CENTENNIAL KEYNOTE ADDRESS
By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
At the 46th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress
The Marriott Marquis (Broadway Ballroom – 6th Floor)
New York, New York
July 4, 2022
Most Honorable Delegation of the Mother Church of Constantinople:
Your Eminence Elder-Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon,
Your Eminence Metropolitan Prodromos of Rethymnon and Avlopotamos, and Very Reverend Grand Ecclesiarch Aetios,
Your Eminences, Beloved Brothers of the Holy Eparchial Synod,
Your Eminences and Graces,
Beloved Clergy of our Sacred Archdiocese,
Leaders and Members of our Archdiocesan Institutions,
Delegates to this 46th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This surely is the Day that the Lord has made!
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
At this centennial time of our Sacred Archdiocese, I come before you with a heart filled with gratitude and humility:
Gratitude – for your participation, support, faithfulness and love.
Humility – as I consider the legacy and the incomparable giants upon whose shoulders we all stand today.
I want to speak to you – the delegates of this Centennial Congress and, indeed, to all our faithful from sea to shining sea, with a message today that:
Embraces our past;
Engages our present;
And envisions our future.
We live in a country and a world that is pan-global – suffused with technology, supply chains and even a pandemic that brings together causes and conditions so rapidly, that we are hardly aware of how we arrive at current circumstances.
Yet, we also live in country that is plainly divided across many fault lines. This fragmentation is troubling, especially for our youth, who wonder if they will have the same possibilities that their parents and grandparents did.
When you look at the accomplishments of the Greek Orthodox people of America – manifested today at the Consecration of Saint Nicholas National Shrine, and, I might add, in the wonderful announcement of Father Alex Karloutsos receiving the highest civilian honor of the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom – it is very clear that our community has reached levels of success only dreamed of when our immigrant forebears first passed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry on their way to the American Dream. Our legacy – the spiritual and material inheritance that has so enriched our parishes around the country – is truly remarkable, and something for which we should all be grateful.
We are blessed with giants upon whose shoulders we stand:
the visionary Patriarch Athenagoras,
And it should be noted that it was fifty years ago – on July 7th to be exact – that the great Athenagoras fell asleep in the Lord. And there are many in this Room who remember even now when Archbishop Iakovos stood before the Congress in Houston, Texas, and gave the mournful and solemn news that Patriarch Athenagoras had passed.
We also call to mind names like:
the pious Archbishop Michael,
and the inimitable Archbishop Iakovos,
Father George Bacopoulos,
Father Byron Papanikolaou,
Father Leonidas Kontos,
Alex and Faye Spanos,
Of course, these are but a few, as the list goes on and on…
Each and every one of us can pull scores of such names from our memories. However, these are just some of the most recognizable, as there are so many more whose names are known only to a few; but all of them are known to God. Join me, therefore, in a moment of silent gratitude for the builders of our Church, our Archdiocese, our Philoptochos, our Seminary and our Institutions. We are the heirs of their incredible legacies. (PAUSE) Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη αὐτῶν!
Our spiritual and material benefactors did not build the Church in America only for themselves. They looked to the future – to their children and grandchildren – in the hope of a better and brighter tomorrow.
These heroes are, in truth, our past. But as Shakespeare said: “What’s past is prologue.”[*] All of us in this room – all of us who are alive in this time and working for the ministry of our Parishes, our Metropolises, our Archdiocese and our Patriarchate – we are the present moment of the Church, and the prologue of the future.
We have a responsibility to their memory, to the present moment, and to the generations to come, to hold their dream – which is our reality – as a precious jewel. To hold it with a conscious decision to work for what is best – a unified and strong Archdiocese, cognizant of our role as the premier and, indeed, first Eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Mother Church of Constantinople in the Diaspora.
* * *
I mentioned a short while ago about the challenges – especially for our young people – of living in a fragmented and often fractious society. Truly, we are one Church, the single Body of Christ. But we are also many members, as the Apostle Paul says,[†] and while we agree on the teachings and the sacred traditions of our Faith, we do not always agree in the political and social spheres of our contemporary world.
This is understandable and entirely reasonable. As your Archbishop, I strive to present our Faith in the best possible light, in respect to all matters of life and culture. Sometimes, you agree with me; sometimes, you do not. The old axiom is correct about not being able to please all of the people all of the time. But what we all agree on is that the Church is a dynamic, living body, with established doctrine. As it says in the Book of Proverbs:
Do not move the ancient boundaries which your fathers have set.[‡]
The foundation of the Church never moves, because as Saint Paul says in another place:
You have been built upon the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Cornerstone. [§]
Therefore, in this time of fracture and fragmentation, the most valuable contribution we can make is a united and unified Church, one that is reliable and credible for our youth, as they make their way in the world.
This is precisely why the importance of the Charter, which we shall discuss more in depth in Wednesday’s special session entitled “The Vision for the Second Centennial, the Charter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America,” has never been more relevant than now.
We must never be about the love of power. Rather, it must be about how we constitute ourselves to better exercise the power of love. It is about the vision of the Church, which means being pro-vision for bringing our Sacred Archdiocese together in order to serve every parishioner, every priest and every family.
Our connectivity to the Mother Church is essential to these relationships, as well as vital for our self-understanding as an Archdiocese. In the words of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, we are “the newly planted branch of the ancient vine of Christ’s first called disciple Saint Andrew.” [**] We can have authority to teach and to preach, because we are under authority, as the Roman Centurion witnessed to our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. [††]
The fruits of this Vine are many and nourishing, and as a united Archdiocese, we can offer all of our parishioners – young and old alike – a veritable banquet of faith, as the Holy Chrysostom reminds us every Pascha in his extraordinary homily.
* * *
In the little over three years since I arrived on these shores to serve you as your Archbishop, I have had the blessing to join forces with many partners:
The Holy Eparchial Synod, with whom I have had 25 meetings.
The Clergy of our Archdiocese – over 25 of whom I have had the honor to ordain to different ranks of the Holy Priesthood, as well as 5 fellow brother Hierarchs.
Brother Hierarchs in the Assembly of Bishops, with whom I have had thirty-five meetings of the Executive Committee and two full Assemblies.
Parishioners and Parish Councils from the over 150 communities I have visited over these last three years – some more than once, of course.
Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, where I serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
Our National, Metropolis and Parish Philoptochos Societies.
The Trustees and Members of Leadership 100, so rightly named for Archbishop Iakovos.
All the Institutions of the Archdiocese.
Greek Schools and Parochial Schools.
Not to mention the countless fellow sojourners like The Friends of St. Nicholas, the Omospondies and Syllogoi around the country, the political leaders of America on the Federal, State and Local Levels, and the Representatives of the Governments of Greece and Cyprus.
I have to tell you, sometimes my head spins when I consider the complexity and vastness of our Archdiocese.
Together, we overcame the pandemic.
Together, we strengthened the financial basis of the Archdiocese.
Together, we rescued the Pension Plan of the Clergy.
I know that there are some who are worried about the decline in our numbers – our statistics – but this is a trend that is happening across the board in all religious groups.
What we must be willing to face, though, is that our Archdiocese will thrive only as much as we ourselves make our experience of the Church real to our faithful. Documents and texts are only of service, as we perpetuate the ministry, love and mercy of Christ as an integral component of the experience of our people.
That is why I am stressing the education of our Youth – Greek education, Classical education and, above all, religious education – as foundational to the mission of our Archdiocese. Through the new and first Agency of the Assembly of Bishops – Orthodox Youth Ministries – we are expanding and unifying Orthodox Youth Work across all jurisdictions in order to bring a more united and dynamic approach to our young people.
And we have to empower these ministries, so that in the daily, lived experience of our faithful – not just on Sunday mornings – we can help them to access the treasures and beauty of Orthodox Christianity, that is:
Critical thinking in an Orthodox Christian context;
Moral decision making that is supported by the Church community;
And feeling mentored by your Church.
This is the ministry of the future; the ministry that will give us a future!
Let us be realistic. Our Tradition of Christianity is a conservative one, especially compared to the Christian communities around us in America. But we are not a coercive one. We are a creative tradition, a compassionate tradition, a Christ-like tradition.
If the next one hundred years of our Archdiocese are going to be as fruitful as the first one hundred, then the same energy which built the wondrous edifices and institutions we hold so dear, must be applied to building up the Body of Christ, beginning with our youth.
For those who believe it is enough to continue doing things the way we always have, I must say the following:
The first One Hundred years of the Archdiocese built amazing platforms from coast to coast – Churches, Buildings, Iconography programs, Schools, etc. And our abundance is well beyond the wildest dreams of our immigrant forebears.
But now, we must engage in the next Hundred Years!
Whether it is by reintegrating our Monasteries into the fabric of the Archdiocese, so that they are not islands of this or that perspective, but rather centers of collective spiritual refreshment for the souls of our people;
Or refashioning the National Ministries projects of our Archdiocese – which should not be about sustaining themselves, but instead about sustaining the life and souls of our faithful;
Or even refashioning our own calling to be innovative, dynamic and engaging.
* * *
Either way, living as an Orthodox Christian is about being in relationship with God and with each other. They cannot be separated. How we treat one another is how we treat God. Whether it is our Ecumenical Patriarchate, our local Metropolis, Parish, or the specific ministry we serve, how we relate in faith, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and, above all, love is the measure of all our success. The world – and everyone in it – will know that we are Christians if, as the Lord Himself said … we love one another.[‡‡]
As you know, our calling is to love without exception – from our family members to the strangers in our midst. And I am fully aware that there is tremendous pride in our Greek ancestry and inheritance. For this is something that is shared by all who claim Western Civilization as their intellectual and spiritual home.
Today, as we strive to make Greek, Classical and Orthodox education relevant to our children and supported in our communities, we also need the Philhellenes of our country, who love Greece in all its iterations – from Classical, to Byzantium, to Modern Greece. For it is through the love of culture that the love of faith will come as well. Or it may even happen the other way around, too.
Nevertheless, the truth is that for our Church to grow and thrive in the next century of its life, we need good people who will adopt our faith and traditions – and perhaps, even our language, too.
Therefore, as we observe our Centennial, we must apply ourselves to the vision for the future, for the next One Hundred Years.
This is why our motto is:
Legacy – the foundation upon which we are built;
Renewal – our activities and energies in the present moment; and
Unity – the ever-expanding embrace of the Church, as an inclusive environment in which all are welcome – to the degree they embrace the truth of God’s love for all of creation.
We are truly a National Institution with a strong history and a bright future, if we will but seize it. And this, my fellow brothers and sisters, is something that I am truly honored and humbled to be a part of – most especially as we have amongst us here today two of my predecessors.
* * *
These two individuals served our Sacred Archdiocese faithfully and to the best of their abilities – each in his own way, of course. And this is most evident in the progressive blessings that they were able to lay as part of our Church’s ever growing and developing spiritual foundation in this land. I am filled with much emotion to be able to join this particular line of succession at the very helm of this proud Eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne, which I must note is second to none!
Having these two former Archbishops of America with us is a tremendous honor, as it offers us an even better glimpse into the history of our Church here in America. What I am trying to say is that their presence here at our Centennial Clergy-Laity Congress affirms the continuation of our unity, as well as the perpetuation of the spiritual bonds of our faith and leadership through the ages.
What we saw in the opening of the Centennial Exhibit yesterday, we see here today in the flesh. And it is our duty to remain united in this special, century-long lineage of our Orthodox Christian presence and witness here in America. For history is alive and always progressing. And what we do today, tomorrow or the day thereafter will soon become chronicled in the ongoing narrative of our Church in the United States. Therefore, just like all of my venerable predecessors who served this blessed Archdiocese, I hope to be able to bear the mantle of the faith that has been entrusted to me in a most worthy, successful and laudable manner.
And so, please allow me at this moment to pause my words and invite our two former Archbishops, who served our Archdiocese for nearly a quarter of its life, to come forward, so that I may offer them our Church’s Centennial Honor, from one fellow brother to another.
To all of the esteemed delegates, participants and attendees of our Clergy-Laity: I present to you, Their Eminences Spyridon and Demetrios, Former Archbishops of our God-protected Eparchy of America!
I am very happy indeed that they are both with us today – as a hopeful sign for the future. For it is only as a united Archdiocese – one that is in touch with its past – that we will be able to move forward into the future with confidence.
Therefore, my dear sisters, brothers and beloved friends in Christ – and I do count all of you as friends:
Let us embrace our future. Let us give ourselves to our present work in order to ensure the best and brightest possible outcome for every member of our Church. And let us share the precious jewel of Orthodoxy with our Nation. Not everyone will come to our faith. But everyone can be made aware of our faith.
As a unified Archdiocese, let us lay hold of hope for the future – a hope that is founded upon the legacy of our past and our effectual energy in the present moment. We have the firm foundation. And we have the dynamism to go forward.
If the next one hundred years of our Archdiocese are going to be as fruitful as the first one hundred, then the same energy that built the wondrous edifices and institutions we hold so dear, must be applied to building up the Body of Christ, beginning with our youth.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you for your commitment – as so clearly evidenced by your presence today.
But above all, thank you for your love.
Because although only three will remain in the end, the greatest of these is love.
Thank you, again!