My beloved brother in the Lord, Metropolitan Panteleimon, Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch,
My beloved brothers in the Lord, Metropolitans and Bishops,
Esteemed members of the Archdiocesan Council,
We gather this morning at the conclusion of your term of service and on the eve of the 34th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress. A Clergy-Laity Congress is an extraordinary opportunity for faithful members of the Church from all across this great nation, whose birth we solemnly celebrate this day, the fourth of July. We come together in prayer and fellowship, and in brotherhood and love, to come to a consensus about what is good for the well-being of our Archdiocese. Certainly, we come together to discuss issues and make decisions. But we do so -- hierarchs, priests, lay-men and -women -- as a family.
The theme of this year’s Clergy-Laity Congress, as you well know, is: "One Faith, One Family, One Future: Together to the New Millennium." For we are indeed a family, a family brought about, not by, as the Gospel says, "the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but by God" (St. John 1:13) We have been born from above and been made members of God’s family through Holy Baptism, and our bond as a family is found in our shared participation in the Holy Eucharist. And it is only together, as the family of Greek Orthodox Christians in America, that we can move forward -- whether it be toward the next year, the next century, or the next millennium.
As in any family, of course, we are affected by the various dynamics that come into play in the Church’s life. Most of these are positive, for they find their root cause in the commandments of the Gospel. They are based in love, forgiveness, mercy, patience, honesty and kindness. When these are at work in the Church, there is peace and good order. Sometimes however, and I think that this is true especially in societies like ours -- one that is free from any religious persecution -- there is a tendency to adopt the standards of this world and to measure the Church according to the spirit of this secular age. You see this in how people place an over-riding importance on power, money, and worldly position. When these things become the bases of our Church affairs, there can be only unrest, lack of trust, and a false spirit of competition. For it seems that when the Church is free, as we are in this wonderful country of ours, and there is no persecution -- which, by the way, or Lord Jesus Christ said was inevitable -- we often end up persecuting one another, even hurting one another.
As you know from your experiences in your own individual families, it is only by practicing and acting in true, Christian, self-sacrificing love, working through each day, with both its sorrows and joys, with both its problems and achievements, that the family can succeed and grow. And so it is with our Church. If we have faith, and work together in truth and love, we will succeed in turning any problems we may encounter into achievements, and all the while grow stronger from the experience.
You -- the men and women in this room -- are leaders of this family: the hierarchs by virtue of their consecrations as "episkopoi" -- the ones who look after and over the Church; the clergy, by virtue of your responsibility as representatives of your brother clergy; the lay-people, by virtue of the talents you bring on behalf of all the others in our community. You have come here today, not only as respected leaders of the Church, but as people committed to the well-being of our Archdiocese, and as men and women who have shown over the last two years that you aren’t afraid of the work that comes with being a member of this Council.
So first of all, then, I want to thank you for the work you have done these past two years. You have borne your responsibility admirably; you have been serious in its execution. All of us have engaged each other on many levels, and the exchange of ideas has borne fruit. As we are now about to hand over our legislative authority to the Clergy-Laity Congress, we offer to the Church the fruit of our stewardship of the last two years.
Of course, these last two years have been, for all of us here -- for me as the Archbishop, and for all the Faithful under my spiritual care -- a time of transition. If we are to be honest, it has not always been a smooth transition. There have been good moments, and there have been difficult ones. This was to be expected; any transition has its difficulties. But through it all, never was there doubt in anyone’s mind that we were all moved by the same spirit of love and concern for this Church, the very Church bequeathed to us by our grandparents and parents, the same Church we will pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Last night, the Executive Committee was presented many of the reports you will hear this morning, including one involving a response to a Preliminary Report by the Ad Hoc Committee of the Executive Committee. That report was made public through the Press and other forms of media, and at least in New York, stirred up some undue attention. You will be given a chance to see this response, but more importantly, the Executive Committee, in a show of solidarity and Christian love for all, voted last night to receive both reports in order for them to be used by a future Executive Committee. It was a good conclusion to a what might have been hurtful to the Church.
And so, with these brief remarks I offer to you today instead of the usual keynote address, which I will reserve for Monday’s Opening of the Clergy-Laity Congress, I thank you again for your service. For the next Archdiocesan Council will be constituted, not as this one -- which was extraordinary, but in strict conformity with the Special Regulations. Therefore, it will be, by definition, much smaller. Nevertheless, you can be sure that the direction we have begun to take together over the last two years will continue to be the direction we will take into the new millennium.
I would therefore ask that, as leaders of the Church, you seek to move the agenda we have put forth these last two years, during the deliberations in the coming week. Most of you will continue on the same committees next week that you have been serving the last two years. Therefore, at the committee meetings, and at every other opportunity, make your voice heard so that the work we have begun will continue to unfold.
Again, I thank you for the work you have done these last two years. Thank you for the work you will accomplish today. And thank you for the leadership you will provide in the days ahead.
May God bless you all.