December 22, 2019
Your Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros
Your Eminences, Your Graces,
I humbly stand here before you about to enter into the high calling of the episcopacy of the Holy Orthodox Church, upon the election of His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch, and the most venerable members of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Great Church of Christ. This is a great blessing for which, of course, I have done nothing deserving nor am I worthy of such a great gift, a gift bestowed from on high and as a sign of Your Eminence’s paternal love.
I come before you today as one in the autumnal stage of life and from the margins, or as Saint Paul says, as one born out of due time (I Cor. 15:8). Yet, although I may be out of time and place, I do, however, begin this new diakonia within a context, and that context is this sacred temple of Hagia Sophia of Washington, DC, or as it is fondly referred to here among the faithful, Saint Sophia.
It is here, Your Eminence, that I was first nurtured and raised in the Faith, by my devout and most righteous parents, Alexander and Demetra, and along with my dear brother Chris, all of whom have gone to their rest before me. May their memory be eternal! And may they rejoice with me today as those enjoying eternal life within the Church.
It is here in Saint Sophia that I received catechism as a child, served as an altar boy and later was a member of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship as an undergraduate at the nearby University of Maryland, under the spiritual direction of the Very Rev. Archimandrite Maximos Moses, of blessed memory, who also was a son of this Cathedral and who faithfully served in this church, who also sponsored me when I entered our theological school, and until his death was my spiritual father. It is also during these years of young adulthood in this city that I benefited from the spiritual advice of the late Very Rev. Archimandrite Nicholas Pekatoras, of blessed memory, who for decades offered his wise and holy counsel to a multitude of Orthodox faithful and whose nearby grave has already become a site of pilgrimage for many believers.
However, special commemoration must be made for the late Rev. Dr. John Tavlarides, our Fr. John, who served as the priest of this cathedral for over 50 years and raised 2 generations of Cathedral children. It was Fr. John, who in the early 1960s, had the foresight and wisdom to turn to the Byzantine scholars at the nearby Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard Center for Byzantine Studies, for informed and expert opinion on how to decorate this magnificent cathedral with a traditional Byzantine mosaic iconographic program. From my childhood and early teens, I recall most vividly how when each section of the vaulting was completed and the large cloths would be removed to reveal the splendor of the golden mosaics inhabited with saintly figures. It was these recurring, celestial epiphanies, visions of the heavenly liturgy and choir of Saints united with that of the earthly liturgy and the faithful below, that dramatically imprinted their seal upon my heart and mind, and cultivated my desire to pursue the study of our sacred Byzantine Orthodox artistic traditions in an in-depth manner. These sacred images, these empsyches or living icons, unite us with their heavenly protoytpes who intercede on our behalf. For these reasons, Your Eminence, I am most grateful that You gave Your blessing for my episcopal ordination to take place here, in a sacred space ascribed with great meaning for me. It is here, where, I first learned, as the Psalmist, the Prophet David exclaims, “O Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, and the place of the tabernacle of Thy glory (Psalm 25:8).
Of course, over the years, many individuals, hierarchs, clergy and lay members have mentored me and contributed to my development: first and foremost is my uncle of blessed memory, Archbishop Ieronymos I of Athens and All Greece; Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory, Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese, of blessed memory, whose very title I was most honored to receive from His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew upon my episcopal election; my cousin of blessed memory, Nicholas, Metropolitan of Phthiotis in Lamia, Greece, who was recently eulogized by his fellow hierarchs as Theotokophilos; by many priests, some of whom are here today offering their prayers on my behalf-especially long-time brothers in the Lord- Archimandrite Polycarp Rameas, my classmate, Archimandrite Vasileios Drossos, Rev. Dr. George Dragas, and Rev. Dr. Steven Zorzos, the dean of this very Cathedral. I also wish to express my profound thanks to Fr. Alexander and Presvytera Xanthi Karloutsos, who could not be present today, but who have whole-heartedly supported my endeavors, both ecclesiastical and academic, across the decades.
I also wish to acknowledge the love and encouragement of my dear cousins, numerous friends and cherished former parishioners. Particularly, I wish to express my gratitude and thanks to Mark Arey, my classmate and dearest friend of over 40 years and who has always offered his wise support, guidance and brotherly love. I also offer my gratitude and thanks to the many members of the Byzantine academic community, professors and colleagues alike, who have contributed so much to my personal development, love of learning and for a greater appreciation and understanding of the visual tradition of the Orthodox Faith. Thanks are also due to my colleagues and friends from the Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology, my fellow librarians, students and devoted library student workers. And of course, I offer my most heartfelt and sincere thanks to all the members of this community of Saint Sophia, who have so graciously and tirelessly worked and opened their hearts to receive and honor me as one of their own sons on this most momentous day. Without all of these supportive, loving and prayerful people I would not be here today.
Your Eminence, as I stand at the threshold of the episcopal office, I fervently pray to the Lord to make me a most worthy image of His High priesthood, most significantly at this holy season in which we joyfully anticipate the celebration of His Saving Birth in our world. At this moment, I also fervently seek the intercessions of my homonymous saintly patrons, John the Baptist and Joachim, along with those of the beloved Holy Hierarchs Nicholas and Nektakrios the Wonderworkers, but most of all I turn my prayers to the Virgin Mother of God, the Theotokos, so that one day, I too, as my beloved cousin, may be remembered as, as Theotokophilos-beloved of the Theotokos.