two promises upon which I intend to frame my ministry in this Metropolis, two poles that will form the axis of my service in this region. My first pledge is that I will do my utmost to lead after the pattern of Christ the Good Shepherd, to serve after His example of service, to offer myself wholeheartedly to this holy ministry, pouring myself out on behalf of the people of God. And yet I also recognize that, no matter how great my efforts, I can accomplish nothing by myself. My second pledge, therefore, has to do with all of you; one might even say that it is a pledge I am making on your behalf. As I look around today, it is amazing for me to consider the rich treasure of wisdom, experience, and knowledge that is assembled in this very room, the collective skills and talents of this body. What could we accomplish if all these abilities were put to full use in the service of Christ and the Church? Or perhaps I should rather say, what could we not accomplish? My second pledge is therefore that I will not allow the vast resources gathered here and throughout the Metropolis to go unrecognized and unutilized. I will be calling upon all of you, clergy and laity alike, to renew your commitment to serving the Lord. To those of you who are already engaged in significant areas of ministry in this Metropolis, I challenge you with the admonition of St. Paul: “just as you are doing, do so even more” (I Thess. 4:1)—stir up your fervor to even greater levels of commitment and dedication. And if there is anyone who has gifts that have previously gone unnoticed, anyone with something to offer who has not yet been called upon, I invite you today to find a way to bring your talents to bear in the service of the Church. We are God’s own people. We are called to service.

As we prepare for tomorrow’s celebration of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, let us pray that Christ our God, who offered us the perfect example of service and sacrifice upon the Cross, may grant us the grace to take up our cross and follow Him, joyfully serving God and each other, journeying together towards His Kingdom of perfect unity and love. Amen.