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The Address of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph to the General Assembly of the 52nd Archdiocesan Convention

The Address of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph to the General Assembly of the 52nd Archdiocesan Convention 
July 24, 2015, Boston, Massacusetts

Listen to His Eminence's address on Ancient Faith Radio

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Your Beatitude and Beloved father in Christ Patriarch John X, brother Hierarchs, Reverend Clergy, beloved monastics, honored guests, and delegates to this 52nd Archdiocesan Convention:

I greet you with great joy as we gather together as one unified Archdiocese of the Church of Antioch to do the work of the Lord. Our joy is increased a hundred fold by the presence of our Father in Christ, His Beatitude Patriarch John X who is presiding over this Convention. We welcome him with love and prayers for the great burden which he carries to be the father of all of his spiritual children throughout the vast expanse of the world where we find the Church of Antioch. We bear in mind that His Beatitude has spiritual children around the world, from the Middle East to Europe, from North America to Central and South America, and from Australia and New Zealand to the Philippines. Wherever he is present, he is ever mindful of the needs of his spiritual children everywhere, and he never ceases to search for ways to bring comfort to them. May our gracious and loving Lord bless him and his ministry to all of us.

Introductory Statement about the Archdiocese

The quote with which I began this address is from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews, and it forms the theme for my address today. It reminds us, in the most powerful terms possible, of our struggle to run the race which is set before us with faith and endurance. But it also reminds us that we cannot run this race on our own, but rather we look to the power of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, the "author and finisher of our faith" to be the force by which all things are possible. This is expressed so beautifully by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians when he teaches "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

Among the "great cloud of witnesses" stand those men who have preceded me as the leaders of this God-protected Archdiocese, most notably our Father among the Saints Raphael of Brooklyn, Metropolitan Antony Bashir, and Metropolitan Philip Saliba, all of thrice blessed memory. As you know, our Father in Christ Patriarch John X has declared this year to be the official Jubilee year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the repose of St. Raphael of Brooklyn. We acknowledge with gratitude the strong foundation which has been granted to us by the tireless work and sacrifice of these men, and ask our Lord to grant them rest in His Eternal Kingdom. We especially acknowledge our beloved Metropolitan Philip as we gather at the first Archdiocesan Convention without his strong physical presence, but with the assurance that he intercedes with the Lord on behalf of this Archdiocese. His accomplishments over the 48 years of his leadership have given us a very strong foundation upon which we will build. May His Memory be Eternal!

There is much work to be done in many areas throughout this Archdiocese. Foundations are very important, but the Church cannot prosper on foundations alone. We must continue to build beautiful and magnificent structures upon those foundations. I do not speak of physical structures alone, but more importantly spiritual structures. If we are to run this race with endurance, it will take a strong team effort from everyone who is a part of this Archdiocese. Hierarchs, clergy, and laity alike must all be contributors. The Metropolitan is not separated from his brother bishops, the clergy, or the laity. Rather, he is called to be the brother to the hierarchs, and the father to all of the spiritual children who have been placed under his care. Everything that we do must be rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ who teaches us that "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

Relationship to our Mother Church of Antioch

Our Father in Christ Patriarch John X bears witness to the pain and suffering of our brethren in Syria, and all throughout the Middle East. The human tragedy in Syria is beyond our imagination with thousands killed and wounded, millions displaced from their homes, and an entire generation of children scarred for life by the horror of senseless violence. We stand in solidarity with our brethren who are suffering so greatly, and we assure them of not only our prayers, but our material help which we pray can bring some measure of comfort to them. We continue to pray for the two abducted bishops, Metropolitan Paul, and Archbishop John, both of Aleppo who were kidnapped more than two years ago. It is a disgrace that the global community is not addressing their capture, and seems to have forgotten them altogether. We call on people and governments of good will around the world to speak out on their behalf, and to demand their safe and timely release from captivity.

Our Father in Christ Patriarch John X also bears witness to the strong unity within the See of Antioch. His presence here is not only a personal presence, but also represents the presence of all of my brother hierarchs who are the members of the Holy Synod of Antioch. We pledge that the strong bond of unity between this Archdiocese of North America and our Mother Church of Antioch will remain strong, and that we will work at all times to insure that no force can interrupt that unity. We will respect all of the decisions made by the Holy Synod of Antioch, and we will abide by them. We will implement modern channels of communication, and utilize these channels of communication frequently and to great benefit.

Relationship with the Brother Hierarchs of this Archdiocese

As I said earlier in this address, the Metropolitan does not stand apart from his brother hierarchs. The hierarchs who watch over the dioceses in which they are located have a most important role to play, and they work as a team with mutual love and respect. I have already made many visitations to the various dioceses, and I will continue to do that so that I can maintain strong contact and communications not only with the faithful in those dioceses, but also with my brother bishops. The demonstration of our mutual love and respect is greatly enhanced when we embrace each other in person, and concelebrate the divine services. There is no substitute for this personal contact, and I will strive to maximize it.

Relationships with other Orthodox Jurisdictions

As you all know, this Archdiocese is an active member of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States. There has been much talk over the years about achieving Orthodox Unity in North America. First let me emphasize that we already have Orthodox Unity as it applies to sharing the One Holy Orthodox Faith. The canonical Orthodox Churches worship together, commune in each others churches, and the clergy celebrate divine services together frequently. This aspect of our unity is the most important aspect, and it must be preserved and strengthened wherever possible. In addition, the faithful must not be confused by pastoral practices which vary across the different jurisdictions. To that end, the Committee on Pastoral Practices, of which I am the chairman, has been laboring diligently to regularize certain pastoral practices across all of the canonical jurisdictions. This work is going extremely well, with progress being made on several fronts. We will be presenting a progress report to the Assembly of Bishops at their regular meeting this September. We will continue to work with various pan-Orthodox assemblies and committees where there is a sincere desire and a real possibility to strengthen our unity in the faith.

Evangelism and Outreach

The Great Commission that our Lord Jesus Christ has given us is to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

Our efforts which are directed toward this great commission are embodied in our Evangelism, Missions, and Outreach programs. There must be a sense of urgency for us to reach out to all of North America because our neighbors are yearning for the truth which is manifested in the Holy Orthodox Faith. We must bring the unique message of love and care for all of our neighbors who are created in the image of God. Our struggle is not against people, or institutions, or civil law, or other religions. Our struggle is against sinfulness which alienates us from God. We are called to lift up ourselves and our neighbors by our core message which emphasizes the struggle against sin, and the restoration of all creation to once again be in full communion with God. We continue to encourage and establish new mission stations where there is potential, and we follow a conservative strategy to insure that there is strong potential for growth and a serious commitment on behalf of the founding core of people. We have launched new programs to reach out to those people who are seeking God, but who have no strong church affiliation and will continue to develop these programs.

Ordination of Men to the Diaconate and Priesthood

The work of the priesthood is done on earth, but is ranked among the heavenly ordinances. And this is only right, for no man, no angel, no archangel, no other created power but the Comforter Himself ordained this succession, and persuaded men while still remaining in the flesh, to represent the ministry of angels. (St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood)

It is our solemn duty to encourage men to pursue ordination to the major orders of the clergy, and to properly prepare them to take on this awesome responsibility. We must be ever mindful that the priesthood is a sacred calling and can never be reduced to a business or a secular pursuit. It falls to the parents and the pastors of young men to encourage them to see the priesthood as a positive and blessed vocation which they should strongly consider. We have been blessed in this Archdiocese by a strong and vibrant ministry of the deacon, and the St. Stephen's Course in Orthodox Theology will continue to be the intensive vehicle by which we prepare men to become deacons. It will remain normative that any man who strives toward ordination to the priesthood must complete a seminary education at one of the recognized Orthodox seminaries before he can be considered for ordination to the priesthood. Where necessary, we will provide educational opportunities which complement seminary education. Our first example is the newly established Antiochian Orthodox Institute for Translation, Research and Teaching in La Verne, California. We will maintain the highest standards in considering the men who petition for ordination to any major order. We have before us the challenge of increasing the number of eligible candidates for the episcopal office. In the long term, this will occur because of the presence of vibrant and healthy male monastic communities. In the short term we are examining all appropriate sources from which to draw our candidates for episcopal office.

Lay Ministry

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

With these words, the Apostle Peter exhorts our lay people to take up their rightful place as minsters of the Gospel. It is an understatement to say that our Orthodox laity are seriously underutilized in areas of formal ministry. The prevailing belief seems to be that unless you are ordained to an order of the clergy, you do not have a role as a minister. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is our challenge to energize and train our laity to take up ministries which are within their role as members of the Royal Priesthood. In particular we should note that the women of our communities can and must play a strong ministerial role, even though they cannot be ordained to the orders of clergy. One area that cries out for a ministry by women is the area of visitations to the sick and shut-ins which is in serious need of attention from a larger group of people than just the ordained clergy. Our challenge is to properly prepare and encourage our lay people to pursue these ministries.

Finances and Administration of the Archdiocese

"As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1 Peter 4:10)

To be entrusted with the care of the material gifts which God grants to his Church is an awesome responsibility which must never be taken lightly. As the quote from 1 Peter teaches us, we are to be good stewards of the Church's material gifts, and we are to administer them for the benefit of the Church. I want to make something very clear: In all that we do, we will maintain the highest standards of honesty and transparency. We have several important goals which relate to the administration of this Archdiocese. The first is to improve the responsiveness and efficiency of the processes that are followed in the Archdiocese office to best serve the clergy and laity of this Archdiocese. Second is to implement updated, efficient and professional ways of working and communicating by using the very latest technology to our advantage. Third is to encourage the members of our Board of Trustees to reach an even higher level of dynamism, enthusiasm, and hands-on effort for the benefit of the Church.

Youth Ministry

Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have greater wealth and glory than riches can provide. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, Homily 21)

This teaching of St. John Chrysostom reminds us in a powerful way that the foundational teaching of young people in what is good and proper, when done with love and attention, will benefit them more than anything else that we could do for them. There is perhaps no higher priority than to raise up our young people with a love and devotion to Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Orthodox Church. I wish to be very clear on this point: Our young people face an environment and challenges that are unlike those faced by any other generation. We live in a culture that has not only forgotten God, but is now trying to actively suppress everything that we know and love about our God. The war which is being fought for the souls of our young people is being fought by the enemy with new and stronger weapons and tactics. In response, we must respond in powerful ways. Although the truth which is present in the Orthodox Faith is timeless and cannot be compromised, the manner in which that truth is communicated to our young people must be new and must use modern channels of communication. Attempting to reach our young people with tools, techniques, and communication channels that are old would be like trying to build a modern skyscraper with a hammer, nails and some wood. It is imperative that we develop new educational programs on every level, and that we encourage our youth to seek a greater commitment to their faith so that their church will remain a priority in their lives. It is imperative that we adults guide them with love and compassion, but also with a strong example of how our lives are pleasing to the Lord. Nothing can deter us from pursuing the spiritual health of our young people.

Liturgical Texts and Practices

Throughout the history of this Archdiocese, there have been many large and important efforts which have addressed the need for useful liturgical texts, and uniformity of liturgical practice. I think that many would agree that we have not yet met those goals, and that we have much work to do in this area. Recently, we have reorganized the Department of Liturgics, and given that department the charter to greatly improve our liturgical texts and consistency of liturgical practices. Make no mistake that this will take considerable time and resources. We require a comprehensive review of our liturgical texts in order to achieve accuracy and uniformity. Following that, we will need to pursue the effort of professionally editing, printing and publishing these texts in the most effective way possible, including the use of electronic media where appropriate.

Monastic Life

One of the most important measures of the maturity of a Church in any land is the degree to which that Church has developed and achieved a robust, healthy, and universal monastic presence. We can safely say that we have only scratched the surface in the area of the establishment and nurturing of monastic communities, and much more needs to be done. The positive impact that monastics can have on faithful people who are not monastics can not be underestimated. On the one hand we must take care not to try to impose every aspect of monastic life on the life of those outside of monasteries. On the other hand, however, there is so much about the struggle of one who leads a monastic life that can apply to us, and spur us forward to apply those attributes to our own lives. The attributes of prayer, worship, brotherly love, humility and especially obedience are attributes that achieve a very high level within monastic life, and can inspire us to achieve a higher level of these attributes in our own lives. This will also be important to our young people who should be inspired to carefully consider the possibility that a life as a monastic might be a good choice for them. In addition, the raising up of male monastics will allow us to establish a future core of candidates for episcopal office.

Conclusion

The departments and organizations of this Archdiocese have done much excellent work and I would be remiss if I did not recognize each and every one by name, including the head of each one:

1. The Antiochian Heritage Foundation – Very Rev. Antony Gabriel
2. The Antiochian House of Studies – Very Rev. Joseph Allen
3. The Antiochian Village Camp and Camping Department – Very Rev. Anthony Yazge
4. The Antiochian Village Heritage Center – Mr. John Scanlan
5. Chaplain and Pastoral Counselling – Very Rev. George Morelli
6. Charities and Children's Relief Fund – Very Rev. George Rados and Ms. Robin Nicholas
7. Christian Education – Mrs. Carole Buleza
8. Clergy Insurance and Retirement – Very Rev. Michael Ellias
9. College Ministry – Very Rev. Anthony Yazge
10. Ancient Faith Ministries – Mr. John Maddex
11. Convention Planning – Mr. Raed Sweiss and Ms. Carol Jazzar
12. Home Schooling – Very Rev. Noah Bushelli
13. Internet Ministry – Mr. Douglas Cramer
14. Inter-Faith Relations – Very Rev. Olof Scott
15. Lay Ministries – Dr. Anthony Bashir and Dr. John Dalack
16. Liturgics – Very Rev. Thomas Zain
17. Marriage and Family Ministry – Khourieh Maggie Hock
18. Missions and Evangelism – Very Rev. Michael Keiser
19. Sacred Music – Mr. Paul Jabara
20. St. Athanasius Academy – Very Rev. Jon Braun
21. Statistics and Credentials – Very Rev. George Kevorkian
22. Stewardship – Mr. Ron Nicola
23. Teleios Ministry (after prison) – Very Rev. David Randolph
24. Theological and Pastoral Education – Very Rev. Joseph Allen
25. Western Rite Vicariate – Very Rev. Edward Hughes
26. The WORD Magazine – His Grace Bishop John
27. Youth and Parish Ministries – Very Rev. Joseph Purpura
28. Antiochian Women – Mrs. Violet Robbat
29. Fellowship of St. John the Divine (Young Adult Ministry) – Mr. Khalil Samara
30. The Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch – Mrs. Mary Winstanley-O'Connor
31. Teen SOYO – Mr. Jordan Kurzum

As I mentioned in the beginning of my address, we have been granted a strong foundation by all of the hard work that has been done by our predecessors, and with the blessing of God. It is now our job to adorn these strong foundations with spiritual jewels, and gold of the heart. It is our task to focus on the sincere and difficult work ahead of us; the effort belongs to us, but the results belong to God. We will make changes in a careful and deliberate manner, and these changes should not be feared. Our history is dynamic, not static and we must always improve on everything that we do. Our Orthodox Faith is a faith of the heart, and everything that we do must be done within the context of an Orthodox ethos. Although the word "ethos" can be translated as "character" it is much deeper than that. Our Ethos comes from deep within our hearts and our souls. This convention, with our Father in Christ Patriarch John X presiding, and my presence at my first convention as your Metropolitan, marks the beginning of a new era. Every man, woman, and child in this Archdiocese has a gift or talent to contribute to this work. We will work together as a team where our collective efforts will far outweigh the efforts that we would make individually. We are challenged severely by a culture that insists on denying God, and insists on taking steps which are greatly displeasing to God. The most recent example is the decision of the United States Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage everywhere in this country. Since that decision, I have been listening to feedback from our clergy and laity, and studying those steps which we must take, and we will issue a very serious statement which will assist our clergy and laity as they confront this situation.

Let us run our race with endurance, keeping ever before us the reality that is revealed to us by St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians:

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.(2 Corinthians 3:18)

May the Lord bless our efforts as we journey from glory to glory.

 

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