Clergy-Laity 2014 News and Messages

Message of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the 42nd Clergy-Laity Congress in Philadelphia

July 7, 2014
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Your Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of America, most honorable Exarch of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, beloved brother in the Holy Spirit and concelebrant of our Modesty, Your Eminences Metropolitans, brother members of the Holy Eparchial Synod, Your Graces, Bishops of the Holy Archdiocese of America, Most Devout and Reverend Clergy, Most Honorable Archons, those holding official of the Holy Mother Great Church of Christ, honorable representatives of Parishes and Communities and of all individual bodies and organizations of the Holy Archdiocese, Most Erudite educators, members of the National Ladies Philoptochos Society and of individual Philoptochos Chapters, all esteemed members. All of you, beloved brothers, sisters and children of the Lord and of our Modesty, who will convene in the forty second (42nd) Clergy Laity Congress of this Eparchy of our Ecumenical Patriarchate in the City of Philadelphia; grace and peace and blessing from our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ be with you.

Our Modesty, your Patriarch feels great spiritual joy and affection by seeing in spirit from Constantinople the children of the Holy Mother Great Church of Christ in America, participating through their representatives, clergy and laity, in the works of the 42nd Clergy Laity Congress of the unified Holy Archdiocese of America that is being navigated for fifteen years in a God-loving way, prudently and blessedly by your beloved Eminence, holy brother Archbishop Demetrios of America.

We glorify and bless the most holy Name of the Lord, from Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, for He gave to the Ecumenical Patriarchate as inalienable inheritance the blessed people of God who live in America and the largest and most glorious active ecclesiastical Eparchy in the free Land of America.

Brothers, sisters and children in the Lord,

This Clergy Laity Congress, in which participate as representatives and visual presence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and your Patriarch Who loves you all, Their Eminences Metropolitans of Belgium and Kallioupolis and Madytos, brothers Athenagoras and Stephanos, respectively, the latter being our own Chancellor, has chosen as its focal point of examination the theme: The Orthodox Christian Family: A dwelling of Christ and a Witness of His Gospel, which is timely and very important, especially now, during the ongoing development of humanity.   

We are indeed blessed by the heavenly Father for we were made worthy to be part of the mystical Body of His and have the possibility to personally commune with Him by taking part in the opportunities offered to us by the Church, given to us freely through her sacraments.

Our Lord, through His first miracle in Canaan, Galilee, blessed the holy sacrament of marriage, in which two persons of different sexes come together to unite into one body: and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one and I'm saying that it refers to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5: 31-33).

Through this union of the two persons male and female in Christ the family becomes a dwelling of Christ, from Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Eph. 3: 15-16); every family, i.e. every genealogical origin and presence on earth of which the family is the cell from Adam and Eve, through which life goes on, the earth is inherited, and the heavenly kingdom granted to the man who has been created in the image and likeness of God.

Human life is certainly a serious matter, a spiritual battle and a course toward a goal that is heaven. Marriage is the most critical and most important vehicle of this course; the marriage in Christ and the marital bond, the undefiled marriage (Heb. 13, 4), the profound sacrament (Eph. 5, 32). It has also been shown that the success or failure, the progress or destruction in spiritual life begins with the marriage.

We all realize that in the society we live, the God-sanctified institution of the family suffers serious blows from the prevalent climate of contemporary blissfulness, which does not favor the total offering of one spouse to the other and of both to the children, but nurtures fleeting, personal relationships aiming at the release from the duties of the communion of the marriage and the egotistical self-gratification of man, rendering man essentially empty, miserable and isolated, deprived of the blessing of God.

The institution of Marriage and the Orthodox Christian family is foremost a course of love, secondly a course of common spirit and common exercise, thirdly a course of creativity, common creativity and continuation of life, and, fourthly a common course toward heaven, toward the heavenly kingdom. It is a calling of God, it is a joining of diversity that leads to perfection, and, therefore, the spouses become also joint heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3, 7).

Taking into account the Patristic saying according to which nothing holds together life as the love between man and woman, the living together of people of the same sex as couples is not an accepted practice within the bosom of our Orthodox Church, which preserves undefiled the wholesomeness of the evangelical truth. It is irreconcilable with the commandments of God and contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. As deacons of the Church and her salvific work, we ought to keep always a clear and unambiguous stance on this subject that resurfaces constantly, because only where there is husband and wife and children and concord and people connected by the bonds of virtue there, in their midst, is Christ, says St. John Chrysostom (On Genesis, Homily 6, P.G. 54, 616).

Mother Church who is always affectionate toward all her children accepts and calls everyone to salvation, the devout and the sinners, the healthy and the sick, the strong and the weak. Not only does she accept everyone but also gives everyone the opportunity at a moment of time to repent and be saved. The Church, regardless of the passing of so many centuries, condemns and reproaches sin and does not change her stance against it, as against something allegedly natural but only slightly different.

Sacrament, then of the Church and norm of the presence of God is the marriage at which man and woman come together and become one. If the two do not become one they cannot produce many … The child is a bridge (St. John Chrysostom, Memorandum to the Letter to the Colossians, Homily 12, P.G. 62, 386-387).

It is necessary, at all costs, the struggle for the preservation of the traditional Orthodox institution of family with the cultivation of marital fidelity, the treating of one spouse by the other as a person created in the image and likeness of God, the togetherness and the unity, the following of the same path by showing obedience preferably to the same spiritual father, and mostly the constant self-denial and sacrifice, without which sanctification and spiritual progress of the family will be unattainable.

We know, brothers, sisters and children, that you live in a materialistic society that is continually distancing itself from the Orthodox morals and traditions and not favoring the traditional life; a society where faith and devotion to the principles of our Orthodox tradition often seems or is deemed by some as something anachronistic and foreign to the demands of the modern social life. It is here where the responsibility of both the shepherd and the flock lies. You, our spiritual children in America, on free will and choice and after much toil you possess the treasure of the genuine apostolic faith and tradition, of the truth and genuineness in the Grace of the sacraments, the treasure of tradition and family, despite environmental and societal limitations, as pure as the Mother Church of Constantinople has preserved it throughout the centuries. Thus, by lifting the cross of life may you offer witness of the truth of Christ, from Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.  

We, therefore, urge all of you brotherly and paternally from the Mother Church: Continue, brothers, sisters and children, Orthodox faithful of the Holy Archdiocese of America, to always be sanctified and remain vigilant, as your tireless spiritual father, Archbishop Demetrios of America, does and teaches; the shepherds in their pastoral ministry to you, the priests in their priestly vocation, the preachers in the preaching of the divine words, the lay people in the diakonia, the spouses toward their families, the ladies of the Philoptochos Society in God-loving philanthropy, everyone where his calling is. Rest assured always that our Modesty, your Patriarch keeps you close to his heart and prays continuously for your illumination, well being, success and salvation, and also for the stability and progress of the Holy Archdiocese of America, for which we take pride in the Lord.

We offer our blessing, absent in body present in spirit and through our representatives, their Eminences Metropolitans, for the beginning of this Clergy Laity Congress and pray that our Life-Giving and Charitable Lord, Jesus Christ, will guide by his Light and Grace and Joy each one of you and all of you for the continuation of your offering and diakonia to the Church, with the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos, of the Great Martyr Saint Demetrios the Myrrh-Streamer and all the Saints.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit, together with our love, the wholehearted and Patriarchal blessing, may be with everyone and all of you, beloved brothers and sisters and chosen children of the Holy Mother Great Church of Christ and our Modesty.

† B A R T H O L O M E W
Patriarch of Constantinople
beloved brother in Christ
and fervent intercessor before God

Clergy-Laity 2014