This year's Clergy-Laity Congress hopes to offer Orthodoxy in the City of Angels to our priests, presvyteres, lay leaders and community. The theme, Offering our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America is timely and exciting. It brings to mind some thoughts which I'd like to share with you.
A 1990 article titled, Frogs and Lizards, from Marketplace Networks Magazine makes the point that "God is returning us to the lay evangelism methods that prevailed during the apostolic era." This begs the question, "Are our lay people positioned to succeed at lay evangelism? Are our clergy positioned to teach us lay evangelism and is the pulpit underutilized?" It is our hope and prayer that this Congress will address such questions as well as put in motion programs to respond to this need, under the theme, Offering our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America. The Frogs and Lizards article is a short, easy and interesting read. I encourage each and every one of you to take the time to read it.
The late, beloved Reverend Dr. Leonidas Contos wrote an article about the Congress which poignantly begins by quoting Lillian Smith,
"We build up our defenses slowly, brick by brick, cementing them with our fear and anguish: and then when they are no longer needed, we cannot bear to tear them down. We have leaned on them too long. Our lives have been shaped to fit them, psychic muscles have stiffened against them, emotions have learned to flow under them, our vocabulary has entwined itself around them until they are almost hidden from us."
In his article, Fr. Contos applied this quote to the, "somewhat creaky structure of the Clergy-Laity Congress, with its conditioned behavior and its old, in-worn habits," and he concludes that the Congress in its current structure, "may no longer serve us very well" He gives the following analogy: "...of a few hundred stockholders sitting for an afternoon in the ballroom of a downtown hotel at an annual meeting, fancying that they are guiding the destinies of a giant multi-national corporation."
Fr. Contos' article covers topics which are particularly fitting under this year's theme. On the subject of our Christian witness he writes:
"while the future is freighted with risk, it is also full of opportunity: for more vigorous Orthodox witness, a more responsive Orthodox ministry and more robust expression of Orthodox community." He entreats, "If, like the Christians of the first-century Jerusalem, our preaching, our prayer and our Communion constitute a robust enough witness, we will, like them, have 'favor with all the people'." (Acts 2.47)
On the subject of educating our parishioner about our Orthodox Christian biblical faith, which is particularly fitting under this year's theme, Fr. Contos asked
"And what of the teaching ministry which, in Christ's parting mandate is coupled with the mandate to baptize? Greek Orthodoxy honors its ancient heritage of reverence for learning by voicing a continuing concern for education. The need for coherence among the carious components of the teaching enterprise is so self-evident as to require little discussion. And indeed little discussion is exactly what is generated at Congress after Congress. A small committee of dedicated specialists shuffles through a familiar agenda, which embraces all the institutions...and the whole process is laid to rest, to be exhumed two years hence. Surely, religious education deserves better? Nor should it be confined to the young. Adult religious education, as part of a large scheme of, "lifelong learning" compels us to conceive a new view of the parish as learning community."
We strive to offer a Clergy-Laity Congress in 2002 that will address such important issues as lifelong learning, opportunities for robust witness, preaching and conditioned behavior, at a time when our nation, our neighbors and our communities are hungry for learning, answers and direction. We pray that our Congress will enable, empower and prepare those who attend to truly be able to bring Orthodoxy to our contemporaries in America. We hope to address questions such as, "Who are our contemporaries?" "What is Orthodoxy?" and "How do we offer it generously and sincerely?" If we were to offer something as insignificant as a cup of coffee, we would bring it, hand it over and share it. One would say, "I brewed this coffee for you, her it is, I want you to have it." Would one say, "Would you like me to put on some coffee, oh you probably don't want all that caffeine?" How do we offer our Orthodoxy? Do we bring it, hand it over, share it and want others to have it?
Our Committee's hope and dream is to cover such topics, as well as to offer fellowship and activities in the beautiful City of Angels.
We pray the the Holy Spirit inspires you to come and grow with us.