Orthodox Observer - October 1996

Luncheon Address of Archbishop Spyridon

This morning I was enthroned as the Archbishop of America. For those of you who were at that service, and for those of you who are here this afternoon, I am very honored and grateful that you have come to lend your voices to my prayer that I may rightly pastor this flock that God has given to me this day.

It is an awesome responsibility to be given charge of this particular Church. I my homily this morning, I spoke of America as a source of renewal for Orthodoxy. I spoke of an America whose very essence is the inclusion of all peoples, as a place where the Greek Orthodox Church can flourish as a beacon for Orthodox Christians throughout the world. Indeed, as I look around this room, I see the uniqueness of this Church, and of this country. Even this luncheon, with so many distinguished guests, with so many people who have traveled from afar, even with all the glorious flowers that adorn these tables, and the fine food, and this magnificent setting: all of this say to an Orthodox churchman who has spent most of his ministry in another country that this is a unique and wonderful place.

But of course, I come to you as an American, too. And I must say, it is good to be home.

Someone once told me that the only place you can truly be an American is outside of America. In other words, while we are in America we are merely ourselves amongst ourselves, and only when we are in an environment and circumstances foreign to us do we see ourselves as particularly American.

The thought that goes along with this axiom is that, in order to understand who we are, we must see ourselves in relationship to everyone else. This holds true for us as Americans; this holds true for the many of us in this room of Greek heritage; this holds true for those of us who are Orthodox Christians. And this holds true for me as an Orthodox churchman. I remind you of this truth because, as leaders and servants and citizens of such a great country, our vision must encompass more of our world than our own relatively narrow circumstances sometimes tempt us to allow. Otherwise, we Greek Orthodox Christians in the United States of America would end up living our Faith in the sectarian isolation of an ethnic ghetto. And I don't think-looking around this room - that is something any of us want.

The full integration of our Orthodox community into the mainstream of American society is perhaps the most profound legacy left to us by my direct predecessor, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos. Indeed, the many Orthodox civic leaders sitting in this room are a testimony to that legacy.

However, a legacy is not an inheritance to merely hold onto; it is a foundation on which to build. It is, therefore, our obligation to build on this legacy and not be content with merely being part of the American mainstream. Rather, our aim should be to witness in our American community to our Faith, and the best way to do that is to live our Faith. It is, then, our moment in history to take our witness of faith among our neighbors and join it to that of St. Paul, who advanced Christianity throughout the Greek-speaking world of his time; to join it to that of Ss. Cyril and Methodios, who brought Orthodox Christianity to the Slavs; and to join it to that of the missionaries who sacrifice even today their well-being in order to preach the Gospel in all the corners of the earth.

This is not a call to be arrogant about our Faith. It is, however, a call to simply live our faith. This is what the true evangelistic spirit has always meant. This morning I spoke of intermarriage, not as a problem, but as a blessing and an opportunity for our community to grow. But for the opportunity to truly be a blessing, it would be good to remember the admonition of an American Protestant theologian, who once wrote that it is not an indictment against others if they see the Church as it is and choose not to be Christians; if others see the Church and do not want to be Christians, it is an indictment against the Church. In other words, if we do not live out our Faith with love and humility, why should anyone-including our children's spouses-want to join it?

This morning I also spoke of the future realization of one Orthodox Church here in America, and here I echoed the thoughts of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. We must now move forward toward that bright new day when all the Orthodox in this country-Greeks. Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Arabs, and all the many others-must be united, for it is only as one Church that we will fulfill the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ when, as it is told to us in the 17th chapter of John, he prayed that his entire flock be one. Indeed, we can even extend our hopes for this unity to our partners in the ecumenical movement, although to achieve it will be a long and complicated process, as the history of ecumenical relations in this century has shown. Still, it is a hope and a goal to which I, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, are deeply committed indeed, if the 20th century has been called the "ecumenical century," why can't we dream of our great-grandchildren one day looking back on the next century as the "century of unity"?

On that long march, our Church has the potential to play an important role. The Greek Orthodox Church in this country is unique among the other Orthodox Churches Where else are Orthodox laymen and laywomen so deeply involved in the workings of the Church, not just at the parish level, but at the diocesan and Archdiocesan levels? Where else in the world is there a body resembling the Archdiocesan Council, with members who lend their time and talent to ensure fiscal and legal soundness in the administration of the Church? Where else are Orthodox laywomen so well-organized as in the National Philoptochos, with its great works of charity on the local and national levels? Where else are young people so actively involved in the Church's life, in such organizations as JOY, YAL, and the various Scouting troops affiliated with church communities? Where else have Orthodox men and women donated their money with such foresight as to provide the Church with a perpetual source of funds for its national ministries, in the form of an endowment fund known as Leadership 100? Where else have Orthodox laymen been asked to give their talents and resources with one accord to defend and build up the Patriarchate as in the Order of St. Andrew, or the Archons?

Yes, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is unique in the Orthodox world. But it is also part of the Orthodox world. And here I most specifically refer to its intimate connection with the Orthodoxy's Mother Church; the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

As we all know, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has had a glorious history. And, more than any of us know, it has a glorious future. From the 4th century to the 15th century, it's existence, or rather its worldview, defined that of the Byzantine Empire, which was the greatest Empire known to the history of the world. As the head of the Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was the symbol of Orthodoxy throughout the Empire, or since the Empire was defined by its borders, throughout the Christian world, the Oikoumene. In 1453, the Byzantine Empire came to an end. But the Ecumenical Patriarchate remained. What remained as well as the worldview of the oikoumene. And it continues to exist today. For those of us in the room who are Greek, one of the most puzzling developments in the 20th century -and this has been written about by the great English historian Steven Runciman- is that we Greeks, in our search for an identity have perhaps skipped over the largest portion of our history and have chosen the legacy of ancient Greece as that which only defines us rather than proudly looking also to the Byzantine legacy that has formed us for over 1,500 years. Only by balancing both legacies do we honor our true cultural heritage.

The Ecumenical Patriarch is well conversant with this problem, and he seeks to address it. He sees it as a matter of our Faith. Therefore, let us reiterate the reality that we have known for 2,000 years-that at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Great Church of Christ, the Phanar, is still the unwaning candle that illuminates that worldview that defines the Orthodox soul, whether it be the soul of a Greek, a Russian, an Arab, an Asian, an African, or an American.

The Ecumenical Patriarch His All Holiness Bartholomew I, is cognizant of his role as the guardian of that candle's light. And for all of world Orthodoxy he desires to brighten the flame. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese will continue to play a great part in spreading the light that emanates from the sacred flame in the Phanar. And we Orthodox believers, if we truly are agents of renewal as His All Holiness believes must recognize our obligation to be united with him in this effort. This is the perspective we need to maintain if we want to steer a clear course as an Archdiocese in the years to come. This perspective will guide our internal Church life; this perspective will guide our ecumenical life; and this perspective will guide our relations with the larger community in which we live.

We recognize the reality in America of the problems of crime, alcohol, tobacco, violence, and abortion. As Archbishop, and with the full support of His All Holiness, I assure our civic leaders - Governor Pataki, Senator Sarbanes, Michael Bilirakis, and others present, as well as those not present this afternoon-that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America stands ready to help address these problems.

We also recognize the reality in America of civil rights abuses and racism-we see it, for example, in the burning of black Churches-and we deplore it. As Archbishop, I assure you that our Archdiocese stands ready to meet this hatred head-on, with both the love of Christ and the active participation of our people. These evils do harm against holy and well-meaning people around the world, especially the crimes of violence and hatred and racism, which in other countries take the form of ethnic divisions and nationalistic aberrations and religious wars. As Archbishop, I assure you that we join the peacemakers of the world in the flight against these horrible forms of hatred. Enabling us to do battle against such evils is, of course, the Holy Spirit. but also assisting us is knowledge of the fact that we live in a country founded on tolerance, religious freedom, and human rights.

These principles are the core of our values as Americans. And they are what we, as Orthodox believers, yearn to pass on to our children along with the tenets particular to the Christian faith.

Next year, our Archdiocese celebrates many anniversaries. It is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese. It is the 75th anniversary, too, of the AHEPA, which has always supported our Archdiocese. It is the 60th anniversary-of Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology. I look forward to celebrating these events with you, and I look forward to welcoming Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who will honor us with his presence at these celebrations.

His visit to America, in the fall of next year, will kick off our countdown to the new millennium. And this fitting. In the face of the next 1,000 years of Christian Faith, a visit from His All Holiness, whose unique historical and theological vantage point gives him the clearest of vision, will help us to reaffirm what we believe in, and help us to see what a the future can hold for us.

And it will be a bright future. All of us in this room have a share in that future, all of the parishioners back home in your communities have a share in that future. And I feel blessed to be walking toward that future with each and every one of you, guiding you as the appointed shepherd of this Church.

And as we walk toward the future, we must not forget our past. And the great debt we owe to our forebears. As one writer put it:

We owe a great debt to the Great Church. Where would we be without the liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great?...the glorious Nicene Creed?...the definitions of Christ and the Trinity as formulated by the Ecumenical Councils? the sublime icons? How many others have labored in our behalf that we could come to this hour as Orthodox Christians? All that we have, all that we are, the great treasure of our faith has been bought with enormous price. We are not our own. We were bought with a price none can repay. We are debtors living on great gifts from the past.

Thank you for your dedication as Greek Orthodox believers. Thank you for your participation in Church life, at the local, diocesan and national levels. Thank you for your presence today.

I would be remiss if I did not also thank the members of the Enthronement Committee, who worked diligently to make this a momentous occasion for you, especially His Grace Bishop Sotirios, who served as General Chairman of this luncheon, and who also commendably served as Archiepiscopal Vicar during the transition, as well as our Chairman and Co-Chairman. Mr. Alex G. Spanos and Mr. John A. Catsimatidis. And I would be equally remiss if I did not thank my staff as well, for all the work they have done for our Archdiocese, and for all of the services they will continue to provide in the years to come.

My thanks to all of you. Thank you, our distinguished guests, church and civic leaders who honor me with your presence. Thank you, Your Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, for your words, and for the Church you have left in my care. I know I speak for everyone when I say that in your 37 years as Archbishop, you have been a faithful steward of the Church here in America. and Thank you, Your Eminence Metropolitan Ioakeim, my good friend and beloved brother in the Lord, for bringing the blessing of our spiritual father, His All Holiness, to us today.

This is a blessed day. Let us go forward, as God has commanded us to multiply these blessings.

[ Orthodox Observer - Vol. 61 - No. 1119 - October 1996 - pp. 4,21,27 ]
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