Keynote Address of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America for the 41st Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress - Clergy-Laity

Keynote Address of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America for the 41st Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress

Monday, July 2, 2012
41st Clergy-Laity Congress
Phoenix, AZ

1. Introduction

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God and Father and the Communion of the Holy Spirit has gathered us once again for our Biennial Ecclesiastical Synaxis known as Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  In the ninety years of the life of our Archdiocese, this is the 41st Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress.   We know, of course, that our Archdiocese, as Greek Orthodox Church in America, is much older.   In fact, it started in an embryonic way in the middle of the 18th century, then it took a significant step up in the middle of the 19th century, increased impressively in the 1890’s,  and was finally officially established in the beginning of the 20th century, specifically on September 17, 1921.

Today we convene in our Clergy-Laity Congress with the paternal blessings and the fervent prayers of our deeply respected, admired and beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  A Patriarch who is constantly with us spiritually, and who offers generously his paternal love and wise guidance to our effort to promote our Orthodox Faith in the Western Hemisphere.   We humbly present to him our deep gratitude and devotion, along with our wholehearted wishes and prayers on the occasion of his 20th anniversary as Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.

Βαρθολομαίου τοῦ Παναγιωτάτου καί Οἰκουμενικοῦ Πατριάρχου πολλά τά ἔτη!  Many be the years of our All Holy and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew!

Today, on the occasion of this sacred synaxis, we express our gratitude to God for our Ecumenical Patriarch.  We also express our gratitude to the Lord our God for this 41st Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, focused on the theme “Chosen and appointed by God to go and bear fruit”.  Our gratitude is, of course, related to the many and continuous gifts from God to each and every one of us, and to our entire Church throughout our life.   Our gratitude is further and specifically related to the gifts received in the two years between our last Congress in Atlanta, Georgia in 2010 and the present one in Phoenix, Arizona.   In our case, the following exhortation of St. Paul to the Thessalonians is fully applicable:   Give thanks for everything for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:18).  Give thanks for everything.  The period between 2010 and 2012 is full of circumstances and events for which we have to give thanks to God.   Let me mention, selectively, some of them in this spirit of thankfulness to the Lord.

2.  Thanksgiving

1)  We give thanks to God for the very distinguished hierarchical offering to our Church by His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos, formerly of Pittsburgh.  After 33 truly apostolic years of service to the Holy Metropolis of Pittsburgh originally as Bishop and later on as Metropolitan, he retired last September 2011, for reasons of health.   We owe him much for his decisive contribution to the theological, the pastoral and the ecumenical work of our Church.   And we pray that the Lord will keep him under His abundant blessings in the years of his retirement.

2)  We give thanks to God for His Eminence Savas, the new Metropolitan of Pittsburgh, elected by the Holy and Sacred Synod of our Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 3, 2011, and enthroned on December 8, 2011.  We pray that Christ our Lord will abundantly bless him in his new hierarchical service, as He blessed him during his ten years as Bishop of Troas and Chancellor of our Archdiocese.

3)  We give thanks to God for the new Bishop added to our Holy Archdiocese of America.   The Chief Secretary of our Eparchial Synod, Archimandrite Sevastianos Skordallos, was elected Bishop of Zela on December 2, 2011, by the Holy and Sacred Synod of our Ecumenical Patriarchate.   He continues serving in the same position, and certainly has our prayers for a service blessed by God.

4)  We give thanks to God for the new clergy who have been ordained in the period 2010-2012, to the Holy Diaconate 41, and to the Holy Priesthood 28.  This is a new precious priestly blood which by the grace of God entered into the body of the Church.

5)  We give thanks to God for the life and work of our clergy who departed in the last two years after long years of faithful diaconia.  They are no longer with the militant Church on earth, but with the triumphant Church in Heaven.   They are in total 22, the following:

July 10-December 31, 2010

Loeb, V. Rev. Fr. Cyril / September 4, 2010

Mihos, Rev. Fr. Charles / September 8, 2010

January 1-December 31, 2011

Pappas, Rev. Fr. George / January 2, 2011

Metaxas, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel S. / February 23, 2011

Asimacopoulos, Rev. Fr. John / March 17, 2011

Katras, Rev. Fr. Elias / April 24, 2011

Gallas, Rev. Fr. George / May 15, 2011

Magoulias, Rev. Fr. Nicholas / June 6, 2011

Moschonas, Rev. Fr. Anthony / August 13, 2011

Papadeas, Rev. Fr. George / November 18, 2011

Theophilos, Rev. Fr. Theophilos P./ December 16, 2011

January 1-June 24, 2012

Diacovasilis, Rev. Fr. Anastasios / January 17, 2012

Kissal, Rev. Fr. Basil / January 29, 2012

Monios, V. Rev. Fr. Jeremiah / February 23, 2012

Bandy, Rev. Fr. Anastasius / February 25, 2012

Demopulos, Rev. Fr. Demetrios / March 17, 2012

Kefalas, Rev. Fr. John / April 8, 2012

Argyros, Rev. Fr. John / April 10, 2012

Kile, V. Rev. Fr. Alexander / June 7, 2012

Markantonis, Rev. Fr. Stanley / June 9, 2012

Nikas, Rev. Fr. Prokopios / June 10, 2012

Yachnis, Rev. Michael / June 24, 2012

May their memory be eternal!

Also eternal be the memory of three Orthodox brother Hierarchs in the USA departed within the same time.   They are:

-Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos, Head of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese in the U.S. under our Ecumenical Patriarchate,

-Metropolitan Constantine of Eirinoupolis, Head of the Ukrainian Diocese in the USA, also under our Ecumenical Patriarchate, and

-Metropolitan Christopher of the presence of the Serbian Patriarchate in the USA.

6) We give thanks to God for the agreement made between the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey and our Archdiocese for the rebuilding of Church of the St. Nicholas at the World Trade Center, well known as Ground Zero.   The basic agreement was signed last October and the paper and legal work for the completion of the many technical related details is expected soon.  The place of the Church, i.e. 130 Liberty Street, constitutes one of the most advantageous locations facing directly across on the other side of the street the historic Memorial at Ground Zero.   We pray for the speedy dawn of the day when we will see the new St. Nicholas Church standing in the midst of skyscrapers and offering the best view of the real heaven of God’s presence, grace and peace!  We all have to work for the coming of such a day, since the rebuilding of St. Nicholas is not a local issue, but a pan-American, even an international one!

7) We give thanks to God for the existence of our Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, which is celebrating 75 years of its tremendous offering to our Church.   These seventy five years have given to the Archdiocese a great number of dedicated, dynamic and creative clergy.   Holy Cross, at a time when non-Orthodox Seminaries suffer considerable losses in their student enrollment and population, our Sacred School continues to grow steadily with an increasing population of students, candidates for priesthood.  We gratefully celebrate the fact that the class entering Holy Cross this coming September has reached the record number of more than fifty new students.

8) We give thanks to God for our Ladies Philoptochos Society which celebrates this year 80 bright years of sustained caring, love and philanthropy.   This is an impressive “army” of more than 27,000 ladies all over the country.   They have a vital role in the life and activities of our Parishes.   In addition to the many permanent programs and outreach activities, they are always prepared to contribute to alleviate major catastrophic events like the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City, the Katrina storm in New Orleans, the Tsunami in the Far East, the fires of 2007 in Greece, and this year to the relief effort for the suffering people, the victims of the dramatic economic crisis in Greece.

9) We give thanks to God for the Organization “Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund”, which completed more than 25 years of action, offering 33,025,686 million dollars to the vital ministries of the church.  Of particular importance is the great contribution of Leadership 100 to our Holy Cross School of Theology.   More than 17,472,217 million dollars have been offered over the past ten years as financial assistance to student candidates for the priesthood, for the Information and Technology infrastructure of the School, for the Archbishop Iakovos Library and for the Office of Vocation and Ministry of Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology.

10) We give thanks to God for the Organization “Faith:  An Endowment for Orthodoxy and Hellenism”.  Since its inception in 2003, Faith, by offering serious and responsible funding, has produced an impressive work in promoting Orthodoxy and Hellenism through the ministries of our Archdiocese and through other significant activities.  Included among them is the continuing work for the production of the best textbooks for teaching the Greek language to our children, the variety of innovative scholarships for a great number of qualified Greek Orthodox students all over America, the significant assistance to the Ionian Village, the special program in cooperation with the Fulbright Foundation, the substantive support of the important St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival, the production of films and DVD’s and the patronage of events related to cultural activities of the Church and to the promotion of the universal values of Hellenism.

11)  We give thanks to God for our Archons of the Order of St. Andrew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Their methodical and tireless efforts in the last ten years have dramatically changed the approach and handling of fundamental issues related to our Ecumenical Patriarchate.   A major achievement in the period 2010-2012 has been the passing of remarkable statements on the need for religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate by major governmental and political bodies in the United States.   Another achievement happened in November 2010 when our Archons organized a resounding successful conference on religious freedom in Brussels, Belgium, in the very headquarters of the European Union, a conference to which the Turkish Government paid high attention.  Truly, there is no way to adequately cover the non-stop activities of our Archons in support of our Ecumenical Patriarchate.

12)  We give thanks to God for one of our Institutions that does a quiet but creative work.  St. Photios Shrine in St. Augustine, Florida, which celebrated this year 30 years of life and action,   provides a splendid witness to Orthodoxy and to the history of the Greek Orthodox Immigration in America for many thousands of visitors throughout each year.   This is truly a place worth visiting.

13)  We give thanks to God for our children who, especially during the last years, fill our summer camps all over the country and at the Ionian Village in Greece.   We are grateful to our children who for more than 30 years gather by thousands at the Folk Dance Festival in California, as well as in similar Festivals in New Jersey, Atlanta, Chicago and elsewhere.

14)  We give thanks to God for our children and young people who participate in growing numbers in commendable athletic events, in all our Holy Metropolises.  These activities are gaining momentum, and in the very recent years show a more methodical and more responsible approach,  as well as a better and stronger combination with the cultivation of spirituality among our youth.

15)  We give thanks to God for our children from all over America for their participation in the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival.   This is an institution which for 29 years, since 1983, has gathered nationwide a total astonishing number of 60,000, or an annual average of 2,000 bright young minds exhibiting impressive thinking, writing and speaking skills.

16)  We give thanks to God for a special group of young people, our Archdiocesan Youth Choir comprised of children from our Schools.   Created approximately ten years ago, the Choir developed an astounding  professional musical quality.  As a result,  it was able to perform successfully in places like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York, at the White House, two appearances in Greece,  and last year, for the second time at the Presidential Palace in Cyprus, and at the historic Church of St. Irene in Constantinople.   This last concert in Constantinople was offered with respect and devotion to our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the occasion of the celebration of his 20th anniversary as Ecumenical Patriarch.

17)  We give thanks to God for the people of our Orthodox Church in the USA who in this period of serious shortages of food, shelter and medication in Greece, generously offered their assistance.   They contributed to the “Relief Fund for the People of Greece” by collecting, so far, 966,997.00 dollars.   Of them, 700,000 dollars have been given already as assistance to various ecclesiastical agencies in Greece, known for their well organized and developed work in helping thousands of people in urgent need.

18)  I am closing this selective and limited report on the many events that occurred in the time between the last and the present 41st Congress, with two more items:    The first is the visit of the sitting Vice President of the United States last November to our Archdiocese.  The visit was cordial and sincere, lasted approximately one hour, and was the first time ever that a sitting Vice President of the United States of America visited the Offices of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese for a meeting with the Archbishop.

The same Vice President, one month later, i.e. in December of 2011, visited our Ecumenical Patriarchate.   The visit was again the first of a sitting Vice President of the United States to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for a meeting with our Ecumenical Patriarch in his See.  After the meeting in the Office of the Ecumenical Patriarch which lasted approximately one hour, the Vice President spent one more hour visiting in a guided tour the Patriarchal Church of St. George in the Phanar.

The above mentioned two visits show convincingly the importance that Orthodoxy has under the leadership of our Ecumenical Patriarch for the American Government.   At the same time, they strongly suggest our huge responsibility for offering the genuine, whole, clear, and caring witness of our Orthodox Faith.

Let us talk more about it in analyzing first the theme of our 41st Congress.

3. The theme of our Congress

The theme of our 41st Congress “Chosen and Appointed by God to Go and Bear Fruit”, is based on an important biblical passage taken from the Gospel of John (John 15:16).  So, let us first study briefly this specific passage within its wider context.

This biblical passage, consisting of the words of Christ, You did not choose me but I have chosen you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit (John 15:16), is introduced by Christ with His following declaration:  You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what his master is doing;  but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).

What Christ is firmly establishing here are two facts:

First, He calls us His friends, not His servants.   The word for friends in the original Greek text of the Gospel is  φίλοι  which could be translated either as “friends” or as “beloved ones”.    So, Christ definitely declares that we, His disciples, are not His servants or slaves but His friends and His beloved ones.

But there is a very significant second fact established in the above statement by Jesus Christ.  He says:  I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).    This statement raises us as disciples of Jesus to an unheard of level.   We are called by Christ His friends because He shares with us the absolute truth communicated to Him by God the Father.  Thus, we are called friends and beloved ones by the Son of God and have the privilege of receiving the unique knowledge of things that the Son has heard from the Father in the divine supernatural realm.

At this crucial point and within this context comes the solemn statement by Christ which constitutes the basis and content of our theme for the present Clergy-Laity Congress:  You are my friends… you did not choose me but I chose you and appointed that you should go and bear fruit and your fruit should abide (John 15:16).

We have been chosen as friends and beloved ones of Jesus, for the purpose of being appointed to a specific mission.   The mission in essence is to continue His ministry on Earth and it means to go and bear fruit.   We have been chosen and appointed by the Lord in order to continue the work, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ in a way of producing fruit and fruit that abides.   It is obvious that in this context the fruit, καρπός has a deep spiritual meaning ultimately related to eternal and sacred realities. 

As we well know, the Apostles heard the words of the Lord  You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit (John 15:16), and after His ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they went out as directed by Him.   They went out in a world which in spite of the Pax Romana, the external peace established by the Roman Empire, was clearly showing the signs of a developing multilevel crisis:  religious, social, economic and ethical.   They went out having no financial, political or cultural resources; having nothing but their strong faith and their determination to bear fruit by promoting the Gospel and presenting the superb reality of the Kingdom of God.   And they bore fruit in spite of the many hostile powers fighting them, in spite of the ruthless persecutions, in spite of the tremendous cultural, religious and ethnic differences they encountered.   They bore fruit by establishing Christianity as an ultimate truth and religion and by founding the Churches of Christ as the superb human communities around the World.   And their fruit did not decay or fade away, but is alive and abides as Christ told them, and as we experience it, twenty full centuries after their death.

4.  The Mission:  Go to the World and Bear Fruit

Twenty centuries later, we hear today the same words that the Lord addressed to the Apostles and to His disciples and chosen friends throughout the history of the Church.   We are His friends, He has chosen us and He appointed us to go and bear fruit.

What is the world into which we are appointed to go and bear fruit?

a)  This is a world in a deep and extremely painful and complicated financial crisis.  Unheard of numbers of unemployment, entire countries at the brink of bankruptcy, extensive areas of devastating poverty, horror stories of hunger, homelessness and lack of health care and medications are daily news items.

b)  This is a world of social unrest, open or hidden, due to issues of blatant injustices, racial conflicts and lack of equal rights and equal opportunities.

c)  This is a world presenting conditions of both ideological chaos and ideological apathy.  This is a post-Marxist, post-Freudian, and post-modernist climate, in other words, this is a situation where old ideologies are dead and their remnants appear and disappear causing total confusion and permanent disorientation among young and old people.

d)  This is a world of  movements of huge numbers of people, migrating from country to country, flooding neighboring or distant states, causing radical changes to national and cultural identities, and automatically importing with them their religion with its traditions and character, a fact too often ignored.

e)  This is a world tormented by serious ethical problems to a degree unknown in history before.   Substance abuse, issues of sexual misconduct and identity, phenomena of human exploitation, injustices, terrorism, violence and cruelty constitute a daily accompaniment to millions of people all over the world.

f)  This is a world in which we see the biggest ever number of religious fanatics, connected or not with violence,  while at the same time we experience a war against religion, more particularly against Christianity by every available means.

This is the world to which we have been appointed to go and bear fruit.   It is a wounded world, a confused world, a fragmented world, in which we have to cultivate and offer the fruit of faith, love, healing, peace and hope.

The task is enormous.   But, please, remember, the Twelve Apostles!  Just twelve simple people confronting the entire world and finally conquering it!

The field is open for us.  It is time for us to listen to the divine voice and go and bear fruit.

5.   We have been chosen by God and appointed to go and bear fruit.

a)  Bear fruit in the lives of the families of interfaith marriages.  Go and bring them to God’s home, reconnect or, as the case may be, connect them for the first time to the Church.   By bringing the interfaith families to the community of faith we bear fruit and so we fulfill our special appointment by Christ.   Such fruit is urgently needed if we don’t want to lose people for ever.   And in this case, as in many others, we should not forget what Christ said at the end of His appointing command:  You should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide (John 15:16).  The fruit should stay, abide, and become permanent.   The natural fruits taken from the trees live for a while, become ripe and then start decaying.   Not so with  spiritual fruit.   If we bear the fruit of bringing interfaith families to the Church, we have to keep such fruit; we have to keep those families forever in the embrace of the Church.

b) Bear fruit among our children, among our adolescents, among our young adults.   We must review and enhance our programs for religious education, check again and again the opportunities to engage young adults in creative activities, especially of social significance.   Increase the occasions for well organized cultural and athletic events.  Bear fruit by establishing a climate of joy and peace within the groups of our school children.   Bear the fruit of stability and connection with God among our Orthodox students at the Colleges and Universities as they frequently face the challenges of anti-religious attitudes and teachings in their classrooms.

c)  Bear fruit in our places of work; bear fruit in communicating effectively our faith to the people who work with us in businesses, in hospitals, in shops, in markets, in schools, in stations, in sports, in factories in any place and profession.  Communicating effectively our faith by word and deed, by persuasive talk, by life-style and by  truly Christian behavior.

d)  Bear fruit by gathering our disconnected people.   Practically, this means bring to the Church our brothers and sisters who are away from Christ, the tree of life.  Eventually increase our Church related population.  Let me, at this point, cite an example:

Back in the year 1986, we had as Greek Orthodox Archdiocese 7.389 baptisms, 563 chrismations from conversions, and 5.183 marriages.   Twenty four years later, namely in the year 2010, we had 6.366 baptisms, 947 chrismations, and 2.709 marriages.  We are up in the number of chrismations, but down in the number of baptisms and even more so in marriages.   This suggests a decline in our practicing Orthodox population that calls for immediate action.  The increase of our practicing Orthodox population certainly will be an urgently needed fruit.

e)  Bear fruit in the field of inter-Orthodox relationship in our country.   Three years ago the heads of all Autocephalous Orthodox Churches led by the inspirational initiative of our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew created the Assemblies of all Canonical Bishops in major geographical areas.   One of those areas is our Assembly of North and Central America comprised of more than 60 Canonical Orthodox Bishops.   The purpose of the Assembly is to help and coordinate Orthodox action and enhance the Orthodox witness.  Here is a promising opportunity of bearing fruit because our Archdiocese is playing a major role in the function and mission of the Assembly.

f)  Bear fruit in increasing the stewardship numbers in our communities.  In spite of the big financial progress of our Omogeneia, we are considerably low in our stewardship offerings to our Church.  We are way down from the average stewardship offerings in the Roman Catholic or the Protestant Churches.  There is an issue here which must be carefully studied and confronted with methodical strategic planning.

g)  Bear fruit in taking seriously and acting appropriately for the preservation of our universal Hellenic treasures.   Greek language and culture should be integral parts of our community activities.   This is an obligation to humanity which goes beyond ethnic boundaries, since the values of Hellenism are universal, indeed.

6.  Epilogue

The Lord said to the Apostles and to us:  You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and your fruit abide (John 15:16).  In the very same instance and within the same context presented in chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, Christ added an indispensable and unique condition for the fulfillment of the purpose of bearing fruit.   He said to the disciples and to us:  I am the vine you are the branches.  He who abides in Me and I in him he is the one that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5).  To be integrally connected to Christ, the way the branches are connected to the vine which holds and feeds them, is the indispensable condition to bear fruit. Apart from Him we can do nothing, there is no possibility to bear fruit.  In the final analysis, the great honor to be appointed by God in order to go and bear fruit, means to abide in Christ, to go with Christ, to work for Christ.   United with Him the way the branches are integrally and essentially united to the vine, we will be able to go and bear fruit, much fruit, even in a barren land, even under the worst circumstances.  Our true perspective for bearing fruit is Christ, and such a perspective has no limits.

Let us not waste time.   Let us go now.   The field is open, wide open by the grace of God, Who was, is and will forever be with us.

Clergy-Laity 2012