His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch
B A R T H O L O M E W
At the Youth Event (10 - 18 yrs.)
Beloved Young Men and Women,
First of all, may I say that it is my paternal prayer that our All-Good God may bless this New Year of 2006, so that it may yield an abundance of virtue and knowledge, an abundance that you shall gain throughout your lives, in your families, your schools and your Churches.
Secondly, I should like to express how moved I am. My heart is joyful, because I am among you, you who are my spiritual children, who are a shining, golden hope. You, my beloved children, are the promise of a flourishing and distinguished future for the Greek Orthodox Heritage in this land.
I heartily congratulate and thank you for this beautiful program, for your efforts and your success. I am honored that you went through such preparations for my entertainment.
Yours is a double inheritance - one of ethnic heritage and Orthodox Faith. And there can be no doubt that with such honors come also great responsibility! It is never enough rest on one's laurels and boast in the accomplishments of one's ancestors. Rather, all of us are indebted to our Tradition, in order to more creatively engage our own future. In this, the saying among the young Spartans holds true:
Let us become even better than our parents and ancestors.
But the question remains: how are we to succeed in this, in a world filled with temptation and with ideologies utterly opposed to our Greek Orthodox Tradition? Could it be that in the final analysis such an effort would be unrealistic and thus not worthy of anyone's efforts? What shall you personally gain by remaining faithful to the traditions of your heritage and your Faith? Especially in a fallen world that is often indifferent to religious belief or even denies the existence of God?
But it is precisely in the reality of your life upon this earth that you will reap rich rewards, because you will find the meaning of your life and the joy that come from a creative and dynamic existence! And ultimately, your will gain the joy of Paradise, the eternal joy that comes from your union with Christ!
My beloved spiritual children, the greatest reality - though beyond our ability to think and conceive - is the Incarnation of the Son of God, He Who is Christ our Lord. God became a human being just like us! But without sin, so that we might become gods (with a small "g") by grace, just as Saint Athanasios says.
You see, God is not some abstract idea. God is a Person! And as Christians, we are not struggling theoreticians. We are members of the Body of Christ. We are members of the Holy Mother and Great Church of Christ. And this, your Church, continues to live and to teach this Divine Revelation unchanged, putting it into practice for real men and women, who are, as the Ancient Greeks used to say, "leaping on high," that is, looking to a life that is beyond this world.
I firmly believe that all of you are leading such lives in your Church community. You are well aware of the treasure of the Orthodox Faith and for this I heartily praise you!
As Ecumenical Patriarch, your spiritual father, let me assure you that I shall always rejoice when I hear of your many and varied accomplishments. Your success shall equip you to live blessed lives within American society, and shall be a surety of your receipt of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Finally, let me bring to your minds an exhortation from Saint John the Theologian in his First Epistle:
"Little Children, love not the world or the things of the world ... and guard yourselves from idols." (!John 2:25 and 5:21)
When Saint John says the word "world" here, he means the world of evil and sin. Other times the word "world" means humanity, the human family that our Lord Jesus Christ loved so much, that He became incarnate to save us.
And we certainly know well that there are many contemporary idols, and that it is a struggle to keep oneself from being influenced by them. But we also know that those who struggle and fight the good fight shall receive their crowns, just as the numberless Martyrs who fought for Faith and Fatherland received crowns for their sacrifices.
Therefore, let me express to you once again my joy at this time shared with you. When the opportunity arises, come and visit our beloved Constantinople. There, you will see the sacred origins of our Faith and venerate the place where we continue to fight the good faith, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We always welcome your prayers.
May your progress in life be blessed! And a blessed and happy New Year to you all!