Today’s Gospel speaks about a very interesting topic that affects us, especially us as Greeks, because we are part of a culture that’s very, very proud. We are very proud of our history, we are very proud of our accomplishments as a people, we are very proud of our church, we are very proud of our local church here.
And yet, in today’s parable, Christ addresses an issue that still exists today within the Church. In the parable we hear that there’s a man who has a banquet. He has called many different people to this banquet, and all of them begin to make excuses, that they have one thing to do, or something else to do—something more important than to come and dine with their master.
Of course, this harkens to the issue we have today, with [us] as Orthodox Christians not fully participating in the Divine Liturgy. This is what we spoke about last year when we heard this gospel: about the idea that we are called to commune more frequently, because the Divine Liturgy is the Lord’s banquet. We are called to participate, and yet, just like the people in the parable, most of us choose not to participate. We choose to stay away from the banquet because we have this idea that we are unworthy.
But then we hear Christ go further, because he says that in the parable, the master who has prepared this meal, what does he do when he hears the excuses? He’s not okay with it. He gets angry, and he tells his servant, “If they don’t want to come, go out into the streets. Bring in everyone. Bring in the blind and the lame and the deaf, and all those people whom no one else wants to listen to, whom no one else wants to spend time with. Bring all those people into my home, so that my home may be filled, and they may enjoy the banquet that I have prepared for them, and those whom I have called will not taste of my banquet.”
It is a very, very harsh, harsh parable for us to listen to, because most of the time we fall into the first category. We fall into the group of people who have been invited. We’ve been invited since the day we were born. We’ve been invited since the day of our baptism, and yet we constantly make excuses why not to go, because we always have something “better” to do with our time.
So Christ says, everyone else should come. This is one of the main messages of the Church, not only that Orthodoxy and Christianity is for us, but for the whole world, that the house of God should be filled by all nationalities and all cultures and all different types of people. Why do I say that this affects us, personally, as Greeks? Because, of course, we have the “ethnic issue.” We have the issues of, “Are we Greek before we’re Orthodox? Are we Orthodox before we’re Greek? Is there a balance between the two? Are they both on the same level?”
To answer that question, I was reading this week about certain councils that happened within the Church. We’ve spoken about this before, that every time there was an issue in the Church, in the history of the Church, there was always a council, a synod, where all the priests and all the bishops would come together, and they would discuss issues affecting the Church.
I read that recently, 1827—it seems like a long time ago; it’s almost 200 years ago, but it’s very recent in the history of the Church—so after Greece freed herself from the Ottoman Empire, in 1827 there was a Great Council in Constantinople. This council was brought together because there was a serious issue that happened within the city of Constantinople.
What was the issue? The issue was that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church set up their own parallel archdiocese in the same city with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It was the first time, ever, in the history of the Church, that an Orthodox Church separated itself along ethnic lines. There was a Bulgarian bishop set up within the City of Constantinople just for Bulgarian Orthodox Christians, to the exclusion of everyone else.
And so this synod was brought together—many of us don’t know about this—and this synod was brought together to condemn this action, and the fathers of the Church at that time issued a statement. They said that this action is, in fact, a heresy. Why? And they called it “ethnophyletism.” What is ethnophyletism? Ethnophyletism is when we, as Orthodox Christians, place our nationality over our faith, and when our nationality is placed on a higher pedestal and is deemed as more important than our Orthodox Christian faith, then we deny who Christ is, because, as we heard in the epistle of Paul today, there is one Church, one Christ, one Communion.
Always, in the 1800 years before 1827, in those 1800 years in the history of the Church, there was never a Church [divided along] ethnic lines. There was never the Greek Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Now, these things happened because different immigrants came to North America, and they had no way of continuing their culture and keeping their faith except by uniting together along cultural lines.
But we have a situation here in North America [where], right now, in the next Great Council that is supposed to happen in 2013 at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, all the churches are going to come together to deal with this serious problem of multiple jurisdictions within one city, because according to the canons of the Church, in one city there should be one bishop, there should be one Church. It doesn’t matter what nationality we have, it doesn’t matter what culture we come from, because our faith is one, and Christ is one, and the Body of Christ should be united, and we are not.
So even though we had this synod in 1827 which condemned ethnophyletism, we see that today it is alive and well. We see that today we still have these multiple jurisdictions, which never existed in the ancient Church—never existed. It is a product of the 19th century, after Turkish occupation.
Why do I say these things today? I think we know why, because we as Greeks sometimes confuse the two. We confuse who we are. Are we Orthodox? Are we a Greek? Are we both? Which one comes first? We have to remember that, if we truly are Christians, that has to be first.
It is not to diminish our Greekness, our Ukrainian background, or our Russian background. It’s not to forget who we are culturally; it is not to forget our history, but Christ has to come first. Our faith has to come first. This ecumenical character of the Church has to come first, where we have to embrace everyone. We have to love everyone. We cannot judge other people because they come from a different background. We have to be more pan-Orthodox, opening our arms to everyone, just like Christ does in the parable of the banquet. Amen.