Your Eminences, Your Graces, Reverend Clergy, Esteemed Members of the Board of Trustees, Generous Members of the Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Energetic Members of the Antiochian Women of North America, Members of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine, Beloved members of SOYO, and members of our Parish Councils throughout North America and all faithful of our God protected Archdiocese.
Before I address the theme of our convention, first, I would like to convey to you some very good news about our Archdiocese. We have completed the purchase of property and buildings in York County, Pennsylvania for the establishment of the Convent of St. Thekla Monastic Community at a price of $885,845. The property is located in Glenville, Pennsylvania and consists of 51 acres of land which includes a four bedroom “move in ready” house, a two story barn, and a three car garage with an attached workshop. The property also has a pond, and includes 30 acres of farmland and 7 acres of woodland. Our original plan was to build this convent at the Antiochian Village. However, it became clear that the cost of building at the Antiochian Village would have been $4,091,907. This is a total saving of $3,206,062. The purchase was funded by money saved in the Archdiocese from an endowment fund by the late Archimandrite John Matthieson, money which has been raised by the Antiochian Women, and generous donations from individual members of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees.
The property is approximately a 40 minute drive from our parish of St. John Chrysostom in York, Pennsylvania. It is a one hour drive from both Harrisburg, and Baltimore/Washington International airports. This central location allows the property to be reached by a three and a half hour drive from the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area, as well as, a three and a half hour drive from the Antiochian Village.
This is a most exciting development, and we ask for prayers that the Lord will greatly bless these efforts and the nuns who will eventually form this monastic community.
“And He shall come again with Glory to judge the living and the dead” (our Nicene Creed)
The theme of our convention is taken from Matthew 25:31. It’s a lesson from the Scripture which we read before Great Lent on Meatfare Sunday. If it’s up to me, I would call that lesson, “The Last Judgment” and would also call the Cheesefare Sunday, “Forgiveness Sunday.” In our Nicene Creed, that we repeat at every Liturgy and other liturgical services, we read, “and He shall come again with Glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.” Thus my beloved, history is not endless and our life on this earth is not eternal. In our funeral service, St. John of Damascus said, “What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on earth? All things are but feeble shadows, all things are most deluding dreams; yet one moment only, and death shall supplant them all.”
From our Orthodox Christian perspective, history will end at the second coming of Christ. Thus, we are living now between His first coming and second coming.
There are many concepts of history, for example, Hinduism teaches that the world will never end and we continue coming and going until we reach the “Nirvana” then we are purified and become united with the absolute spirit. We in the Orthodox Church do not believe in this cyclical theory of history. In other words, we do not believe in reincarnation. Around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, this belief of reincarnation was embraced by poets such as Emerson, Kahlil Gibran, and many others. Other concepts of history also emerged during the 19th and 20th centuries. There is the Marxist theory which is based on social class struggle. The end of history to the Marxists will come when we reach a classless society. After the Second World War we encountered a new theory of history developed by the French Atheist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, who believed and taught that history is meaningless and life is absurd. Sartre was horrified by the atrocities of the Second World War and developed the concept that tomorrow is uncertain and the past is meaningless, therefore, drink and be merry because you exist today in this moment; and it does not matter therefore, whether you are a saint or a devil, this is the school of Sartre’s Existentialism. Thus history is absurd.
My main concern in this message is our Orthodox concept of History. To us Orthodox Christians, History is very meaningful; it starts with the creation, fall, and expulsion from Paradise. After that there was a period of preparation for the coming of the Messiah known as the Old Testament. The Incarnation, the preaching of the Gospel, the Crucifixion, the empty tomb, and the Ascension into Heaven marks the end of the first coming of our Lord. In Galatians 4:4-7, St. Paul said, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His son, born of a woman born under the law.” In the Gospel of St. John, 1:14 we read “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are now anticipating the second coming of Christ as our Creed states. Thus, from our Orthodox perspective, the second coming of our Lord will mark the end of history. In Matthew 25:31-41, we read:
“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at His left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘come O blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food, and I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, and I was a stranger, and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was in prison and you came to Me. Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, and so forth; and the King will answer them, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, My brethren, you did it to Me. Then He will say to those at His left hand, depart from Me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; and so on; and they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
as we have read in the Scripture, history is not eternal as our Lord said. After our Lord preached the Good News to us, Luke states in 25:50, “Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifted up His hands and blessed them. While he blessed them, He was parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with a great joy.”
It is important to know that Christ did not leave this world to the wolves, but he continues to act in history through the Sacramental life of the Church. Thus, Christian history is not absurd as Jean Paul Sartre stated or an endless cycle.
George M. Arsden, a Church historian, in his article entitled, “God’s Actions in History,” said, “We know first of all that God is our Creator and that He acts in History. He is not merely a first principal as a transcendent abstraction, but a personal God who has decisively created history and He is the master of it. We know of God’s actions particularly in the history of redemption recorded in the scripture and centering in Christ. We know also that God will continue His redemptive work through the workings of the Holy Spirit in the sacramental life of the Church. The most meaningful expression for men is knowledge and knowing God. We know also that human history will end in judgment.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
We are living now between the first coming and second coming of Christ. During His first coming He came as a poor child born in a cave because there was no room for Him in the inn. But His second coming will be different. “When Christ comes again with glory to judge the living and the dead” the question is, but when will the second coming happen? No one knows except God Himself. Thus, according to which standards will we be judged? According to the Scripture, we will be judged according to our faith in Him and our deeds. In his Epistle, St. James said, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14-17) Christ gave the answer not in theological complex terms, or philosophical speculation, but rather in simple terms; exactly the way he preached to us:
I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, and so forth, and they answered, “When did we see You hungry? And when did we see You thirsty, naked, in prison, a stranger, and so forth?” He will say to them, “Whatever you have done to the least of these My brethren, you have done it to Me.” Please note, here the complete identification of our Lord with the hungry, thirsty, naked, just to mention a few.
In response to this, years ago I established, “Food for Hungry People Program, I want to thank all who have contributed and will continue to contribute to this very worthy annual Lenten drive. Many, many thanks are due here to Miss Robin Nicholas, for her efforts in administering this program since its inception.
St. John Chrysostom said in his commentary on the letter to the Romans, “It is not enough to help the poor, we must help them with generosity and without grumbling. And it is not enough to help them without grumbling, we must help them gladly and happily. When the poor are helped there ought to be these two conditions, generosity and joy.”
According to the electronic media and the United Nations statistics, I would like to share with you the following facts:
- In the Asian, African, and Latin American Countries, well over 500 Million people are living in what the World Bank has called “absolute poverty.”
- Every year, 15 Million children die of hunger.
- For the price of one missile, a school full of hungry children could eat lunch every day for five years.
- Throughout the 1990s more than 100 million children died from illness and starvation. Those 100 million deaths could have been prevented for the price of 10 stealth bombs, or what the world spends on its military in two days.
- One in twelve people worldwide is malnourished including 160 million children under the age of 5.
- The Indian subcontinent has nearly half the world’s hungry people. Africa and the rest of Asia together have approximately 40 percent, and the remaining hungry people are found in Latin America and other parts of the world.
- Nearly one in four people, 1.3 billion, a majority of humanity, lives on less than $1 per day, while the world’s 358 billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world’s people.
- One out of every 8 children under the age of 12 in the United States goes to bed hungry every night.
- The assets of the world’s three richest men are more than the combined GNP of all the least developed countries on the planet.
- And last, every 3 point six seconds, someone dies of hunger.
St. John Chrysostom, one of our great Church fathers, said, “Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead.”
I spoke to you before about the cyclical concept of history in which we do not believe. But we do believe in the linear concept of history. Now to say that there is meaningful, general progression does not necessarily mean that there is steady progress (in the sense of improvement). Men’s own sinful actions often work against the purpose of God. We cannot say with any assurance that the world is generally getting better.
Finally, I think without our collective efforts, this Archdiocese cannot achieve its goals. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our beloved Hierarchs, namely, His Eminence, Archbishop JOSEPH; His Grace, Bishop ANTOUN; His Grace, Bishop BASIL; His Grace, Bishop THOMAS; His Grace, Bishop JOHN; His Grace, Bishop ANTHONY; His Grace, Bishop NICHOLAS; and His Grace, Bishop ALEXANDER; the Vice Chairman of the Archdiocese, Mr. Fawaz El Khoury; the Treasurer of the Archdiocese, Mr. Robert Laham; the Assistant Treasurer, Mr. George Nassor; our Chancellor, Archdeacon Emile Sayegh. I would like to thank the Secretary of the Board of Trustees, Dr. John Dalack; and the Secretary of the Archdiocese, Father Michael Ellias, and all esteemed members of the Board of Trustees, for their generosity and loyalty to this Archdiocese. I also would like to thank our faithful clergy of this Archdiocese for their firm commitment to the eternal principles of our Church, especially those who serve small parishes and missions. I also would like to thank Mrs. Mary Winstanley O’Connor, the Chair of The Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who has worked and traveled tirelessly to increase the membership of the Order of St. Ignatius, and all members of The Order for remaining faithful to The Order and its goals. Since 1973 the Antiochian Women have been helping projects within and without this Archdiocese, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Violet Robbat for her outstanding leadership to the Antiochian Women. I would like also to thank the Chairs of all our Archdiocesan Organizations, Departments, and Commissions for their hard work.
Last but not least, I would like to thank the staff of the Archdiocese, namely, my Hierarchical Assistant, The Very Reverend Father George Kevorkian, for his articulation and his work with Statistics and Credentials; The Reverend Archdeacon Hans ElHayek, who is now semi-retired; I would like to thank our Assistant Controller, Mr. Sameh Khouzam, his assistant, Mr. Michael Shaggal, and Mr. Peter Dacales, who although retired, continues to help at the office every week. I would like also to thank my Secretary and Administrator of The Order of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Mrs. Joanne Hakim, our Registrar, Mrs. Sandra Abdel Mesih, office assistant, Mrs. Marlene Ayoub, Seminarian, Mr. Rassem El Massih, who works at the Archdiocese while completing his studies and assists me when I travel, and our Chef, Mrs. Almaza Farhat, who keeps all of us at the headquarters very well fed.
In conclusion, I would like to remind you of something profound that I have read in Scripture, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13) when the bridegroom will come.