By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
At the Meeting with the Clergy of the Holy Metropolis of Detroit
Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church
April 12, 2022
Your Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas, my beloved brother in Christ,
Dear and esteemed clergy of the Holy Metropolis of Detroit,
Spending this time with you is a real joy for me – especially in the context of worship, just before Holy Week and Pascha. We all know that this week is called, Κουφή Εβδομάδα, because it lacks praises to the Theotokos from the Akathist. But this week is anything but empty!
Beginning yesterday, we are in a kind of countdown to the Raising of Lazarus in Bethany. Each day that passes references the timeline that our Lord employed to ensure that His culminating miracle would be undeniable. Lazaros would lay in his grave four days, time enough for the stench of death to fill the air as Martha warned.[*]
In this Sixth Week of the Fast, we are already on our way to Jerusalem, stopping off at Bethany to witness God’s powerful love. And then we rise up over the Mount of Olives to take the priestly path into the Holy City, in order to suffer and die with our Lord, so that we may also rise with Him.
For us, the clergy of the Church, we are called to preach and teach the Gospel “to every creature,” as the Lord commanded His Disciples at the very moment they had reverted to a state of hardness of heart and lack of faith.[†] What a lesson for us! For there are moments and even seasons when our faith struggles, and when our hearts harden. The life of a priest is not an easy yoke to bear; the beautiful thing is that we do not have to bear it alone.
Like the Disciples whom our Lord was preparing for the death of Lazaros, He also prepares us for the inevitable stumbles, failures and disappointments that we all encounter in ministry. But He also leads us to the depths of the mystery of His glorious Plan of Salvation, so that we, too, may be present when He calls forth a soul with the resounding: Δεῦρο ἔξω! Come out![‡]
Truly, it is only our Lord Jesus Christ Who can call forth the soul of a person – and He does so by name, with identity, even as He called forth Lazaros. But it is up to us, the clergy, to be present and available to loose the “hands and feet bound together by the charnel linens,” and to free the faces “tightly wrapped and covered by the face-shroud.”[§] Our task is both liberative and restorative, and it applies to all people.
When the Scripture notes that “Jesus loved Lazaros,” [**] the same could be said for any human being.
Our Lord loves every person, without condition and without exception. And we are called, as priests, to assist the Lord in His loving embrace of the world – the whole world.
This does not mean that we give up our values and standards. What it does mean is that when God acts and restores His image in a person – calling them forth from their self-made sepulchers of egocentrism, self-pity, hardheartedness and anger – we must be ready to help that person become free of the signs of death, and to embrace the means of life.
This is a deeply significant point about Lazaros coming forth bound hand and foot, with his face covered, unable to see. Even a child comes forth from the womb, unable to stand or walk, with blurred vision and utter helplessness, and there must be a mother or nurse to tend to the infant’s welfare.
As priests, this is our calling as well. We do not give life, nor do we call forth life by our words. There is only One Who “speaks and it comes to be, commands and it is created,” as the Psalm says.[††] But we are ordained to take care of the life that God gives, to nurture it, and to multiply its effects.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, let us spend this week in preparation for our ministry to every Lazaros who comes our way. To always be ready to unbind and free those who have heard the word of the Lord. To help and reveal their faces, that they may reflect the countenance of their Creator, in the fullness of their image and likeness of God.
Thus, we shall all arrive at the Pascha of the Lord with renewed purpose and strength. And we shall honor the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we help those struggling to walk in the light of their own resurrections.