HIS EMINENCE ARCHBISHOP DEMETRIOS
TO THE DELEGATES AND PARTICIPANTS OF
THE 36TH BIENNIAL CLERGY LAITY CONGRESS
LOS ANGELES, CA - 2002
OPENING CEREMONIES - JULY 1
The Lord said to His disciples: "Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, even so I send you" (John 20:21). This was the great and unique apostolic commission given by the risen Christ to His disciples, a commission that has changed the world.
The Lord says to us today, July 1, year 2002, here in Los Angeles: "Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, even so I send you."
This is our great and holy commission. And this is the essential meaning of the phrase "Offering our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America", the phrase which constitutes the theme of our 36th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress. "Offering our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America" means to respond dynamically, creatively and consistently to the holy call that Christ addresses to us: "As the Father sent me, even so I send you."
God the Father sent to us Christ, the Son; He offered Him to us, to all humanity, to the whole world, so that we may have abundant life, enduring peace and eternal salvation.
But then, Christ our God sends us to the world, to our fellow human beings, specifically, to the people of contemporary America. He sends us to do what He did, to bring the joyful and saving message of the Gospel, to offer the unfailing love of Christ, the fullness of His life and His unwavering truth. We are entrusted by Jesus Christ with the awesome mission and the sacred task to do what He did, to offer unhesitantly, wholeheartedly, without reservations or conditions what He offered, to continue His work which He sealed with His sacrificial death on the Cross and His glorious Resurrection. We are called by Him to be at any place and at any time, but particularly here in America, today, His visible, touchable, life-giving presence.
Beloved and respected Hierarchs, priests and deacons, lay brothers and sisters, I greet you this morning warmly, and I embrace you with reverence as this visible and touchable presence of Christ, as ambassadors of God, which you are, commissioned by Him and gathered here to this holy and sacred meeting of our Archdiocese, our 36th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress. Welcome to the city of Angels as angels, as messengers of Christ the Lord.
Two years have passed since our last meeting in Philadelphia. Two years filled with activities, events, growth, difficulties and progress, joys and sorrows; years filled with explosive death on September 11, 2001, but also with explosive life and love. God gave us much more than all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). He gave us the grace to be able to say with St. Paul, "In all things we are more than conquerors through Him (i.e. Christ) who loved us" (Rom. 8:37).
During the past two years, God offered us a multitude of gifts, a plethora of blessings. It would take long hours even to enumerate them briefly. But let me bring back from memory just a few of them as indications of the intense love and graciousness of God and as items for a warm thanksgiving prayer.
1) Six Churches were consecrated and two had Thyranixia or opening ceremonies in various parts of the country: New Orleans in Louisiana, Cardiff-by-the-Sea in California, Elkins Park in Pennsylvania, Annapolis in Maryland, Bayard in Nebraska, Dallas in Texas, Port Jefferson in New York, and Naples in Florida. In almost all of the cases the consecrated Churches belong to elaborate building complexes, including Community Centers, Classrooms, Gymnasiums and office space. This shows a tremendous activity by our communities. In addition to the consecration of Churches we had inaugurations of Community Halls, Cultural Centers, schoolrooms or groundbreaking ceremonies for similar projects in places like Houston, Texas; Staten Island, New York; Waterbury, Connecticut; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Denver, Colorado. At this moment a significant activity is taking place all over the United States related to building new Churches or expanding old ones and constructing buildings and facilities in order to accommodate the ever-increasing needs of the communities. Just in our immediate vicinity here in Los Angeles, in the suburb of Downey, we visited last Friday evening a new, magnificent Church under construction. We offer thanks to God for this building and for the expanding activity of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
2) Three new Bishops have been ordained and have been given to the Church.
They are the Chief Secretary of our Holy Synod, Bishop Gerasimos of Krateia,
the Chancellor of our Holy Archdiocese, Bishop Savas of Troas, and the
Director of the Philanthropic work of our Holy Archdiocese, Bishop Andonios
of Phasiane. They are gifted and dedicated Hierarchs, who will direct
important areas of our Church ministries and serve as Auxiliary Bishops,
thus covering vital pastoral and spiritual needs of our communities.
3) In the 35th Clergy-Laity Congress in Philadelphia we reported a sizeable debt from the past, which weighted heavily on our Archdiocese, drastically hampering our work and ministries. A quiet effort was made which started with the members of the previous Archdiocesan Council and continued with the members of the present one, who have been working tremendously and marvelously between Congresses. The eagerness of the truly distinguished members of our Church to assist with the task to eliminate the debt was amazing. Here, a remarkable phenomenon emerged, and something unexpected happened. Who would really think that people would give large amounts of money for the dissolution of past loans, deficits and debts? However, the unexpected happened! Between Philadelphia of 2000 and Los Angeles of 2002, within less than 2 years, some astonishingly generous brothers and sisters offered more than 5 million dollars in donations, thus radically reducing our debt. Quite a blessing. Just last April one such truly noble brother came up to me after a meeting and said: "I know that we have still a remaining debt of 1.5 million dollars to a bank. I think our dignity, our identity as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America obliges us to eliminate it as soon as possible. For this reason, he added, please accept a half a million dollar donation from me, but anonymously, toward this goal." We give thanks to God for the very noble souls, the truly champion contributors of more than 5 million dollars towards the elimination of the heavy debt which tormented our Archdiocese.
4) September 11, 2001 has been a day of death, darkness and unbelievable pain.
As a Greek Orthodox Community we lost approximately 25 members of our
community. They might have been more, but unfortunately there is no secure
data available. May the memory of our brothers and sisters slaughtered
on September 11 be eternal. At the same, exceedingly painful time, however,
God granted to our Church the opportunity to offer in the midst of death,
destruction and unbearable pain, love and comfort and assistance.
5) Another special blessing during this two year period has been the progress at our Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology. A concerted effort by our Hierarchs, Priests, and communities and various individuals, together with the substantial assistance of a generous offering of scholarships by Leadership 100 resulted in a doubling of the number of first year students, especially in the School of Theology for the academic year 2001-2002. We have the same phenomenon for the academic year 2002-2003. This practically means that we reasonably expect a dramatic increase of the people preparing for the priesthood and thus covering a vital need of our Church in America. Certainly, this Church in America could easily accommodate double the number of priests. We give thanks to God for the progress of our sacred institution of Hellenic College - Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
6) Among the special blessings, we should also include the activities of our Archdiocese related to SCOBA. The IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities), which this year completed ten years of existence, continues to develop and increase its activities to a considerable degree, spending millions of dollars in assistance to areas of disaster and urgent needs around the world. The same holds true for the OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center), which at this point in time has 54 of our people fully working in missionary fields outside of the United States and supports financially many Orthodox Churches in Africa, the Far East, and Albania. Currently, the Mission Center is providing for the salaries for all of the Orthodox priests in Africa, so we are not just praying, and giving advice, we are offering financial support. OCMC has a budget of approximately 2 million per year, which increasing, a fact indicative of its activities and bright prospects. We give thanks to God for the work of IOCC and OCMC.
As the Greek Orthodox Church we have been the blessed recipients of the precious and unique gifts of God for the past 2000 years all over the world, and for the past 100 plus years here in America, starting with our heroic pioneers. Today, in view of such an amazing past loaded with gifts and blessings, in view of the progress and astonishing achievements of our community, and in view of the immediate and the distant future, we hear again and again the commission of our Lord: "Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, even so I send you." (John 20:21) It is the commission to continue with more intensity, creativity and effectiveness the offering of our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America.
What are the prospects before us? How do we see such an offering on our part? What is the true vision of transforming a divine mandate into powerful action?
1) Offering our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America begins with each one of us individually. The Lord Jesus Christ sends personally every member of our Church to offer the treasures of the Orthodox Faith to the people we meet, to the people who constitute contemporary America. He gives us the privilege to share with others the treasures of the absolute and liberating truth of God and the infinite, life-giving love of Christ. Are we ready and well prepared as individuals to respond to such an awesome call? Are we growing in the knowledge of Christ and in a sustained, personal close relationship with Him? Is our knowledge of the truth of God adequately advanced? Are we well aware of our Hellenic Orthodox tradition? Is our individual life of worship and prayer sufficiently rich? Are we in a state of continuous growth in our love and care for others who are assuredly contemporary Americans? If our Orthodox Faith is not organically and inseparably related to our personal life, there is no real way to offer it to anyone. In the final analysis, we cannot offer our faith to contemporary America, we cannot be ambassadors of Christ, we cannot be the true, whole image of Christ if we are not personally and fully committed to Him. Such a commitment must be characteristic of each and every member of our Church, if we are serious about offering our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America.
2) The commission, however, to share what we have and to give what we have generously received from God, the commission to offer our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America, goes beyond individuals, and addresses the Church as such. And the center of the Church as witness of faith is the Parish, the community of believers gathered around the Eucharistic holy table.
It is the Parish, it is the local community which has been, is, and will forever
be the central, indispensable agent for offering our Orthodox faith to
The Archdiocese as a whole and the Dioceses as parts of it must focus on the Parishes, constantly assist them, consistently serve them, providing them with all means available so that they can be true witnesses of the Gospel, genuine transmitters of the life of Jesus and His salvation offered to all people and to contemporary America. Our Dioceses and Hierarchs do this constantly and with care.
As the Archdiocese we will intensify and enlarge our efforts to be focused on our Parishes, we will steadily persist in our task to be of substantive and effective assistance to our communities. With the help of God we intend to establish a relationship in which the primary concern is to serve the Parish, to promote and enhance the life and activities of the local communities all over the country. Only strong, healthy and constantly developing church communities can offer our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America in a realistic way. But how are we going to strengthen and develop our parishes? What are the specific steps we intend to take in order to make them units of vitality and powerful witnesses of faith?
3) In order to advance the real serving attitude of the Archdiocese toward our Parishes, we have already started or are about to start a number of specific major projects. Let me briefly give you a report on them.
1. The existing department of Family and Marriage at the Archdiocese, dealing mostly with cases of mixed or interfaith marriages, is rapidly developing and becoming the Center for Family Care. It will be located and operating at St. Basil Academy in Garrison N.Y. The Center for Family Care will develop programs and resources that will address questions and issues related to preparation for marriage, marital difficulties, mixed marriages, clergy families, and families of divorces. It will also produce video, audio and printed material relevant to the above mentioned areas and make these resources available to Parishes and families. It will organize seminars and educational opportunities that will address areas of family life and development and will make available counseling possibilities via telephone or the Internet. All of these resources will be available and easily deliverable to our parishes so that the families within each community will become the object of constant and methodical attention, care and assistance. Our vision and our objective, in this instance, is to create with the help of God a Center for Family Care that will be a model institution for the advancement of healthy, happy, and dynamic Orthodox families, and for the full incorporation of interfaith marriages into the life of each and every Parish. Our vision is to create a model institution, which will be a leader in the field of family care among the Christian denominations of contemporary America.
Department is also being restructured and expanded so that it will be
able to offer to our parishes the necessary help in organizing the work
related to the youth. In cooperation with the Department of Religious
Education and the Greek Education Department, which provide hundreds of
educational resources, the Youth Department will assist the communities
in their tasks related to JOY, GOYA and YAL. Particular attention has
been given to YAL, a vital young age group of our Church, which probably
has not been provided with the proper means for a healthy growth in recent
years. Also, particular attention is being given to the revitalization
of the Orthodox Campus Fellowship, a ministry under SCOBA which is directed
towards the thousands of Orthodox students in our Colleges and Universities.
Our vision and our objective is to overcome the sad phenomenon observed
in almost all religious entities in America, according to which adolescents
and young adults in the age bracket of 16 to 30 drop out of their respective
religious communities. A mighty way to offer our Orthodox Faith to contemporary
America is to demonstrate as a fact that Orthodoxy can create a vigorous
and productive youth that remain faithfully within the Church and constitute
her most exciting and effective age group.
a third major development in organizing important Archdiocesan services
for the Parishes, thus rendering our offering of our Faith to contemporary
America more effective. This is the creation of the Philanthropy Department.
major project, a project of truly impressive proportions and demanding
tasks is the one dealing with communications. Here you have the whole
area of web-sites and the Internet in general, video and audio productions,
printed material preparation and distribution, and the connection with
major development related to our mission for offering the witness of our
Orthodox Faith to today's American society, is the intensification and
growth of the educational activities of our Church. There is an urgent
need to advance the knowledge of our Orthodox Tradition and our truly
universal Hellenic heritage. This is a splendid heritage that is integrally
connected with our Orthodox Faith, is encompassing the vast areas of culture,
civilization and language, and is not narrowly ethnic but belongs to the
whole civilized world. There is an urgent need for creating a body of
faithful who will be truly illumined, truly educated, truly and fully
informed about our Greek Orthodox identity.
We have presented five major developments of great importance for offering our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America:
1. The Center for Family Care;
2. The restructuring and intensification of the work of Youth Ministry;
3. The creation of the Philanthropy Department;
4. The reorganizing of the Communications Department for maximum, state of the art performance; and
5. The enhancement and promotion of our educational activities.
The importance of the above mentioned
developments has to do also with the fact that they are developments fully
directed towards our Parishes and for the benefit of them.
But this is not a matter of a very few major donors. This is a matter of all of our faithful. The projects we are talking about must be warmly embraced by all, strongly supported by all, passionately promoted by all. They are projects aimed at offering our Orthodox Faith to contemporary America in a well-focused, carefully balanced, and all-encompassing manner.
The results might far exceed our thoughts, expectations and visions. The results might not be many, but one: the creation of a new era in the history of Orthodoxy, the creation of a new model in ecumenical Orthodoxy, the model of Greek-American Orthodoxy of the 21st century and beyond. Who knows if God has not sent us in this blessed country at this time, at this hour, precisely in order to offer this model of universal Orthodoxy-a model destined to carry the authentic, whole, life-giving and holy voice of Christ to every person in every place, but primarily here in contemporary America.
We are invited in the name of Christ our Lord and God, and with His invincible power to have the vision to work and to pray for an America which will become the place of a shining, pioneer, model and leading Orthodox Faith. This invitation might have been issued some time ago. Today in this 36th Clergy Laity Congress of our Archdiocese, This invitation is heard clearly and loudly. We have to respond to God. We have to work with Him. We have to create with Him the shining Orthodoxy of America.
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