Holy Trinity Church, Parma, OH, will be the site of the 17th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, a one-day gathering on Tuesday, November 13, 2012—the Feast of Saint John Chrysostom—at which a new Primate of the Orthodox Church in America will be elected. Podcasts from this meeting are available here.
Thank you, Cleveland. Yet, before I being my speech, I want to just express, I’m sure in the name of the whole council, our gratitude to the Holy Trinity Parish for their wonderful hospitality and the efforts they made in such a short time to host us. So, to the whole parish council, Fathers, all of those are involved with generous hospitality, our sincere thanks.
Also, before I begin, as you were coming to receive the Eucharist, a priest in the altar, I saw some of you are old, but when I knew you, you were young. And I was so moved to see how that joy of serving the altar was still intense. Our Lord says that He’s the light of the earth, the world, and I was thinking.
We have those oil lamps and all of you, the clergy, especially, but those faithful of the parish, you poured yourself continuously into this lamp; that Christ glows brighter as we go dimmer and approach the eternal life. So I was very moved to see so many of you who have served the Church over the decades. And those of you that are young, God give you the joy to imitate those who have gone before you.
Your Eminences, your Graces, Reverend Fathers, highest monastics, and faithful delegates, Glory to Jesus Christ. Glory forever. Indeed, glory to Jesus the Christ who has come down from the heights. You dwell among us and lead us to the Father, who gives us knowledge of the truth and everlasting light.
Glory to Him, who has sent the Paraclete on His Church to indwell in her and grace her to be the loving bride of the Bridegroom, Him who comes in the middle of the night and in the name of the Lord. Glory to Him, who has shown us light, the true light, by whom we have received the Heavenly Spirit and the true faith in worshipping the undivided Trinity who has saved us.
Our gathering today has one purpose – to glorify our Father in Heaven. As members of His Christ, who is the Head of this body, the Church, the assembly of those called out from the world to bear witness in unity to the All-Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God.
In my letter to you, which is in the Council handbook, I quoted these pastoral words of His Eminence Archbishop Dmitri of thrice-blessed memory. He said, “All of us come together with a deep and abiding love for Christ. And the vine He planted, with His right hand, from His holy dwelling place here in this land.”
Who can doubt our deep and abiding love for Christ? And out of all the faithful of our Holy Autocephalous Church and that of our brothers and sisters on the North American continent? Certainly, we are one even as we have just heard in the Holy Gospel of St. John in the Lord’s priestly prayer.
For more than two and a half centuries, we Orthodox Christians, in this new vineyard, have been building cathedrals and churches and seminaries and monasteries and organizations to the glory of God. We publish liturgical and theological books for our needs, and these are used and greatly appreciated worldwide. Our hierarchs’ and professors’ teaching of the true faith are renowned, and we rejoice in their gifts from God, which have benefitted Orthodox throughout the world.
We have established our homes and our businesses. We labor among our neighbors and serve our nations, when we’re called on, struggling to live a life acceptable and pleasing to God. The new planting of the true faith, “the vine He planted, with His right hand,” this vine in North America has been pursued with great effort and suffering and even martyrdom.
From humble beginnings, the vine accomplished growth and sprouted new branches. The bride of Christ is ever-suffering in union with the sacrifice of her bridegroom. She is in the world, but not of the world. It is good for us today, even necessary, to reflect on and to deepen our appreciation of the love of our forefathers for Christ and this new vineyard and to reflect on the lives of these servants of God, whose prayers and sacrifices shaped this vineyard that Christ Himself has planted.
So that is for us to be encouraged to emulate their mighty deeds and their great patience. These are St. Herman of Alaska, the Wonderworker of All America; St. Tikhon of Moscow, Patriarch of Moscow and Apostle to America; St. Innocent of Alaska, Equal to the Apostles and enlightener of North America; St. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn; St. Alexis Toth, Confessor and Defender of Orthodoxy; St. John Kochurov, missionary to America and first hieromartyr under the Bolshevik yoke; St. Alexander Hotovitzky, new martyr and missionary to America; St. Juvenaly of Alaska, martyr of the faith; St. Peter the Aleut of Alaska; and St. Francisco; St. Jacob, enlightener to the people of Alaska.
These are our own holy Fathers and teachers, but they also belong and are venerated throughout the whole Orthodox world. They are loved, because they loved Christ much. They are asked for their intercession because they have been tested in their day and found worthy of unending light. What great love for Christ they had; what a firm foundation for this Council here assembled today.
We’re not just some disjointed gathering of individuals. We today are heirs to their labors and coworkers in the vineyard of Christ here; comforted by the Spirit, the Heavenly King, who fulfills all.
There is another innumerable crowd of other faithful witnesses of this new vineyard who have gone before us; whose lives are pleasing to God and who are known yet to God alone and yet who intercede for us – our forefathers, our grandparents, parents, monastics, clergy, and hierarchy.
Some were uneducated in book-learning but wise in their trust in God. Others, struggling in the monastic life, transplanted into a new, hard, and even hostile land. And others exhausted themselves to train the new vineyard in the traditional order of the Universal Church – the hierarchs and dedicated, long-suffering clergy.
Our Church in America is this vine, which Christ Himself has planted with His right hand, long ago in this part of the world. Let’s rejoice in these multiple and profound blessings, which God has showered upon our Church. Let us enter more fervently into the labor of those who have broken the ground before us; laid out the path of salvation for their time and ours.
The vineyard, of which branches you and I are, is a living vine comprising the first believers on this continent, even to those who will be here at the awesome coming of our Lord. While there remains discussion as to which Orthodox first landed here, we’re not here now concerned with this. But we are glad to give thanks to the great Church of Russia for the initial activities, when Alaska was part of the Russian Empire; for her intense missionary activities, which continued after it; through the transition of a settled ecclesiastical entity with permanent hierarchy and good order up to this very day.
In 1970, the Mother Church of Russia recognized this permanent ecclesiastical entity, the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Metropolia in North America, as a sister Church with all the prerogatives and obligations of an autocephalous church. Among those prerogatives are the election of the first hierarch, the presiding officer of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America and the blessing of Holy Chrism.
And these prerogatives, we have fulfilled through the four plus decades of our autocephalous existence, include electing Primates of our Church and blessing the Holy Chrism. But even before that blessed recognition, our Primates were elected here, and the Holy Synod prepared the Holy Chrism.
Now, it is our calling to continue to walk on this path of autocephaly as we have and as we are working with all Orthodox Christians in our nation. Although a universal position of our Church and while Orthodoxy is still in flux, nevertheless, we continue to faithfully bear witness in North America through, as Archbishop Dmitri stated, “Christ’s holy dwelling place here in this land, according to the holy canons, traditions of the Church, and our particular statute.”
We shall, each of us, the people of God, lay and ordained, answer to God for our life in Christ, His bride, and in our respective nations Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Understanding that free will is a gift from God and also acknowledging that ours is a fallen nature, we must realize that the election of a Primate is not exclusively by Divine Will, but involves our own choosing.
Yes, God knows all things, but He gives us the gift to express our preferences and to nominate in this Council body, comprised of clergy and faithful from across America, and then to elect the Primate by the Holy Synod. The prayer offered at the ordination of a deacon, priest, and bishop is the same. There is no special prayer for the election of a primate. It is an office of service, a symbol of unity among the hierarchs, and through and with the hierarchs, the unity of the whole body of Christ.
The Metropolitan is not a shepherd of shepherds, nor super-shepherd over the entire Church. His role is that of a symbol of unity, and one who has the support of his fellow hierarchs. As it says in the statute, “He enjoys primacy, being the first among equals. He is ex officio Chairman of the Synod.”
As I stated in that same letter to that council to which I earlier referred, the Orthodox Church in America consists of fourteen dioceses, each one with a bishop and chief shepherd. Each diocese has clergy, faithful, monastics, parishes, institutions, and a pastoral and financial life of its own. The bishops together comprise the Holy Synod. The Orthodox Church in America, then, is a composite of dioceses whose hierarchs represent them in the Holy Synod, a single body united in Christ.
Just as any autonomous and autocephalous Church, so too the Church in America is the unity out of a plurality, existing on territorial basis. There must exist a harmony among all members of the body of Christ as called for by Holy Scripture, the Holy Fathers, and the holy canons. This statute reminds us all of the oneness, which must exist between the metropolitan as Chairman of the Holy Synod as first among equals, as Primate, and the brother hierarchs of the Holy Synod. What is a Holy Synod? As a unified body, which acts in the name of all the clergy, laity, and monastics. In other words, in the name of the Holy Church of Christ.
St. Cyprian of Carthage exhorts us. He says, “My desire as well as my exhortation and entreaty to you, therefore most beloved brothers, is that if it could possibly be, none of the brothers may perish, and that our Mother, the Church, may embrace joyfully within her bosom of the one body of the one people in agreement.”
God is one, and Christ is one, and His Church and His faith are one, and the people, joined together with the glue of concord into the unbroken unity of a body. And further, St. Cyprian reminds us, among His divine instructions and saving teachings already near His Passion, the Lord said to His disciples, “Peace, I leave with you. My peace, I grant to you.”
He gives us this inheritance. He promises all the gifts that He has pledged and His rewards on condition of the preservation of His peace. If we are heirs of Christ, let us abide in Christ’s peace. If we are the sons of God, we ought to be those who make peace. “Blessed,” He says, “are the peacemakers, since they themselves shall be called the sons of God.”
The sons of God ought to be peacemakers; gentle in heart; guileless in their speech; agreeing in purpose; holding together, amongst themselves, faithfully the bonds of one mind. From my letter to this body, again, I conclude the 17th All-American Council will act as a single body with the unique purpose for the Church in North America to elect the next Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America.
What a great privilege to have been bestowed upon us by our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, our chief and Good Shepherd. So our gathering today has one purpose, to glorify a Father in Heaven as members of His Christ, who is the Head of this body, the Church, the assembly of those called out from the world to bear witness in the unity of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God.