Dear Delegates to the 34th Biennial National Ladies Philoptochos Convention,
It is such a great joy to be with all of you this afternoon, and to have this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts, hopes and dreams concerning the theme of our gathering, "One Faith, One Family, One Future: Together to the New Millennium"
This theme is certainly not something new to you. I know that it has been your guiding principle for decades, and has caused all of my predecessors to refer to you, the National Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, as "the right hand of the Archdiocese." You, after all, are the ones who help us all fulfill the tasks, the responsiblities, and the ministries that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has entrusted to us.
For He said: "And the King will say to those at His right, ‘Come, O blessŽd of My Father’s, inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed Me; naked, and you clothed Me; sick, and you ministered unto Me; in prison, and you visited Me’" (St. Matthew 25:34-36).
All of us, hierarchs, clergy and laity -- men, women and children, owe you tremendous gratitude for the awesome list of accomplishments achieved by you, beloved Philoptochos. From the very first days of our Holy Archdiocese, you have been at the forefront of our ministries, as we became a part of the mosaic of this New World. You were there when we needed churches. You were there when we needed Sunday Schools and Choirs. You were there when we needed a home to care for orphaned, abused and needy children. You were there to assist in the growth of our Holy Cross Theological School and Hellenic College. You were there to assist in the establishment of our St. Photios National Shrine and the other institutions of our Archdiocese. You were there to help in the development of our religious education programs, our youth and mission programs. You were there when the time came to reach out and help others through UNICEF and other worthy endeavors. You were always there, and you continue to be there, and I know in my heart, and the faithful of our Archdiocese know in their hearts, that you will be there in the next millennium as we work together for the good of our "One Faith, our One Family, and our One Future."
In your deliberations this week, I am certain you will discuss, among many other things, the role of women in our Church. I pray that you will always keep central in your deliberations, the role model God has offered to us in the "new Eve", the Panagia. In her, as well as in the other women who were among the followers of our Lord, and those who played prominent roles as loyal co-workers of the Apostles, you will find worthy examples to emulate, examples that will inspire you, examples that will lead you to greater prayer and commitment to a life in Christ, so that you, too, will be able to join St. Paul in proclaiming, "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave His life for me." (Galatians 2:20)
Down through the centuries, thousands upon thousands of women have given their lives to spread the Gospel of our Lord, and many have been proclaimed saints, while others have been mothers of saints. St. Emilia (4th Century), for instance, was the mother of St. Basil the Great, St. Macrina, St. Peter of Sebaste and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Many women have been great teachers of the faith, and it was a woman, the sainted EmpressTheodora, who restored the use of icons to Orthodox worship in the 9th century. Others have served as missionaries, and we have several women from our own Archdiocese who are doing so at this very moment, while other women entered the monastic life and became great spiritual leaders, providing a living image of holiness for all to follow.
Today, my beloved sisters of the Philoptochos, women serve the church in so many ways; as participants in ecumenical dialogues and international Orthodox conferences, as teachers, iconographers, monastics, missionaries, musicians; and you continue to be involved in every charitable work imaginable.
In addition to all these ministries, you continue also to be the ones who ensure the unity of the family. It is you who establish the lifestyle of your home and determine whether it will be an Orthodox Christian lifestyle. You are the primary educators of the young, and through your words and deeds, you preserve the faith and heritage entrusted to us by our Lord, the Apostles, the Church Fathers and all our ancestors.
As we move together into the next millennium, it seems to me that one of your greatest tasks will be to encourage and teach young women to embrace and live out an Orthodox life style in their homes. This is a formidable task, perhaps the most important task. Just as your mothers taught you, you must continue to share our Faith with them, because this Faith is the most important aspect of our lives. You are the only ones who can pass on this precious treasure to your own daughters and sons, and to your grandchildren, and for some of you, your great-grandchildren.
At the same time, you will be called upon to redouble your philanthropic efforts through your beloved Sisterhoods across this vast Archdiocese. The need for your love and your support will become even greater in the future.
One of your most important ministries, St. Basil’s, need your help to expand its outreach. It is inconceivable that among all the Orthodox in America, so few children need help. I believe that we are the only Orthodox jurisdiction with such a facility. Only you, my beloved ladies, can find the children who should be at St. Basil’s, receiving your love, your concern, your support. This institution must continue to serve the purpose envisioned for it by Patriarch Athenagoras of blessed memory, and be infused with new life. That new life can be given only if we bring to it the children who need a loving Mother, the Church, to care for them. Please help me ensure the future of this institution. Go out and search the byways and streets of your community and find the children who are homeless, who are abandoned, who are orphaned. Each Philoptochos chapter should seek to find one child who needs the embrace of our loving Lord Jesus, Who beckons, "Let the little children come to me…, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 19:14)
You, my dear friends, are called to be icons of that most perfect expression of Christian life provided for women, the Theotokos -- the Mother of God. This kind of devotion to Christ requires self-sacrifice, faithfulness to the Gospel and the Traditions of our Holy Orthodox Church, much prayer, and the burning desire to be all that God calls each one of you to be. Discover your talents, your charismata, and use them for the glory of your family, your Church and your Philoptochos Society.
Let us continue to build upon the firm foundations placed by the founders of the Philoptochos, and nurtured so carefully up to this time by its leaders and members. You are the ones called to take the next step, "Together to the New Millennium." May God bless us all: "One Faith, One Family, One Future."