My beloved brothers in the Lord, Metropolitans and Bishops
Members of the Executive Committee,
Beloved Sisters of the Philoptochos
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I greet each and every one of you with a single word of hope and encouragement as we commence our deliberations. It is the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Ever-Virgin Mary that we shall hear this evening in the Salutations. It is the comfort that our Risen Lord granted the Myrrh-bearing Women on the morning of Holy Pascha, that lies beyond the expanse of the Holy Fast. Chaire! Rejoice! He Who is within us, is greater than he who is in the world!
I convey this joy to you because our Church, our beloved Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, is facing challenges that can only be overcome if we stand united in faith, in fellowship, and in purpose. Much has been said, much has been written, much has been circulated to our faithful, which has attempted to change the ecclesial process of Church affairs and administration into a political process that is foreign to the essential nature of the Church. Why has this happened? Why have the politics of personal power and privilege sought to dominate the dialogue of love and goodness that should rule in the Church of Christ? Why have the accomplishments of the Archdiocese over the past two years: the success of the National Stewardship Program, the Internet Ministry, the Interfaith Marriage Ministry, Religious Education, the new Print and Digital Media Office and their publications including a new Book, The Lords Prayer, the Translations project, the establishment of Leadership 100 as a separate corporation just to name a few why have these been overshadowed by the politics of division? And most painful of all, why have voices arisen within our community that seek to drive a wedge of division between our faithful and our beloved Mother Church?
It seems that even though we live in the most free and open and wealthy society on the face of the earth without any fear whatsoever of persecution or reprisal we are facing the prospect of persecution from within, from our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Can it be that the success of our communities from coast to coast, the success of the good, decent, hardworking Greek Orthodox People of America is to be sacrificed on the altar of human ego and ambition?
I say to you today without equivocation, without reservation that it shall never be so! The love of Christ will not allow it! The grace of the Holy Spirit will not allow it! The mercy of God will not allow it. The intercessions of the Ever-Virgin Mary will not allow it! And therefore, we can not allow it!
Where there is hatred, we must bring love! Where there is pain, we must bring healing! Where there is division, we must bring unity! Where there is misunderstanding, we must bring enlightenment! Where there is falsehood, we must bring truth! Where there is darkness, we must bring light! Where there is suffering, we must bring joy!
Our message must be: Rejoice! Christ is risen from the dead! By death He has trampled down death! And to those in the tombs He has bestowed eternal, abundant and everlasting life!
This can be our only response to the naysayers, the faultfinders, the critics and the detractors. We must embrace those who refuse our arms. We must speak truth and love to those who would turn a deaf ear. We must silence the innuendoes and accusations by demonstrating our forgiveness of those who would condemn us, and by giving the faithful of our Church the plain and simple truth.
For this, my friends, is the way of Christ. This is the way of the Church. This is the way of truth. If we do not resist the temptations to use the faculties of our very souls as the instruments of the appetite for domination, then the powers of our souls will be put in the service of the baser passions, in order to lie, trick, misrepresent, steal, hide and deceive. Our life as a Church, as a community, as family, will be reduced to nothing but politics.
All of you here today, the clergy and lay leaders of our national Church, all of you have a responsibility to engage the true and living Christian response to this politicization of our Church. If not you , who? If not now, when?
The Holy Spirit compels us to answer with the love of Christ all those who would reduce the Church to a political party. The Holy Spirit commands us to maintain the unity of the faith in the bond of peace, even when we are threatened, cajoled and berated, as we labor to do so.
My friends, we live in an age when respect, obedience, humility and long-suffering are at best ignored and at worst maligned by the contemporary culture. We live in an age when the normal process of the Church is challenged at every turn, simply for the sake of personal privilege and gain! And we seem to be living in an age where the reality of the Bride of Christ is being turned up side down in the interests of a false image of the Church.
Who could have imagined the day when even one of our faithful would revile the Sacred Center of our faith, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the root and foundation of our Archdiocese? How could the 2000 year history of our Church be tossed aside so easily in the name of some unfounded idea of assimilation? Is this what it means to be an American? I think not.
Yes, we are Americans, and this means that we have the constitutional right to practice our faith as our conscience dictates. How then has it become interpreted by some that we have some so-called right to change that very faith, whose free exercise is guaranteed by our American democracy? Shall we forsake the inheritance of our immigrant parents and grandparents who toiled for the building up of this Holy Archdiocese? Does our freedom give us the license to undo their labors, much less the labors of the Holy Spirit who inspires us to be faithful to the Great Church of Christ and to be faithful to the fullness of our Holy Orthodox Tradition?
This inversion of logic and common sense is nearly beyond belief. And more than that, it is leading our faithful parishioners away from the purpose and meaning of what being a Greek Orthodox Christian is.
Allow me to raise with you the issue of the stewardship offerings to our Church. All of you know that the National Ministries of our Archdiocese, which include our beloved Hellenic College and Holy Cross, are nourished by the support of the local parishes throughout the country. Now we hear a few voices calling for communities to withhold the offerings of the people of God, as if any parish council or parish assembly had the right to do so. Is the Church of Christ a club? Is the local parish some sort of franchise that may be subjected to the whim of a few misguided individuals, or the Body of Christ? Are our parishioners owners or stewards? Do we believe that the gold sanctifies the temple or the temple sanctifies the gold?
Indeed, our faithful need a forum to express themselves, but at what price? We must not allow the tremendous strides that the Greek Orthodox People of America have made in stewardship to be sacrificed for political machinations.
This Archdiocesan Council hierarchy, clergy and laity together must speak loudly and clearly that such a misuse of the gifts of our faithful to Almighty God not be subjected to such political manipulation. This is not an issue of freedom of expression. This is an issue of right and wrong, and it is wrong to preach or teach that stewardship offerings are anything less than the very property of God Himself. Let us help our brothers and sisters find another way to express their frustration and anxiety. Let us bring peace to those who have been disturbed by the false reports and innuendoes that so freely abound in the press. And let us answer categorically and definitively the unrestrained critics of this Holy Archdiocese with the facts the plain, simple, unadulterated truth. The truth will speak for itself. And in a spirit of reconciliation and Christian love, let us reach out to those who would use stewardship as a wedge of division, to bring them back to the spirit of the Church and the communion of love.
My friends, if we allow the secular spirit of politics to become the means for accomplishing the mission of the Church, we will fail. Let me repeat myself, we will fail. And failure is unacceptable because our God is a God Who is victorious, even over death.
Therefore, as a Church and as this Holy Archdiocese, how are we to proceed? How are we to re-infuse the dialogue of our community with the spirit of Christ? How are we to answer those who challenge, criticize, and seek to impede our leadership, without losing them from our fellowship and family in Christ?
First and foremost, we must meet every challenge with the love and forbearance of Christ. If this seems weak to you, then remember that in His weakness there is strength. For I know with certainty that the harsh and even disrespectful cloud that is darkening our Church is merely a misdirected expression of pain. I too have experienced the consequences of this pain. And I know that only Gods healing love can assuage this pain.
We must continue to reach out with love to those who would condemn us as un-loving reach out with forgiveness to those who accuse us as unforgiving reach out with mercy to those who would portray us as vengeful. For example, all of you know that the Executive Committee asked for the dismissal of the lawsuit against GOAL for the sake of peace in the Church. Ultimately, the Archdiocese was not afforded the full protection it requested from the courts. And now you see the result. The Ecumenical Patriarch is reviled and demeaned in a most uncharitable way. Where are the voices of protest? Is there no love for our Mother Church?
And even more, the Archdiocese itself is sued. Former employees and former members of this Council make false accusations of financial impropriety, making sure to send along the accusations to the newspapers. Who benefits from such actions? And who will minister to the souls of our children who are hurt and scandalized by the endless stream of negativity?
We hear cries to rally brother against brother, priest against priest, bishop against bishop. Are there no voices for decency, for righteousness, for spiritual dignity, for truth?
I ask all of you hear today to think long and hard over your commitment to this Council, to this Archdiocese, to our Holy Ecumenical Patriarchate. What sort of voice will you raise? We can afford neither more voices of rage nor a silence of complicity that ignores reality.
Our family, our Archdiocese, our Church the Holy Bride of Christ -- is in danger of being pushed into a direction which goes against everything our Holy Orthodox Christian Faith stands for. Perhaps we have been too complacent for too long. Perhaps we thought our material comfort and wealth was security enough. Perhaps we thought the approbation of our society was the only affirmation that the Church ever needed.
We are a Church with a 2000 year history and spiritual continuity that is linked to our Lord Jesus Christ through the First-Called Apostle Andrew. Our spiritual mother, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, is the source and fountainhead of our spiritual, ecclesiastical, and moral life. The 75 year history of this Archdiocese and the 150 year history of the Greek Orthodox presence in the United States is part of that great chain of Church Fathers, Patriarchs, Martyrs, Saints and righteous men and women. To ignore that history is to be ignorant of the spiritual wealth of our faith and our tradition. To embrace that history is to fulfill the purpose of what it means to be a Greek Orthodox Christian.
There are voices among us who would have us dispense with our history, cast aside our Holy Tradition, sanctified by the blood of the Martyrs. I can only imagine that they truly do not know what they are saying or doing. We must forgive them their ignorance and minister to them in love and understanding, just as Christ forgave his crucifiers from His Holy and Precious Cross.
My brothers and sister, let us not judge by worldly standards. The Great Church of Christ may not be powerful, or rich, or large. She is in fact a flesh and blood martyr, a living testimony to the faithfulness of Christ. From the Mother Church we derive all of our ecclesial being, and we shall always look to the Mother Church -- to the Throne of Saint John Chrysostom -- and the sacred person of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for the loving and wise guidance that shall lead us to harbor of salvation.
We need to be more concerned about our children, their faith and understanding of Orthodoxy, their spiritual needs, their spiritual lives, than to be concerned about the future shape of administrative structures in America. Autocephaly, as it is bandied about today, is portrayed only in terms of power, but this rush for power will never fulfill the spiritual mission with which we have been entrusted. Let us be sober and mature in the practice of our faith, and recognize that the totality of the Church is greater than the sum of its individual members. And in all humility and honesty, let us labor for the fruit that endures in the lives of our Archdiocese, our Dioceses, our parishes and our families.
As your Archbishop, as your spiritual father, I say to you that what we really need is to lay aside the earthly cares of power and privilege and take up the Cross of Christ! We need to speak the truth in love, and we need to speak out in faithfulness to the tradition of our Church.
As long as we allow the dialogue to be governed by indiscriminate criticism peppered with innuendo, then we can expect no change in the quality of that dialogue. You, the clergy and lay members of the Council, have the responsibility to speak up for the truth, and to never forget that ours is a Church of love.
The issue before us is neither governance, nor crisis, nor administration, nor autocephaly, nor autonomy, nor any such thing. The issue is ministry! The ministry of Christ! The ministry of the Church! And how is that ministry to be accomplished when we spend our days and nights if we are not united in love and in purpose? What do we intend to bequeath to the our children? Museums to our own vanity? Or vibrant robust communities filled with the knowledge and love of God? The time for this cycle of accusations to end has come. Once and for all!
I too know what it is to be accused. I have often been accused of doing many things I have not done, and of being someone that I am not. And as I have thought over these accusations, my comfort has always been that God, above all else, knows my heart. Truly, my friends, He knows all our hearts, all our intentions, all the motivations we hide from those around us. But we cannot hide from God. And He will judge us according to the actions that we have performed, the ministry that we have accomplished.
So let us set out together in the days of this Council and work the works of God. Let us seek out and discuss what ministries we may not even yet know, that can serve the people of God. And let us respond honestly and lovingly to those within our own community who find it so easy to speak harshly of us. The truth cannot be hidden. Even when It was buried in the bowels of the earth, after three days It arose in glory and power. I pray that during these holy days of Great Lent, when we prepare our souls and bodies to receive the light of Truth at Holy Pascha, we shall all find the courage and the resolve to conduct our ministries in this great Archdiocese with the honesty and love that will turn the hearts of our brothers and sisters back to the communion of His love and mercy.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Rejoice!