His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Archdiocesan District Clergy-Laity Assembly
Call, address and closing
April 2, 2022
Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church
Port Washington, New York
Almighty Lord, you created all things wisely. In Your inexpressible providence and great goodness You have brought us to these saving days of Holy Fasting, for the purification of our souls and bodies, for the control of our passions, and in the hope of the Resurrection. At the end of forty days, You delivered into the hands of Your servant Moses the tables of the law in divinely traced characters. Allow us also, O Good, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of Fasting, to keep the Faith unbroken, to crush underfoot the heads of invisible tempters, to emerge victorious over sin, and to come, blameless, to adore Your Holy Resurrection.
For blessed and glorified is your most honorable and majestic name, of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.
Your Grace Bishop Andonios de Phasiane,
Your Grace Bishop Athenagoras of Nazianzos,
Most Reverend Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Archimandrite of the Ecumenical Throne Nektarios Papazafiropulos,
Reverend District Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne Elias Villis,
District Vice President, Mr. Larry Hotzoglou,
Philoptochos District President, Ms. Jennifer Constantin,
Reverend Fathers and Presvyteres,
Delegates to this Clergy-Laity Assembly,
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
We find ourselves today under the patronage and protection of the Grand Archangel Michael, as we enjoy the Abrahamic hospitality and brotherly welcome of our host parish here in Port Washington. I would like to thank the clergy and lay leaders of Archangel Michael Parish for their warm and generous welcome from all of us here at our Archdiocesan District Clergy-Laity Assembly.
Our work today is vitally important, as in the hundredth year of our sacred archdiocese – as the first eparchy of our mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate – we are preparing for a historic clergy-laity congress in New York next July. . The implications of our observances for this moment begin now. They begin here, with the ingenuity and thoughtfulness of our labors today, because we host the rest of our sisters and brothers from across the country.
And as we are hosting this year’s historic Clergy-Laity Convention, we count on the support of every community in the District to help make this event a successful, fruitful and spiritually prosperous Convention.
As I approach this third Holy Week and Easter – and indeed my third year as Archbishop – I marvel at what we have been able to accomplish together. The renewed vigor I found on my arrival in this Nation has been a constant source of encouragement. And I thank God for that! For we have been in the midst of the worst global pandemic in over a century, which has engulfed our entire world and altered our way of life.
I want to give special thanks to our clergy, who have worked so diligently and creatively to safeguard the spiritual well-being of the flocks entrusted to their care. We’re not one hundred percent off the hook yet, as they say, and the pandemic may be with us in a milder version for the foreseeable future. But one thing is certain: the work of the Church continues, regardless of the challenges, and the clergy is ready to meet those challenges.
In the midst of the pandemic, on August 3, 2020, to be exact, we resumed work on St. Nicholas National Shrine after an almost three-year hiatus. It was an extraordinary step. But even more unprecedented was the behind-the-scenes fundraising that made the completion of the sanctuary a reality. I would like to acknowledge the incredible work of the Reverend Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne Alexander Karloutsos – who will be celebrating his birthday in a few days. Father Alex, with the Friends of St. Nicholas, undertook a truly remarkable blitz, which raised sixty-five million dollars in less than twelve months. This transformational fundraiser removed all past obstacles and paved the way for the successful completion of the sanctuary.
The Reverend Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne Andreas Vithoulkas, who is Proistamenos and Archiepiscopal Vicar of the Sanctuary, is with us today and will report to you on progress. Of course, we had hoped to have the first Holy Week and the first Easter since the horrible tragedy of September 11, but I can tell you that the demands of completing a monumental construction project, such as this, are not not so simple, especially in a pandemic and global supply chain crisis. Yes, it’s a small structure, but it’s really a jewelry box, like a Fabergé egg. Nonetheless, I have been assured that we are on schedule for a 4th of July consecration, and I know this will make a huge impression on clergy and lay delegates across the country.
* * *
Our centenary as an archdiocese is cause for rejoicing and celebration of our past and our present. But more than that, this centennial is a reason to reflect deeply and soberly on our future – both on our institutional mission and on our presence as the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ here in these United States of America.
If you look at the archdiocese’s sacramental statistics over the past two decades, you see a decline in all but one category: funerals. And we are not alone. The Orthodox presence in America has been in decline for some time now, as have most traditional Western Church communities. We are not free from cultural tendencies, but we do have a cultural advantage – if we are willing to use it!
I want to share something with you that I shared at the last Leadership One Hundred conference just six weeks ago:
[T]There is immense pride in Greek ancestry and heritage, but it is something that is shared by all who claim Western civilization as their intellectual and spiritual home. Consequently, without the culture of a new generation of Philhellenes, the great legacies of the past will find it increasingly difficult to pass on. Today, as we strive to make Greek, Classical and Orthodox education relevant to our children and supported in our communities, we need the Philhellenes of our country who love Greece – both ancient and modern. For through the love of culture will also come the love of our faith. Or it can happen the other way around. But the truth is that for our Church to grow and prosper in the next century of its life, we need those good people who will adopt our faith and our traditions – and perhaps even our language.[*]
If we are to make the next hundred years as glorious as the last hundred, then we must commit ourselves to bringing our followers to a sense, understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a Greek Orthodox Christian. We should neither boast while looking down on others, nor discriminate and use our faith and heritage as a weapon. We must be honest about who we are: Greek Orthodox Christians, agents of God’s love – descendants of the greatest Christian tradition the world has ever known. And this Tradition is alive and relevant not only for us, but for the whole of society around us, which seeks the very anchors of faith and the philosophy of life that our faith offers.
Our Orthodox tradition “is the living faith of the dead”, not the “dead faith of the living”, as the late great historian Jaroslav Pelikan so eloquently put it. [†]
We have so much to offer our people and the society in which we live. People seek depth, purpose, and meaning that breathes life into their hearts and minds.
We have so much to offer as a Church, but we need to know our own tradition and what it really means. Our roots are deep in the past, but we do not engage in any form of ancestor worship. As another sage said:
The tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire. [‡]
We can and must move forward with intention and determination: the intention to be clear about our priorities and the resolve to achieve them – with God’s help and by His Grace.
And this applies not only to our archdiocesan district, but to our entire archdiocese. Therefore, together with Father Andreas Vithoulkas who cares for and directs the National Shrine of St. Nicholas, I have appointed the V. Rev. Archimandrite of the Ecumenical Throne Nektarios Papazafiropoulos to take on a more national ministry as Chancellor of our Archdiocese. I relieved him of responsibilities directly related to the Archdiocesan District by appointing the Reverend Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne Elias Villis as District Chancellor. Both of these clergy are capable and qualified leaders, all of whom will help you achieve your goals in your individual parishes.
This centennial year of our sacred Archdiocese of America is truly a turning point for all of us. And here, as an aside, I want to make special mention of the District’s financial contributions for the Centennial, and express my gratitude to you all.
In this centenary year, let us therefore redouble our efforts and magnify our energies as one Archdiocese united to establish the Kingdom of God among us.
Let us engage in the heritage of our past and transform our Parishes into true Houses of worship and knowledge, not allowing them to be relegated to the rank of museums of a sclerotic religion almost incomprehensible to our own faithful.
Let us share the glories – spiritual and cultural – of our Christocentric faith with our neighbors, and cultivate both the “phil-Orthodox” and the philhellenes in our society at large. Our future depends on it.
And finally, let’s be proud of who we are – proud of gratitude to God – and not arrogant or pretentious.
Proud that we have been honored to be the bearers of the most precious heritage of original Christianity and the Hellenic spirit (in which Christianity was molded for its preaching to the world).
Thus, we will make the next hundred years brighter and more fruitful than the first hundred – which, when we look around us, reveal a Church of extreme vitality and prosperity.
The challenge before us is great, but one of the positive consequences of the pandemic is that it has shown us that we are ready to face any challenge.
May God grant us wisdom and strength to fulfill our high calling in Christ – to the glory of His Holy Name.
In closing today, I wish once again to thank our host parish of the Archangel Michael, and all of you, delegates and participants of this Clergy-Laity Assembly of our Archdiocesan District.
We have much to accomplish before the Biennial Clergy-Laity Convention, so I commend you all for the work at hand.
I pray that God will bless you and your families throughout this Great and Holy Lent, keeping you safe and healthy, and granting you to attain His Holy Resurrection on the holy night of Holy Passover!
May the Good Lord bless us all! Amen.
[*] Centennial Speech to Leadership One Hundred; February 11, 2022.
[†] Interview with US News & World Report, July 26, 1989.