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of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
New York, New York (June 22, 2019)
Your Eminence, Metropolitan Avgoustinos of Germany, Personal Representative of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,
Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, beloved and esteemed predecessor,
Your Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, Archdiocesan Vicar, and Beloved Brothers of the Holy Eparchial Synod and Bishops of the Holy Archdiocese of America,
Your Eminences and Graces, Hierarchs of our Sister Orthodox Churches and Ancient Oriental Churches,
Reverend Abbots of the of the Monasteries of the Holy Mountain and the Monasteries of our Holy Archdiocese,
Devout and Reverend Clergy and Presvyteres of this Holy Archdiocese of America,
Honored Members of Ecumenical, Interfaith, and Academic Communities,
Esteemed Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Archons, Members of the Order of St. Andrew, the Archdiocesan Council, the National Philoptochos, AHEPA, and Holy Cross Hellenic College,
Beloved brothers and sisters, my dear children in the Lord,
Today, I stand before all of you, humbled and grateful, declaring with the Holy Prophet and Psalmist David:
Ἑτοίμη ἡ καρδία μου ὁ Θεός. Ἑτοίμη ἡ καρδία μου!
Ready is my heart is O God. Ready is my heart! (Psalm 57:7)
Indeed, my heart, soul, and mind are ready and eager to embark on this great challenge and charge that our Thrice-Holy God has granted to me by His grace, with my election, at the recommendation of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, by the most reverend members of the Holy and Sacred Synod, in order that I might serve you, the beloved faithful of America, as your spiritual father and pastor, the seventh Archbishop of the Holy Archdiocese of America. The fact that this sacred commission took place on May 11th—coinciding with the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodios, peers of the apostles and illuminators of the Slavs—reminds me of the principal conviction and commitment of the First Throne of Constantinople to an ecumenical worldview and mission. This sign further inspires me to stir and sustain the grace that flows from God to the Mother and Daughter Churches of Constantinople as well as to our Archdiocese here in America—and to increase this gift, in the words of the Gospel of John, “from grace to grace” (John 1:16), through the intercessions of the All-Holy Theotokos whose City, Constantinople, from 330 A.D. to this day celebrates its foundation on May 11!
Therefore, I gratefully “remember among the first” (ἐν πρώτοις) my Archbishop and Patriarch Bartholomew, who bears the foremost burden and first responsibility of unity in the Church. It is he who instructed me in his “daily concern for the welfare of all the churches of God” (2 Corinthians 11:28). It is he who entrusted and encouraged me from the earliest moments of my ministry. It is he who prepared and predisposed me to serve the people of God.
As a young deacon in the Patriarchal Court, the Ecumenical Patriarch encouraged me to sharpen every skill for the ministry of the Church. As a priest, he entrusted me with the administration of the Chief Secretariat of the Holy and Sacred Synod. And as Metropolitan of Bursa and Abbot of the Holy Trinity Monastery at Halki, he commended to my care the welfare of an ancient See and the well-being of our precious Theological School and Monastery, which remains unjustly closed since 1971. For 150 years, that historical and trailblazing school educated and trained the clergy of the Great Church of Christ—the Sacred See of Constantinople—where Ecumenical Councils convened, where doctrinal definitions were articulated, where liturgical traditions were shaped, where saints and confessors were recognized, and where the All-Holy Mother of God was especially honored.
The unparalleled history of service and sacrifice encapsulated by the Mother Church of Constantinople over the centuries is a source of inspiration and regeneration to all its daughter churches and eparchies throughout the world. This is a relationship that we are all called to nurture and reinforce unceasingly and increasingly. At this solemn hour, this sacred bond is epitomized and expressed in the venerable person of His Eminence Metropolitan Avgoustinos of Germany, who has proven a mentor and patron throughout the years of my learning and formation. I am personally and profoundly indebted to him for his precious presence among us today.
I wish to thank our brother in the Orthodox Faith, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alexander Azar, who today affords all of us the great honor of representing the President of the United States. Mr. Secretary, your words filled this Cathedral with the eternal truths of the Gospel and the highest ideals of the American dream. I thank you for your commitment to both – to Athens and to Jerusalem, for they are the foundation of our civilization.
Moreover, I recognize those who have preceded me in this glorious and blessed archdiocese, all those who have shaped and defined this exceptional church. These include first His Eminence Demetrios, who has honored me with his presence today in order to transmit to me the church that he so faithfully and attentively ministered for two decades. But also Archbishop Iakovos, who boldly walked beside Martin Luther King Junior against the cultural tide of the time and even against the advice of his peers. And above all, the inspired pioneer Athenagoras, who recognized the importance of breaking down barriers with other church confessions and faith communities. My aspiration is to plant and multiply their diverse gifts in the fertile soil of this church and land as I reach out in a dialogue of love and truth to our ecumenical and interfaith brothers and sisters. My heart is certainly ready and steadfast to follow their groundbreaking lead and their illustrious example.
I would like to express my humble gratitude and sincere appreciation to my beloved brother metropolitans and bishops, as well as the pious clergy and faithful lay people, men and women—all those who represent and comprise the many ministries and manifold departments of our archdiocese—for the wholehearted welcome and genuine warmth demonstrated from the moment of my election. Their solidarity and support signal a promising and positive collaboration in the days, months and years ahead.
As Orthodox Christians, of course—to adopt the words of the Nicaean-Constantinopolitan Creed, our symbol of faith—we are truly “catholic and apostolic” only when we remember and realize that we are also “one and holy.” And so my heart is ready and steadfast in the sensitive and critical matter of Orthodox unity. I sincerely pledge to devote myself—with all my heart, soul and mind—to the reaffirmation and reinvigoration of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in order that we may collaborate with greater unity, while witnessing with greater conviction and credibility to the broader American society. Our teaching is one in the sacraments and one in the life of the church; therefore, our preaching should also reflect the same unanimity and consensus in the culturally diverse and pluralistic world that we inhabit and share. In this way, we shall be ready and steadfast at all times “to preach good news to the poor . . . to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to declare the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18–19) And we shall “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls us to account for the hope that lies in us, and to do so with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Furthermore, I acknowledge and greet with all my heart on this occasion those representing the highest political offices of this nation and civil authorities of this city, as well as the distinguished leaders and members of the ecumenical and academic communities. You are a powerful reminder that none of us can respond to or resolve the challenges before us without the solidarity and support of everyone without exception, without exclusion, and without discrimination. I thank each and every one of you for this important confirmation and imperative affirmation.
In addition, I thank the representatives from the National Government, the State and the City of New York, as well as those from Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. Your participation here honors both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. I am particularly moved to see—and to express my thanks to—my mother and my family members, who traveled across the globe in order to be with me today, along with my many friends from Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Europe. Your love and support through the years have made me who I am today. Henceforth, I hope to inspire all those entrusted in my care as Archbishop with the same love and support that you have shown me throughout my life.
Dear and distinguished friends,
My heart is especially ready and steadfast to serve this Archdiocese and nation, both of which I have long admired since childhood and from my ministry at the Phanar. Through the decades, I have observed the development of the Church here, the challenges it has encountered, and the ground it has broken. So, I am here—your new Archbishop—to listen to you, to dialogue with you, and to work with you. My prayerful aspiration is to stand before you and beside you, to lead by example and exhortation, and to minister through service and sacrifice. Let us advance together as the Body of Christ and body of believers, as a united Archdiocese and Church, and as a cherished Eparchy of our venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate.
I can think of no higher calling and no finer vocation for my life than to be with you in your joys and your sorrows, your triumphs and your trials. My heart is ready and steadfast—willing and prepared—to serve you at all times and in all tasks. Of the many areas that I hope to address with a sense of pastoral urgency, I would highlight the loving ministry to our beloved youth, the reinforcement of our theological education, as well as the completion of the shrine at Ground Zero. In all these areas, we implore—above and beyond all others and all else—the strength and support of God’s grace. For “unless the Lord builds our house, those who labor do so in vain.” (Psalm 128:1)
There is a precious lesson and enduring vision about leadership as service transmitted to me by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch—and that is the importance of building bridges, of creating relationships. Such connections are precisely what the church is all about. None of us is either born or planted in a vacuum. In the Orthodox Church in particular, we breathe and bequeath the richness of a long and sacred tradition. This is what it means for bishops to be successors in the faith of the apostles. There can only be genuine progression in the church if there is also an unbroken apostolic continuity. We must never forget our forefathers and fathers, patriarchs and prophets, apostles and preachers, saints and martyrs, confessors and ascetics—all those men and women, known and unknown, who have laid the foundations for the church and paved the way for us to belong to the Body of Christ.
This is what it means for a church to look back at its traditions and to look forward to sharing its treasures by establishing its roots in the local surroundings and circumstances. This is what it means to generate connections between the global and the regional in order to reflect the universal in the local. This, finally, is what it means to integrate the cultural and the spiritual elements of a living community. Then we shall be able to address the language of heaven to the reality of this world. For then we can translate the eternal word of God in a way that truly transforms the transient nature of the world. But how shall we prepare for and respond to this calling?
First, if we are to be true to our evangelical roots and spiritual traditions, we must be a Church that embraces our young people, that embraces the strangers in our midst, that embraces all members of our community and our country. Our young people face an ever-growing deluge of information and access to knowledge that is unprecedented. The Church—which means all of us—must be ready to meet our youth where they live and where they learn: in our communities, on college campuses, with all of the range and resources of social media at our disposal. We cannot lose any time, and we cannot wait for them to reach out to us. We must offer them a taste of the sacramental life, of the living Body of Christ. We should welcome and embrace them, meeting them—just as the Lord Jesus Himself did with His disciples—on their own terms, in their own hearts, and with their own resources.
Second, our ministry to our youth and our message to our world must be grounded in the development and expansion of our Theological School, the heart of education of clergy and formation of leaders for our Archdiocese but also beyond. I will never forget the extraordinary semester I spent teaching at Holy Cross School of Theology in the spring of 2004. You see, my dear brothers and sisters: the challenges of church management are not merely secular, mundane concerns for the Church. They touch on the very heart of our response to celebrating and communicating the gifts that we have received from God. In a very real sense, we are all deacons! We are all accountable stewards of the resources of the faithful. And if we face our challenges and hurdles humbly and collectively, then I have every confidence that we shall overcome them. If the Lord is our strength and our salvation—our consolation and our illumination—then our brightest days are surely ahead of us.
Third, as I stand on this throne—beholding all of you in this splendid cathedral and addressing so many more of you by means of modern communications—I also behold the sacred image and relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. Precisely because we believe in miracles; precisely because St. Nicholas works wonders; and precisely because the name Nicholas means “victory of the people,” we are able to echo the words of the Letter to the Romans, which proclaims: “We are able to overcome every challenge through the God who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
It is this victory and miracle that the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center represents and symbolizes—not only for our Archdiocese, but for the City of New York, and in fact for the entire American nation. On that bitter day of September 11, 2001, so many lives were lost, so much suffering was caused, and our little Saint Nicholas Church was obliterated in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Yet hatred was ultimately overcome by hope, violence was overcome by forgiveness, and despair was overcome by mercy, compassion, and love.
It is our duty and our responsibility as Orthodox Christians—but also our obligation and commitment to God and His people—to complete and open the doors of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine as a witness and vision of what is best and what is beautiful in all people of faith and religious conviction. I assure you that my heart is ready and steadfast in this task as well.
Dear friends, sisters and brothers,
Today, we celebrate the “leave-taking” (or ἀπόδοσις) of the Feast of Pentecost, when the Orthodox Church invites “all those who are baptized and clothed in Christ” to become children led by and enlightened by the fire and force of the Holy Spirit, who calls all people to unity by shedding their divisions and doubts. As we chant in the kontakion of the day: “Let us together glorify the All-Holy Spirit.” And as we declare in the communion hymn of the day: “This spirit of goodness shall guide us on the right way and lead us on level ground.” (Psalm 144:10)
Tomorrow, I shall look forward with great anticipation and expectation to celebrating and sharing with all of you the Eucharistic meal on the Feast of All Saints. We shall have the opportunity to remember all the saints—very ancient saints like St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, and very recent saints like St. Iakovos Tsalikis. At the same time, however, we shall remember that we are all called to become members of the communion of saints—fellow travelers on the magnificent journey that God has so graciously and generously prepared for us in this blessed archdiocese, church and land.
Let our hearts, therefore, remain ready and steadfast. Amen!