His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Homily for the Sunday of Orthodoxy
March 8, 2020
Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral
New York, New York

Your Eminences and Graces,
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The joy of this First Sunday of the Holy Lent is multiplied by the presence of so many Hierarchs of our Holy Orthodox Faith within the Altar – united in faith, in brotherhood, in solidarity of commitment, and in prayer. I am so very pleased that our Serbian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Romanian, and OCA friends decided to choose the unity of the faith today – to choose the spiritual fraternity and be with us here in our Archdiocesan Cathedral, in which the episcopacy of our Holy Archdiocese is so well represented by the Metropolitans of Atlanta and Pittsburgh, our beloved brothers Alexios and Savvas, as well as the Chief Secretary of our Eparchial Synod, our beloved brother Bishop Apostolos.

Allow me, if you will, to name each of these Hierarchs:

Bishop Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose most esteemed Patriarch visited our Holy Archdiocese this past week.

Bishop Saba of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Metropolitan Anthony and Archbishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Church of the United States, Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Bishop Ierotheos of Patriarchal Monastery of Saint Irene Chrysovolantou.

Archbishop Michael and Bishop Alexis of the OCA.

And last but certainly not least, Father Ioan Cosam representing the Romanian Diocese of the OCA.

All of these honorable clergy, together with the those of our Cathedral and Archdiocese, are gathered on this First Sunday of the Holy Fast to bear witness to the essential unity and integrity of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.

Yes, we differ in jurisdiction; we differ in ethnic background; we differ in native language; we differ in customs. But the Faith that we confess is in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church! We believe and we confess the same Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. We share in the Same Eucharistic Meal – the Mystical Supper of the Lord. And we all look forward to the Same Glorious Resurrection of our God in His Holy Pascha.

Being an Orthodox Christian is a wonderful gift – whether you were born into an Orthodox family or you chose to become Orthodox at some point in your life. We have an inexhaustible supply of treasures from around the world. Different ways of chanting, of celebrating, of painting holy icons, but all of them are focused on the one reality of our salvation which comes about through the grace of the Holy Trinity: the pre-eternal will of the Father, the sacrifice from the foundation of the world of the Son, and the continuous sanctifying operation of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, I think that we get too caught up in our differences and forget that we are the same family. As the Ecumenical Patriarch has reminded us so many times: we are not a confederation of churches but we are the Church! One family, one Γένος, one Ἐκκλησία – which means, as you know: “The Assembly of Those who are Called Forth.”

Well then, if we have all been called forth, what have we been called to do? What is our purpose, our mission? To preach, teach, and live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is no accident that we gathered together today in this Cathedral. We are here for a purpose, to find our way to live in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the love of God the Father.

We manifest our purpose here in the Divine Liturgy, sharing in the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, and seeing in each other the fullness of God’s love for each and every one. If we say we love God, then we must love each other. If we say that we come to the Chalice for forgiveness and mercy, then we must offer forgiveness and mercy to each other as God does, unconditionally.

This is not an easy way to live. It requires attention, interior vigilance, discipline, knowledge, faith, hope, and above all, love. And to help guide us to all these is today’s Gospel reading. A small detail may illuminate it for you. The Lord said to Nathanael:

Ὂντα ὑπὸ τὴν συκῆν εἶδόν σε!

While you were sitting beneath the fig tree, I saw you![1]

The fig tree is an image of community in the New Testament, sometimes specific to the Synagogue, where the Lord learned as a child and taught in word and deed after His revelation to Israel. We can see in it an image of our communities as well. Some are full of fruit, some are bereft of anything to harvest, and some are withering up. And we are all sitting in them, like Nathanael beneath the fig tree where the Lord saw him.

And just like Nathanael, the Lord sees us as well, and knows our hearts, knows our intentions, and our reasons for being here today. Maybe someone brought you today into the presence of the Christ, like Philip brought Nathanael. Maybe you wandered in out of habit. Maybe you are searching for something deeper. The Good News, the Gospel tells us that the Lord already knows everything about us that there is to know. What a relief! We don’t have to explain ourselves to Him. We just have to be willing to encounter Him, to follow Him, and to live the life He offers us.

Today in our Cathedral, you all have witnessed the fruits of this life, how good and joyous it can be to dwell in unity with brothers and sisters, with the living icons of God.[2] We are not gathered by accident. God sees us even at this very moment. May we always be found in the Church in such unity and peace. Amen!

[1] John 1:49.

[2] Cf. Psalm 133:1.