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Keynote Address By His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America at the 43rd Clergy-Laity Congress

You Are the Voice of Christ in a Changing World
As the Father has sent me, so I send you
(John 20:21)

KEYNOTE ADDRESS
By His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America

43rd CLERGY-LAITY CONGRESS
Nashville, TN
Monday, July 4, 2016

A.   By the grace of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ we are together again as Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America at our 43rd Clergy-Laity Congress in Nashville, Tennessee.

Our meeting today takes place not only on this important national day of the 4th of July, but also immediately after a historic event for global Orthodoxy, namely the Holy and Great Council of Orthodox Autocephalous Churches in Crete, Greece. 

As you know, in this Holy and Great Council 24 Bishops and 9 priests and lay people participated from 10 Autocephalous Orthodox Church of the world.   We have been particularly honored and blessed by having 8 out of the 24 Bishops representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate coming from us, from the United States of America. Thus, we had the great opportunity to participate in a unique event for the life, the history and the future of our Orthodox Church.  We give thanks to God for His exceptional favor to us.

We also give thanks to God for another great gift, which we have received after our last Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.   This is the ground breaking ceremony for the building of St. Nicholas in the World Trade Center, at Ground Zero.   Last summer the works for the building started and at this point have significantly progressed, while the park in which the Church is situated has almost reached its completion and it looks very handsome.

I started with the above two special events, the Council of our Orthodox Churches and the building of St. Nicholas because of their exceptional importance for the life of the Church.  

B.  But now, let me proceed with a brief presentation of events which are also worth mentioning and have occurred between our last Congress in Philadelphia in 2014 and the present one in Nashville.  From a large number I selected ten. 

1. First, we offer our prayers and gratitude to God for being able, during the last two years, to celebrate 100 years of existence of many communities all over the country.   In fact, we had also the case of 150 years of our likely most ancient parish in New Orleans, Louisiana.   At the same time, we rejoice in the continuous activity of building new Churches and community centers and of consecrating several Churches, among them our Cathedral in Washington, DC.   The consecration of this Cathedral was rather unnecessarily delayed, a fact that happens with several of our Churches and has to be changed.   There should be no unconsecrated Church in our Archdiocese!

2. Second, we welcome the new clergy ordained in the last two years.  They constitute an impressive number.   We have 32 ordinations to the Diaconate and 6 more from the category of the special Diaconate Program.  Thus, we have 36 new Deacons.   

Tsikouris, Demetrios / July 12, 2014
Honeycutt, James / August 3, 2014
Triant, Daniel / August 3, 2014
Cook, Timothy / August 10, 2014
Redmon, William / October 11, 2014
Xanthos, Christopher P. / November 1, 2014
Sakellariou, John / November 16, 2014
Avramopoulos, Christos / November 22, 2014
Lundberg, Paul / December 27, 2014
Ehmer, Theodore / January 17, 2015
Theodoropoulos, Anastasios / February 8, 2015
Mott, Demetrios / March 1, 2015
Collins, Joseph (Ryan) / March 25, 2015
Gadah, Gabriel / May 3, 2015
Burikas, Dimitrios / June 6, 2015
Koulianos, Dionysios / June 14, 2015
Plevrakis, Elefterios / June 14, 2015
Minucci, Vincent / July 19, 2015
Manos, Michael C. / August 15, 2015
Russell, John Jarrod / August 23, 2015
Kasapakis, Sampson / September 13, 2015
Athanasiou, Anastasios / October 3, 2015
Gilbert, Gregory / October 4, 2015
Kallis, Kosmas / October 26, 2015
Walker, Aaron / October 26, 2015
Constans, Maximos / December 6, 2015
Parsenios, George / December 13, 2015
Delaveris, Nikolas / January 10, 2016
Christensen, Lucas / March 27, 2016
Henderson, David / March 27, 2016
Retelas, Christopher / March 27, 2016
O’Rourke, Patrick / April 24, 2016

ORDINATIONS to the DIACONATE under the Special Diaconate Program

Zaharis, Zacharias / August 24, 2014
Varcados, Iakovos / November 16, 2014
Saclarides, Theodore / June 29, 2015
Stern, Christopher / August 9, 2015
Whittaker, James K. / November 29, 2015
Callas, William / December 27, 2015

3. During the same period we have had 35 ordinations to the priesthood. 

Tsikouris, Rev. Dn. Demetrios / July 13, 2014
Honeycutt, Rev. Dn. James / August 9, 2014
Cook, Rev. Dn. Timothy / August 16, 2014
Mihalopoulos, Rev. Dn. Christos R. / September 28, 2014
Livaditis, Rev. Dn. George / October 5, 2014
Redmon, Rev. Dn. William / November 16, 2014
Sakellariou, Rev. Dn. John / November 23, 2014
Ursache, Rev. Dn. Constantin / January 25, 2015
Mamangakis, Rev. Dn. John / February 6, 2015
Triant, Rev. Dn. Daniel / February 8, 2015
Ehmer, Rev. Dn. Theodore / March 15, 2015
Xanthos, Rev. Dn. Christopher / March 25, 2015
Lundberg, Rev. Dn. Paul / March 29, 2015
Theodoropoulos, Rev. Dn. Anastasios / May 10, 2015
Johns, Rev. Dn. Seraphim / May 17, 2015
Mott, Rev. Dn. Demetrios / May 31, 2015
Abell, Rev. Dn. Christopher Jeffrey / June 13, 2015
Pliakas, Rev. Dn. Vasilios D. / June 20, 2015
Koulianos, Rev. Dn. Dionysios / August 2, 2015
Minucci, Rev. Dn. Vincent / August 2, 2015
Panos, Rev. Dn. Chrysostom / August 6, 2015
Kasapakis, Rev. Dn. Sampson / September 14, 2015
Burikas, Rev. Dn. Dimitrios / August 23, 2015
Russell, Rev. Dn. John Jarrod / September 20, 2015
Manos, Rev. Dn. Michael C / September 27, 2015
Gilbert, Rev. Dn. Gregory / October 25, 2015
Tandilyan, Rev. Dn. Anthony (formerly Arkady) / October 26, 2015
Walker, Rev. Dn. Aaron / November 9, 2015
Athanasiou, Rev. Dn. Anastasios / November 21, 2015
Constas, Rev. Dn. Maximos / December 20, 2015
Gadah, Rev. Dn. Gabriel / February 28, 2016
Roditis, Rev. Dn. Iakovos (formerly Christodoulos) / March 6, 2016
Kallis, Rev. Dn. Kosmas / March 27, 2016
Kolios, Rev. Dn. George / March 27, 2016
Collins, Rev. Dn. Joseph / May 15, 2016

At the same time we pray for health and fulfilled life of our clergy who have retired in the last two years.   They are 14. 

Joanides, Rev. Fr. Charles / September 1, 2014
Mahalares, V. Rev. Fr. Andrew / September 1, 2014
Pathenos, Rev. Fr. Nicholas / December 28, 2014
Paleologos, Rev. Fr. Dean / December 31, 2014
Nikokavouras, Rev. Fr. Nicholas I. / January 1, 2015
Cowles, Rev. Fr. Patrick J. / June 1, 2015
Raptis, Rev. Fr. Anastasios / June 30, 2015
Christ, Rev. Fr. William M. / July 15, 2015
Pratsinakis, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel / August 1, 2015
Jeweler, Rev. Dn. Michael J. (no date available)
Marketos, Rev. Fr. Dionisios / March 1, 2016
Michaels, Rev. Fr. Angelo / March 1, 2016
Gordon, Rev. Fr. James / April 30, 2016
Karloutsos, Rev. Fr. Peter / July 1, 2016

4. On this occasion, we mention the passing of beloved brothers who left this world and are with God in His Kingdom.   They are:

Bishop Anthimos of Olympos

Metropolitan Gennadios former of Buenos Aires

And then, there are 32 priests who passed away in the last two years: 

Bird, Rev. Fr. Michael R. / July 16, 2014
Orfanakos, Rev. Fr. John / August 20, 2014
Pieratos, Rev. Fr. Spiro / September 24, 2014
Champion, Rev. Fr. Gregory / September 27, 2014
Heath, Rev. Fr. Thomas / December 9, 2014
Balomenos, Rev. Fr. Constantine J. / February 24, 2015
Baker, Rev. Fr. Matthew / March 1, 2015
Chiganos, Rev. Fr. William / May 4, 2015
Papademetriou, Rev. Fr. Spyridon / May 22, 2015
Lokis, Rev. Fr. Demetrios / May 30, 2015
Missiras, Andrew  (no date available)
Dounelis, Rev. Fr. George / June 28, 2015
Karambis, V. Rev. Fr. J. Gabriel / July 19, 2015
Papanikolaou, Rev. Fr. Byron S. / August 11, 2015
Karahalios, Rev. Fr. George A. / September 8, 2015
Scoulas, Rev. Fr. Elias C. / September 12, 2015
Tavlarides, Rev. Fr. John / September 21, 2015
Sakellarides, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel / October 24, 2015
Anastas, Rev. Fr. Theo / November 2, 2015
Lambert, Rev. Fr. Peter / November 2, 2015
Theophilos, Rev. Fr. Stephen / December 23, 2015
Hadgigeorge, Rev. Fr Chris / December 31, 2015
Michaelides, Rev. Fr. Demetrios / January 1, 2016
Romas, Rev. Fr. John / January 24, 2016
Chelpon, Rev. Fr. Theodore H. / February 14, 2016
Economou, Rev. Fr. George N. / February 25, 2016
Harbatis, Rev. Fr. Nicholas G. / March 7, 2016
Kuchta, Rev. Dn. Robert / March 7, 2016
Prassas, Rev. Fr. George / May 19, 2016
Stephanou, V. Rev. Fr. Eusebius / May 26, 2016
Tsigounis, Rev. Fr. James A./June 20, 2016
Lionikis, Rev. Fr. Manousos (Emmanuel)/June 24, 2016

May their memory be eternal!

We also pray for the repose of the souls and for eternal rest of quite a number of very active lay members of our communities and organizations.  We especially mourn the passing of our Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council for 16 continuous years Michael Jaharis, the great philanthropist who spent more time dealing with the affairs of the Church than with his business affairs.  May his memory be eternal!

5. We express our profound gratitude to the Rev. Father Nicholas Triantafilou, who after 15 years of faithfully and creatively serving as President of Hellenic College-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology was forced to retire last year due to a serious accident.   At the same time we welcome the new President of Hellenic College-Holy Cross, the Rev. Fr. Christopher Metropulos praying for a service abundantly blessed by God, the source of inexhaustible wisdom and knowledge.

6. In the weekend of March 7-8, 2015, we participated as Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the 50 years celebration of the historic march for human rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965.  The spiritual presence of our great Archbishop Iakovos in this celebration reflecting his 1965 marching next to Dr. Martin Luther King, was strongly noticed by President Barack Obama and former President G.W. Bush who were there for the celebration, as well as by many African-American leaders.  

7. As Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, we were also present in June of last year in Charleston, South Carolina, in the funeral of 9 people murdered with thei pastor inside their Emmanuel Church.   The leadership of the entire African Methodist Episcopal Church expressed their deep gratitude for our participation in their grave mourning. 

8. Our Archdiocese has been highly honored by being invited for an official visit to Cyprus from October 21-28, 2014.   The political, judiciary and educational authorities, as well as the people of Cyprus did not stop thanking us for our substantive and caring spiritual and material support we have been  offering for many years.  

9. After many years of systematic work, and by the tireless efforts of our Holy Eparchial Synod we finally have the official edition of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with an English translation.   This edition has the approval of our Ecumenical Patriarchate and constitutes the official text to be used in all of our Parishes with no exception whatsoever.  

10. In closing this part of my report, I should not forget to mention that in the past two years we fully continue our assisting work and efforts in support of our Ecumenical Patriarchate and of Greece and Cyprus in view of the very pressing circumstances under which they live. We should also not forget that the present Clergy-Laity Congress coincides with the blessed celebration of  the 25th anniversary of the election of our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  We thank God for the magnificent things that have happened through the truly brilliant sacred ministry of our Patriarch, and we fervently pray for a radiant continuation of his apostolic ministry in the years ahead for the good of global Orthodoxy and the glory of the holy name of God.

C.  After this brief report on some significant events following our Clergy-Laity Congress in Philadelphia and before proceeding with the analysis of the theme of our present 43rd Congress, let me remind all of us of some of the findings of a special research project.   They were presented 10 years ago here in Nashville in 2006 in our 38th Clergy-Laity Congress.   They are valid today as they deal with strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to our Archdiocese.   We have to keep them in mind in what we do or plan to do.   Among them, there are the following: 

a)  Perceived as Strengths of the Archdiocese

  • The spiritual leadership of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • The skilled and competent Clergy
  • The strong spiritual identity
  • The strong electronic media
  • The competent volunteers and laity

b)  Perceived as Weaknesses of the Archdiocese

  • The lack of adequate understanding of the Orthodox Faith by the faithful
  • The limited understanding of Orthodoxy by those outside the Church
  • The low awareness of Orthodoxy in America
  • The inadequate funding

c)  Perceived as Opportunities for the Archdiocese

  • The marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians
  • The emerging technologies and relative resources
  • The increase interest from non-Orthodox
  • The ease and utilization of communication media
  • The Orthodox people in key business, political and educational positions

d)  Perceived as Threats to the Archdiocese

  • The number of Orthodox who are not well informed about their Faith
  • The number of Orthodox who are not active participants in the life of the Church
  • The increasing secularization
  • The weakening of the institution of Marriage and of family structure

D.   And now we face the theme for this 43rd Clergy-Laity Congress of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: 

The Lord said to his disciples after His resurrection:  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you (John 20:21).  Here an amazing mission is described, a mission to continue the work of Christ on earth after His ascension.

He also said to His disciples, You are the light of the word (Matt. 5L14).  He did not say you must be the light, or you have to be the light.   He said You are the light.  This is a flat statement of a fact.

Thus, we can hear Christ saying to us today:  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.  You are the light of the world.  You are my voice.  You are the voice of Christ in a changing world. 

What is the specific meaning of such an awesome mission charge?

1)  If we are the voice of Christ in a changing world, if we are to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, we must first of all and above all know Christ.  

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul offers us guidance related to the absolute importance of knowing Christ.   He writes:  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8).  And he adds that the purpose of his life it to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and to share Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:9).

From this proclamation of the paramount importance of knowing Christ, we can see that it is essential to know Christ in order to be His voice.   We must seek Him above anything else.   He is the source of our life and hope.   He has entered our humanity for our salvation, revealing the grace of God and showing us the way to restore our communion with our Creator.   We gather in His name, receive Him in the Holy Eucharist, and offer Him praise and adoration.   His is our life, our peace, our joy, and our eternity.   We must count everything else as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8).

2) If we know Christ, if we constantly grow in His grace and knowledge (2  Peter 3:18), what do we offer as His voice?

The first precious thing is hope.  Christ’s voice was engendering hope.   If we are His voice, we spread hope to environments void of hope and true life perspective.   There are plenty of such hopeless environments in our changing world.  

Second, the voice of Christ is the voice of truth.   Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  His words offer divine wisdom and reveal the truth of God.  His voice illuminates truth in a world where many are victims of error or misguided by false ideologies.  If we are His voice, we offer the truth that He revealed in His Gospel, thus eliminating all forms of lying, error, falsehood, unfortunately so pervasive in our society.

Third, the voice of Christ is filled with grace.   He came and in a graceful way revealed God’s great love for us.   His teachings and healings were filled with grace.   We are His voice conveying grace every time that we speak about Him.   Christ’s voice is also a voice of healing power.   His words were powerful agents of producing miracles of cure, even resurrections.   The voice of Jesus through us speaks clearly, powerfully and in a caring way in the face of adversity, persecution, secularization offering a witness of hope, truth, grace and healing power.

3)   Our theme affirms that we are the voice of Christ in a changing world.  It is a   challenging world due to change.   We experience this in our own lives as we go through each day, as we reflect on the past months and years and consider the course of our lives over time.   Due to multiple means of communication and “real time” information, we are presented constantly with events and moments of change from around the world.

We have seen rapid change in technology and the tremendous impact this has had on our lives and societies.   In this constant change many advancements have been made that save lives, enhance education and access to information, show the power of human ingenuity.   We also see and experience many challenges related to these changes: cost and access to technology, environmental impacts, materialism, and the threats from abuse.   Today there is increasing talk about technology addiction.  Many are asking how to navigate in the midst of these constant changes in our world and make wise decisions.

The voice of Christ is needed in addressing such rapid changes for His voice is the voice of wisdom, stability, love and truth. His voice offers discernment in evaluating the benefits of technological change in relation to human life, purpose and well-being. His voice guides us to look beyond convenience and wants to reflect carefully on the broader impact of change in our lives, our communities, and the entire world.  The voice of Christ answers the questions regarding what is good, what is true, what restores our relationships with God and each other.  

It is essential to affirm that our changing world is also a world of opportunity. Certainly, it is a challenging, sometimes even a provocative and complex world.  The pace and manner of change is at times astounding;  but it is a world of great need.   We are sent by Christ to be His voice, to speak of truth and love, to offer hope and perspective.  In a changing world by being Christ’s voice we offer comfort, healing, restoration, stability and purpose.  

4)  In analyzing our theme we need now to ask the question:

How are we offering the voice of Christ in a changing world through the ministry and service of our Greek Orthodox Church in America?  During our discussions here our primary work should be evaluating the current ministries and resources at all levels of our Holy Archdiocese as opportunities to offer the voice of Christ.

First, we offer the voice of Christ through worship and ministry in the parish. Through worship, the parish becomes the Body of Christ and listens to His voice. With our worship in the parish we become the voice of Christ.  In words and actions the voice of Christ is spoken, heard and experienced in worship so that the parish becomes a home, a place of comfort, renewal, and hope.

Second, we offer the voice of Christ through the ministries related to the family.   We have seen ministry and resources grow significantly throughout our Archdiocese since our last Congress.   However, the challenges to the family are tremendous and growing.   Many other voices and demands are pressuring families to conform to the world and to live by temporal standards of success and happiness.  We cannot relent in our efforts to care for families and to offer the voice of Christ in a changing world that is attempting to alter radically what God has created.   Family ministry and our Center for Family Care should continue to be a major focus of discussion and planning at our Congress so that we are equipped to offer the voice of Christ in truth and grace and provide clarity, love and guidance in the midst of so much confusion.

Third, we are the voice of Christ through our ministries of outreach and evangelism.   Being the voice of Jesus we are sent into a changing world to offer the voice of Christ to those who are not connected to the Church.   This includes those who have never heard the voice of Christ, others who have not been prepared to listen, and still others who need a new invitation to return to Him.   For these and even others who are distracted by disparate and deceptive ideas, the voice of Christ through us offers meaning and purpose in truth and love.   In fulfilling our commission from God, we must continue to strengthen our ministries of outreach and evangelism so that our clergy and laity have the guidance, programs, and resources to offer Christ’s voice clearly and effectively.

E.   Concluding Remarks

Allow me now to conclude by emphasizing the need to engage in three major tasks: 

Task number one:  We need to proceed with a thorough evaluation and a serious revision of the material and the educational resources and means uses in our Church for advancing our knowledge of Christ and the truth revealed by Him in the Gospel.   We cannot be the voice of Christ without a profound knowledge of and connection with Him and with the contents of His saving teaching.   Especially when we face the tremendous challenge of a changing world.

Task number two:  We have to reach out and be the voice of Christ for our brothers and sisters who are not strongly connected with our parishes and come to the Church only on Holy Week and Christmas.   They are plenty of them.   This is a task that must be systematically organized and engage in creative action all the members of our parishes.   Think especially of the disconnected families of interfaith marriages.   Let them hear through us the voice of Christ inviting them to join our community of grace and peace in the midst of a turbulent world. 

Task number three:  Cultivate and organize the members of our communities in a way that they recognize the urgent need to go out and be the voice of Christ to the millions of people lost and confused within a changing world.   In our recent Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church in Crete, this urgent need was repetitively and persistently presented and emphasized.   Our communities cannot be enclosed to themselves and live in a spiritual ghetto.  We have to reach out.   Our voice as voice of Christ must be heard outside of the walls of our parishes.   The entire America is our field within which the voice of Christ will resonate.   But please, remember that the voice of Christ as language used by Him was a very powerful one.  If you read the Gospels carefully, you will not find any occasion in which the words of Christ were uttered and had not produced immediate results, be it the healings, exorcisms, or extraordinary changes in the natural conditions.  Here is a test for us: When we are the voice of Christ for the people who do not know Him, how effective is this voice?  In essence, when offering the voice of Christ, we do what He did, in other words we produce works.  In the Gospel of John, before going to His Passion, the Lord teaching His disciples offered to them a really amazing statement when He said: he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do (John 14:12).  If we are His voice, and called to continue His work, we are the recipients of this amazing promise.  Are we ready to really do what Christ did and even more?  Are we ready to be His powerful, healing, illuminating voice?  Are we willing and ready to change our changing world?

Let us ask God to be with us in this awesome work which He is opening for us.