The Greek Orthodox Theological Review - 1997

Address delivered by Archbishop Spyridon Of America
at the Commencement ceremonies of Hellenic College
and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
Brookline, MA - May 18, 1997

Christ is risen!

It is the most special of blessings to be with you today, for it is a day on which you commence your new and various journeys, all in the name of our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today is a day that is filled with hopes and dreams — those of your professors, those of your priests and bishops, those of your families, and most importantly, those of yourselves. As you go forth from here, know that these hopes and dreams are inspired by the Holy Spirit that lives in each and every one of us.

Today, you take your first steps on a path that is uniquely your own, and yet one that, together with the paths of your colleagues and friends sitting beside you, has been prepared in the Tradition of the Church. As you take these steps away from the academic and spiritual family that has nurtured you in this Tradition these last few years, believe with assurance that it was to walk along this path, that it was for this ministry — ordained or lay — that you were created by the Father of us all.

*  *  *

When I was elected Archbishop just eight months ago, I began to lay out my vision — or better yet, my own hopes and dreams — for the future of our Archdiocese. You are the first generation of seminary and college graduates that will help me to build upon that vision. I ask you today to join with me and my beloved brother bishops, as well as other dedicated priests and lay people in our Archdiocese, in giving your whole selves to the realization of this vision.

It is a vision I feel is right for our Church. It is a vision I want to share with you now.

*  *  *

This vision can be encapsulated in a short quotation taken from the charter of the Archdiocese. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:

"... is to administer the life of the Church in America according to the Eastern Orthodox Faith and Tradition, sanctifying the faithful through the Divine Liturgy and the holy Sacraments and edifying the religious and ethical life of the faithful in accordance with the holy Scriptures, the decrees and canons of the holy Apostles and the seven Ecumenical Councils of the ancient undivided Church, as interpreted by the practice of the Great Church of Constantinople."

From this quotation, several key phrases emerge: Orthodox Faith and Tradition; liturgical and sacramental life; edification of the faithful; and the guidance of the Great Church of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Mother Church of all Orthodoxy. So you see, the vision which I have, and about which I speak, is not new so much as it is a new way of bringing to fuller expression in our Church's life in America that which has been the content of our ecclesial being since the beginning.

First, Orthodox Faith and Tradition. You all knοw from your studies here at Hellenic College and Holy Cross that we have a glorious Faith, and that the history of the Church is filled with equally glorious moments. You also knοw, perhaps from your own local parish life as much as from your studies here, that the Church in America has had a fascinating story as well. But, while there are indeed high points in our American Church life, can we really say that we reflect the glory of our ancient Tradition?

Certainly we can say that, in some ways, our ecclesial life is more vibrant here than in other Orthodox countries, where various temptations and hardships have apparently sapped the vitality out of everyday practice of the Faith. But do we have the same ethos that has sustained Orthodoxy in those countries all these many centuries'? I think we can do much better.

In short, I believe that, as a Church, we often forget our roots, and thus the face of our Church is pale when it should be flushed with blood and vigor. We often lose sight of what we could be, and thus settle for stunted growth. In other words, we are often content to settle for less than is our legacy. There is only one solution to this situation. In order to claim our full inheritance, in order to nourish an Orthodox ethos, we must re­turn to our roots; we must rediscover our ancient Tradition; we must find our spiritual center once again.

All of us together — the bishops, the priests, the laity who choose other vocations and leadership roles within the Archdiocese — all of us must lead the Church back to its spiritual center. We must make manifest to the Faithful the truths embodied in our canonical Tradition. We must open their minds to the ortho-doxia that forms the basis of our community life, knowing that all other pursuits and con­cerns are secondary at best. I look to all of you to help in this task.

*  *  *

The bulk of this responsibility, of course, falls on the shoulders of those who are ordained. For the moment, then, I will speak to the clergy and future clergy among you.

With Christ as our example, it is our vocation as pastors to do all we can to teach our faithful what it is to follow Christ to both the cross and glory. This is admittedly a tall order. But we are priests. We have chosen to accept this responsibility through our ordination to the ministry. But the crux of the situation is this: in order to truly fulfill this responsibility, we must regain our priestly identity as formed by the Tradition of the Church. This identity is found primarily and preeminently in its liturgical context.

I have said many times — and I will say it again — that Liturgy is everything in the Orthodox Church. It is not for nothing, then, that I have made the liturgical life of our Archdiocese — the second of the key phrases I highlighted earlier — a priority in my archiepiscopal ministry.

Indeed, not only is Liturgy our own treasure to cherish, it is also our most unique and beautiful gift that we offer to the world. It is in our liturgical services that we worship God, preach the Gospel, express our faith, and find the meaning of our life as a community, as a eucharistic community. Because of this, I have begun the work nec­essary to ensure the fullest and most beautiful possible liturgical experience for all of our faithful, whether it be a matter of translation, music, or a full liturgical cycle in our parishes.

But more important for our purposes today, I have given priority to Liturgy because it is precisely in this context that we ultimately find the meaning of the Priesthood. Above all, priests are spiritual fathers of their communities, men who bring wholeness and reconciliation to the Body of Christ through the preaching of the Word of God and the celebration of the eucharistic mysteries. United as they are with their bishops, whom they represent before the altar and in the midst of their communities, theirs is a role that cannot be sepa­rated from the eucharistic fellowship of which they are the celebrants.

Let me put it another way, and in a way that sounds less like you would have heard in the classroom. As described during a meeting earlier this week with the clergy from the Archdiocesan District, I made this same point by stating that, perhaps due to the American cultural milieu, perhaps due to the late twentieth century infatuation with "popular" psychology, perhaps due to the world's preoccupation with wealth, too often many priests seek to define themselves according to a standard other than that set by the Church. Yes, they are cognizant of their role in the parish, but they often seek to enhance that role through other means: flaunting their academic degrees; relying more heavily on their financial portfolios than on the good­will of God; confusing psychological counseling with spiritual pasturing.

I further stated that, rather than trying to embellish their role as priests, they should see that it is their priestly vocation that enhances all else they do. For example, a priest may be a first-rate counselor, but the point of reference for his counseling should be his liturgical role in the community. This leaves no room, then, for boasting in accomplishments, seeking financial security above all else, or any other confusion. Instead, we must be faithful to the Tradition, to canonical order, and to the high ethical standards that in turn bring the respect of the laity.

To those of you who are priests or will one day become priests, I say to you: above all else, you are to be spiritual fathers to the people entrusted to your care. In turn, I pledge to you that the Archdiocese will not let outside forces — cultural or otherwise — diminish your role as priests, and that we will do whatever we can to enhance the iconic image of Christ that you are — or will soon be — in your parishes.

*  *  *

Now, I do not want to limit my discussion to the clergy, because to be the iconic image of Christ is not limited to priests, but includes everyone within the Church's embrace. Therefore, I turn my attention now to all of you together, clergy and lay men and women who will most assuredly help to lead the Church back to its spiritual center.

As you may know from comments I have made in the past, my other priority is Religious Education. This comprises the third point above, namely the edification of the faithful. It is a matter that concerns adult members of the Church as well as the children.

Religious Education is a priority for me because it goes to the heart of our being: the goal of all our efforts is to lead men and women to salvation. For this reason, we need to strengthen our programs of Religious Education so that all people in the Church may know their faith, may accept their faith, and may articulate their faith. Indeed, we must get to the point where our faithful can articulate, to others and ultimately to themselves, why they adhere to Orthodoxy, and can do so intelligently.

The key word here is intelligently. We live in a world today where advances are made in every field imaginable. Indeed, many of our faithful work in probably every one of these areas: genetics, AIDS research, computer and information technology, the physical sciences, psychology, medicine, management, and other such fields. Our people must be given the tools so that, in the midst of the world around us, our Faith will always make as much sense to them as it does to you. We must give them the ability to say with full conviction in response to the paschal greeting with which I began these remarks that, "Truly, He is Risen!" This, my friends, is what is at stake.

And this is where I look to all of you. You have received much knowledge here these last few years; it is now time to share that knowledge with others.

You have heard it said that we must bring the refreshing perspective of our Orthodox Tradition to the issues we face today. This is true. But it is also true that our ortho-doxia compels us to bring ever-new perspectives to the Tradition, so that we can rightly minister to the many who come looking for answers to today's questions. In this vein, then, I remind you that it is not good enough to merely quote the Fathers in response to these questions, as many Orthodox Christians are apt to do. Instead, we must adopt the method of the Fathers and delve into the Scriptures and use every means available to us to intelligently and adequately teach the truths by which the Fathers lived, and for which the martyrs died.

Therefore, I ask each and every one of you to join me in this task. Clergy, you knοw your role. Lay men and women, no matter what field you ultimately enter, your role is to teach right alongside the priests, in your parishes, in your homes, and in your communities.

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This brings me to the fourth and final point I want to make: our relationship with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the need to strengthen it.

As you all knοw, in the fall of this year His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will make a pastoral visit to our Archdiocese. His visit will crown the celebration of our seventy-fifth anniversary as an Archdiocese. His visit will also reaffirm for all of us that our Orthodox Faith and Byzantine Tradition, our liturgical life, and the religious education we impart to our faithful — each of the points I have just elaborated — all find their roots in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

It is for this reason that we anticipate Patriarch Bartholomew's visit with such joy. As we begin to reclaim our spiritual center, to have our spiritual Father in our midst can only inspire us to fervently pursue this goal. I have said before that we are nothing without our Mother Church. I say now that only through the guidance of the Mother Church can we fully realize the fruits of our legacy.

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This year we mark another anniversary, the sixtieth anniversary of Holy Cross School of Theology. You graduates — of both the Seminary and the College — are therefore inheritors of another legacy, a legacy of scholarship and spirituality that reflects the academic tradition of both the ancient schools of Hellenism and the monastic schools of Byzantium. You possess a body of knowledge that relatively few others in the history of the world have possessed. And now, in possession of this knowledge, you will join the ranks of the men and women who have gone forth from this hilltop before you to blaze the paths upon which you will walk.

I congratulate you on a job well done. I am so very proud of you. And I am thankful, to God first of all, to you, and finally to the professors and trustees of these institutions who so resolutely have undertaken the responsibility of preparing you for service in the vineyard of the Lord.

I have shared with you my vision for this vineyard. Certainly I have left out many of the details, but the larger picture has now been set forth for you, framed by the four points of Tradition, Liturgy, Education, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In essence, this vision calls us to a renewed spirituality. I ask all of you to join me in answering this call, and in making this vision a reality.

May our good and gracious God — the loving Father, His resurrected Son, and His abiding Spirit — bless each and every one of you.

[ The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 42, No. 3-4, 1997, pp. 203-209 ]