Today we commemorate our great father among the saints, Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra, the patron of this holy Cathedral. How greatly loved he is throughout the Christian world! He is even honored in popular culture, a fact well known to you all. Let us focus for a moment on the Troparion for St. Nicholas:
Thy works of justice did reveal Thee
to Thy community as a canon of faith,
the likeness of humility
and the teacher of abstinence.
O, Thou Father and great Bishop Nicholas.
Wherefore by humility
thou didst achieve exaltation,
and by Thy meekness wealth,
intercede with Christ
that He will save our souls.
The beautiful words: “thy works of justice did reveal thee to thy community as a canon of faith …” a canon of faith; a standard of how faith is lived and experienced. The pastoral staff carried by St. Nicholas in the holy Church of Myra in Lycia is the one pastoral staff of the Church; that in the words of the holy Apostle Peter, “O Lord Jesus Christ, the chief pastor and bishop of our souls.” On this day we see the bestowal of this pastoral staff. Every hierarch receives the one staff of Christ, not many staffs. As St. Cyprian of Carthage said, episcopatum solidum est “the episcopate is all one.” So, every faithful bishop demonstrates this one “canon of faith.” It is my task in the Lord to lead with the one staff of Christ. May I find a measure of conformity in demonstrating this “canon of faith” in the ministry which I now begin to discharge with God’s help and mercy.
On this blessed occasion, with the apostolic staff of the grace of the archpastorate being bestowed, we see a simple action. Our beloved Father in Christ, the successor to Ss. Peter & Paul, His Beatitude John X, says a profound and yet simple prayer of bestowal. His Beatitude, our Father in Christ Patriarch John, “Father of Fathers, Shepherd of Shepherds, Master of Masters, and Thirteenth of the Holy Apostles, our Father and Chief Shepherd” bestows the pastoral staff to my unworthiness, to rule this God-protected Archdiocese of New York and All North America. The shepherding love of our God is manifest in this simple and deeply moving action.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the “shepherd and bishop of our souls” exercised His divine-human shepherding authority and by the staff of His cross “traced the sign” over the darkness of our death and blindness, just as Moses traced his staff over the Red Sea. Moses led them, “the army of the Lord” through the divided, threatening sea “as on dry land”; whereas our Lord Jesus Christ leads us over the turbulent sea of sin and death, the chaos of self-pursuits. With the staff of Christ, we are led into the Promised Land of the everlasting and unwaning Light. This is the light of life and the heart’s desire of every human being.
You who witness and join in prayer at this moment, led by Our Father in Christ His Beatitude, John X, along with my brothers, the Metropolitans of the Holy Synod and bishops of Antioch, my brothers and fellow bishops serving in this united Antiochian Archdiocese who are united with me in heart, mind, vision, and in every endeavor, and my brothers, our fellow hierarchs of our sister Orthodox churches sharing this holy moment, and you my dear brothers and sisters who are children of Antioch, as well as all pious Christians, and all of you, distinguished state dignitaries have joined together for prayer as we begin our work together.
What did St Nicholas do with the pastoral staff of Christ? He led the people God entrusted to him forward to places they had never been. He encouraged them in their faint-heartedness, he disciplined them in their trespasses, he led them to the inheritance promised by the Lord. So it is with every pastor in Christ’s holy Church: he leads his people to places they have never been, for the sake of their salvation, their refreshment, their entry into the inheritance: “this glory shall be to all His saints.” Nobody can save himself; “salvation comes from the God.” It is the staff of the Lord, not of man! The apostolic authority is given to bring forgiveness, healing of soul and body, reconciliation, and human dignity. We, here in North America enjoy so many material blessings, but are we truly free? Are we truly at peace with our neighbor? Do we respect the dignity and sacred personhood of every human being—or, even of ourselves?
I take this staff in the name of the Lord! With His divine grace, and out of my humble cry to the Lord, I make my heart’s appeal to the Master of all that He grant to me the power and grace to trace with His hand the sign of victory, the cross, over every place in our beloved American land.
I shall use this staff entrusted today to me to promote the life of the Gospel in this American land. The staff of the episcopate does not represent an authority disconnected from God’s mercy and love. I shall lean on this staff in order to listen to everyone and to lead us to work together in unity. I am not disconnected from you, my brother bishops—your wisdom and experience support me, as I support you! I am not disconnected from you, my beloved presbyters and deacons: St Ignatius of Antioch said that the Church functions “in oneness of mind with the Bishop along with the presbyters and deacons in council, serving and guiding the people of God.” The bishop can never be separated from the “presbyters… the council of God and as the band of the apostles.” When I listen to my priests, I take care to weigh every issue before I give any ruling. My hierarchical presidency functions in a concord of love.
I shall use this staff to proclaim the Gospel and to defend the sacred Canons of the Church, in concert with the Holy Synod of the holy and great Church of Antioch. I shall use this staff to raise up God-loving clergymen to exercise the pastorate in every city, town, and countryside throughout this land. I shall use this staff to lead the education of our clergy, of our laity, and of all seekers who thirst for the living waters. I shall use this staff to unify, to elevate and to dignify the liturgical order of our churches, to plant and raise up monastic life, to establish educational institutions, and to fortify our youth by engaging them in every way.
I shall use this staff to work with the trustees of this Archdiocese with full transparency and administrative integrity in all spiritual, financial and business matters. We must in every detail be worthy of the full “trust” of our faithful in everything we do.
I shall use this staff to guide our Archdiocesan organizations into a fuller achievement of our goals in Christ’s service for raising up of the human person-in-community in every way. My great predecessors of thrice-blessed memory have laid an abiding foundation and built up many ministries and organizations. I implore the prayers of St. Raphael, Metropolitan Antony, and our newly-departed Metropolitan Philip. May the Lord remember them in His kingdom!
I shall use this staff to continue their legacy and to widen the scope of our mission to yet other sheep which are not yet of this fold. The pious and devoted faithful ministry of all who serve is blessed by the Lord: Fellowship of St. John, Teen SOYO, the Antiochian Women, and the Order of St Ignatius and our departments and staff. By the Grace of God I shall lead and guide you with this staff to places of refreshment; to oasis of living water where our ministry may continue and thrive in and for the Lord.
I shall use this staff to proclaim the Gospel to every listening ear of the leaders of our country. With my fellow Antiochian brother bishops sharing this pastoral staff with me, we together shall not rest until our apostolic work is done—and the Lord Himself alone knows when that will be!
I shall use this staff to “quell the schisms” which afflict the church and to rid the church of any factionalism. In the holy and great Church of Antioch, we know of no preferred ethnos or language, no preferred human state. We have learned from the Apostles themselves the uniqueness of every human and cultural achievement. Through this apostolic staff, we proclaim the risen Lord who addresses each and every one by name! We know of no difference between cradle and convert; we are all sons and daughters of God through adoption in the baptismal font.
I shall use this staff to bring comfort to our suffering brothers and sisters in our Mother Countries where for 2,000 years we Antiochians lived side by side with other Christians and God-loving people of other faiths. We have lived, struggled, and cried out our simple prayer to God. We here in America will never be separated from our Mother Church, founded by Ss. Peter and Paul! We will use this staff to bring Christ to America, and America to Christ. With this staff we will comfort our suffering brothers and sisters abroad and stand with them. We accept this responsibility, which we are eager to do in any way we can. We will not rest before human dignity is respected and real Peace prevails.
Lastly, I shall use this staff to bring the spiritual, ethical, and moral authority of the Church of Ss. Peter & Paul, “the first to be called Christians,” to restore American society and culture as a whole. We of the holy Church of Antioch hold a special understanding of the diversity of North America. Antioch’s diversity is even more diverse than America’s! In our ancient great city, we lived for centuries with a great multi-cultural life. Roman, Greek, Arab, Aramaic/Syriac, and Islamic cultures lived side by side informing and supporting each other. From the beginning our Church has consisted of people from diverse cultures. Over the centuries, we have lived together in relative harmony with a few noteworthy exceptions.
Antiochian Orthodox have held a Christian conscience embracing those who are different from us. We lived considering “our neighbor as our life.” We bring this, our rich experience, to our lives here with all of the peoples of North America of whom we count ourselves a part. We North Americans are a people who want to make a difference; who love our land, and our distinctive heritages. We are not content to be isolated on the world stage, but rather to be present and make a difference for the good. With guidance, and a full witness of the sacred and transfiguring teaching and guidance of the Church, Antiochian Orthodox Christians have a vision and will incarnate it. In the past, we Orthodox have built many foundational organizations. While this is good, it is not the end-goal, but only part of the process. Now we emphasize that the manifest glory of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ urges us onwards toward new possibilities. I seek your cooperation in all the many facets of our pressing pastoral work to reconcile all North Americans to God.
I commend you all to the grace of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. With this staff I shall live with you and die with you, in order that we may all achieve the life that is true Life, Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory with His Father without beginning, and His all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.