OF METROPOLITAN THEODOSIUS
It is my great pleasure to be with you here today representing the Orthodox Church in America. As you know this past year the Orthodox Church in America has been celebrating the Bicentennial of Orthodox Christianity in North America. Indeed, the celebration of 200 years of Orthodox faith in this part of the Western Hemisphere provides the appropriate context to address the issue of Orthodox jurisdictional unity in North America.
The celebration of the Bicentennial of Orthodox Christianity challenges each of us by the sanctity of this very moment. Here and now we encounter the true and living God who has taken us like living stones and built us into a spiritual house, becoming a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation called out of darkness into His marvelous light to declare His wonderful deeds to all creation (cf. 1 Peter 2:5-9). It is this mighty act of God that presents itself as the ongoing challenge for each of us personally and also corporately as the church. if we are anxious about the challenges awaiting us in the future, then we must be aware and concerned about the challenges confronting us now in this holy gathering.
Let us meet this immediate challenge by taking to heart the words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. He writes, "Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in under standing be mature" (1 Corinthians 14:20).
We know that the church in Corinth, founded by Saint Paul, was riddled with strife and division. We also know that the causes for this division stemmed from a desire of the spiritually immature to replace the Gospel, delivered to them by the Apostle, with their own alien teachings and practices.
Spiritual immaturity is not something unique to the Corinthian Church. Historically, spiritual immaturity has divided Christians and weakened the Church. What plagued the Corinthians continues to this day. More specifically we must humbly and sadly recognize that, even as we celebrate our 200 years in this land, the Church sojourning in North America is often filled with division and manifested in weakness.
The sanctity of this moment compels us to cease using those worn out cliches which attempt to disguise our malady. How often have we heard and said that there is One Orthodox Church in America since, regardless of jurisdictional pluralism, we have the same Eucharist, the same doctrine, and therefore the same Tradition. Are these not, after all, the same superficial claims that the divided Corinthians could resort to? Our immediate challenge is to go beyond these standard and stale declarations of unity. The challenge now and for the future is to continuously strive to achieve Orthodox ecclesiastical unity in this land. This means that we are bound by the divine imperative to ensure that word and theory are grounded in a concrete, canonical and therefore incarnated reality, ever faithful to the Gospel of Christ.
The question remains -where do we begin? I refer you again to the words of Saint Paul. "Be humble in your thinking" This means nothing less than having "the mind of Christ" "The mind of Christ" - this simple but profound and powerful phrase is used in the early part of the first letter to the Corinthians. It is the basis for all unity and it is acquired only when we allow ourselves to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit. To be "humble in thinking," to have the "mind of Christ," to be filled with the Holy Spirit, is the very foundation for everything we do as the Church. Thus, no agenda, no plan, no teaching, no desire can be carried out without the maturity this moment calls us to have.
I call upon His All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, who through his personal example has manifested the strength and truth of our Orthodox faith to the world, to lead us in meeting together to address the challenge of Orthodox unity in North America. I call upon the venerable pastors and your flocks to build up our parishes, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. into living communities of prayer and learning. I offer to my dear brother, His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos, to the Orthodox hierarchs through out the land, and to the faithful of the Orthodox Church in North America, my desire and my energy to the realization of one local and canonical Orthodox Church which will reveal that we are truly one body, having one mind and one heart praising and glorifying the all honorable and majestic name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
OF METROPOLITAN SPYRIDON
I bring with me the paternal blessings and good wishes of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch. I speak in his stead, secure in the knowledge that his devotion and love for you will remedy whatever lack of eloquence and skill that I may present in addressing you this evening. Although Patriarch Bartholomew is thousands of miles away in an ancient and distant land know this well - you are his children, his true treasure, and not a day passes without all of you in His prayers. Even in the face of terrorist bombs and death threats, his love for you and for his entire flock continues undiminished.
I am here today to tell you that, as great and glorious as our past, there is even greater glory in our future.
But only if we take to heart the central message of our Church: That in the resurrected Christ, we are all born again; we are all reconciled; we are all renewed.
Renewal is the key and it is a most appropriate theme for this Congress. For it is only by renewal that we grow - only by renewal that we improve - only by renewal that we become more worthy of our Father, in whose image we were made.
And so Saint Paul wisely counsels us, "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new man who was created in the image of God."
His All-Holiness believes, and I am sure we all share this belief, that the Americas can play a key role in the renewal of the Holy Orthodox Church worldwide. America is the greatest power on earth, and can help safeguard the rights of Orthodox churches, communities, arid countries throughout the world. The Greek Orthodox in the Americas are educated, affluent, and deeply engaged in the economic, social, and political life of this great nation. And the rich intellectual resources of the Church in Canada, the United States, and South America, provide an advantage as we confront growing pastoral problems, like interfaith marriages and the crisis in religious training of our youth. Statistics may not always be encouraging, but sheer numbers have never been a decisive factor in the redemptive work of the Church.
There is another problem that the Church in the Western Hemisphere can help us with, and that is terrible disease of nationalism. It fragments our Church, wastes our resources, and weakens our voice in the international community.
We learn from our clergy that the Holy Orthodox Church is one, united and indivisible. But we see with our eyes a church divided, not only in Eastern Europe. but even here in the New World, with its parallel Orthodox jurisdictions. We read in the Bible that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." But what we see all too often - not only among Orthodox but throughout the world - is a destructive politics of identity, in which there is only Jew or Greek; only male or female; only black or white.
His All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew wants to cut the Gordian Knot of nationalism. What felicitous timing, that you have chosen to emphasize Paul's letter to the Ephesians, which called for unity and harmony in the Church. Paul wrote this epistle in the year 61 A.D. The Church in Ephesus was a diverse group of people of many nationalities and backgrounds - pagans, Jews, Romans, Greeks, Syrians, and more. They spoke different languages. They enjoyed different cultures.
With its collection of ethnic, racial, and religious groups, America - like Ephesus of old - is a microcosm of the rest of the world. We hope that you, the Greek Orthodox of the Americas, will continue to show the way to Orthodox unity. For American Orthodoxy consists not only of Greeks, but of Russians, Georgians, Albanians, Rumanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, countless converts, and many others.
There is nothing wrong in preserving our cultural identity. There is everything wrong in sacrificing or subordinating our spiritual identity.
This is perhaps the greatest lesson that you can teach your Orthodox brothers and sisters throughout the world. For every time Orthodox of different ethnic backgrounds share the chalice of Holy Community - as you often do here in the Americas - Ecumenical Orthodoxy takes a step forward.
Every time a great ecumenical leader like Archbishop Iakovos calls together his Orthodox brethren - as his Eminence did with the creation of SCOBA, the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops of America - united Orthodoxy takes a step forward. Every time American Orthodox gather in the name of the Church- as you have with the International Orthodox Christian Charities - united Orthodoxy takes a step forward.
His All-Holiness has a very special love for the Americas. He remembers fondly his many trips here -especially when he accompanied his predecessor Patriarch Dimitrios of blessed memory. I had the privilege of attending His All-Holiness' name day celebration on June 11. He shared with me his hopes and dreams for the Church in this hemisphere. And let me just say that those hopes are not small hopes, and those dreams are not modest dreams. he expects the world from you - and this is as it should be between the Mother Church and her daughter.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate does not simply follow the development of the Orthodox Church in America - it shares your concerns and your expectations. And this, too, is as it should be between the Mother Church and her daughter.
The Greek Orthodox Church here is a natural extension of the Patriarchate. And just as the Mother Church is the first See of the world Orthodoxy - with increased responsibilities, a special ministry and a primary role in the affairs of Orthodox Churches throughout the world - likewise the daughter church of the Americas has a special ministry in the New World, a ministry of relevance to all of us.
Sisters and brothers, as His All-Holiness is so fond of saying, "The time for Orthodoxy has arrived." It is a time for love, a time for faith, a time for renewal. Our new spiritual order begins with each individual being reborn as part of the Ecumenical Orthodox Christian Church. And you in the Americas are called upon to lead the way.
We must recapture the daring spirit not only of the Great Patriarchs of the Throne - Chrysostom, Gregory, Photios, Athenagoras, and Dimitrios - but also of the dreamers who left their homelands, our forbearers, the pioneers who established the Church in the Americas, North and South. We must take from the altar of the past the fire, not the ashes. But we cannot be satisfied merely to follow in the footsteps of the wise. We must be wise ourselves, and seek what they sought, and find what they found.
Beloved friends, the time fur Orthodoxy has arrived. The Fanari - the Light on the Hill, and the Diogenes of our ecclesial conscience - stands ready to guide you with its bright beacon. The Americas are strong, but spiritually, we must look to the centuries - old strength of the Ecumenical Throne, and to the cross and empty tomb of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May Our Heavenly Father grant us the wisdom to seize this moment, the strength to pursue our task; and the good fortune to succeed.
And may Our Lord Christ bless his All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and guide forever the Greek Orthodox Church of the Americas May His Holy Spirit continue to inspire its Archbishop and hierarchy; its reverend clergy and presbyteres; and all who labor in the vineyard of Christ, along with all of you and your families and the work of our hands.