Metropolitan Jonah’s Address to the ACC on 11-12-2008
November 30, 2008 § Leave a comment
“Glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I’m so profoundly humbled, so profoundly humbled.
Twenty-four hours. My life has been totally turned upside down and inside out. I thought I had my whole next month planned down to the minute (ha-ha). Instead it’s going to be both on the opposite coast and (the) other end of the country.
I’m so grateful to God for this opportunity to serve you.
To be a leader is to be a servant. As His Grace, Bishop Benjamin, is one of the culprits who got me into this (applause), as His Grace, Bishop Benjamin, likes to say: “The Episcopos is not the master of the house, he is the head slave.” And (now) I am the head slave of the head slaves. But, the buck stops here…..
We have a lot of work to do and we need to resolve within ourselves that we make living out our Orthodox faith in our actions and by our words. (This should be) the first and foremost thing in our entire life. Everything is about our faith. And, I think, if we can do that, we will be transformed. Transformed individually, transformed as a community.
I’d like to share a few of the ideas of vision for the future in a kind of concrete way. Where should we go?
I think first and foremost we need, really, to start to take a look at ourselves in a new way. We need to look at our spiritual discipline. We need to look at our prayer and our fasting. We need to look at how often we are truly entering into that living experience of communion. We need to go to confession more often. We need to take a serious look at all those spiritual disciplines that are the context and the structure and the support of our life, in order to equip us to live as Christians.
Because being Orthodox is not about what we do in church, that’s maybe 5%. Being an Orthodox Christian is how we live. It’s how we treat one another. It’s our self-denial and our self-giving. It’s our self-transcendence. And, ultimately, what does that lead to, but the complete fulfillment of our personhood in Christ, so that we become who God made us to be in a communion of love with one another.
There are many tasks at hand.
One of the most important things, so far as tasks go that I ….(Well, I was thinking of doing this in the Diocese of the South, and may yet, who knows?) (applause)… that I think it’s a vision that we can embrace as a community. It’s going to be something that will help us in our mission, it will help us in our outreach. One of the things that’s convicted me, very much, is where are the Orthodox hospitals?
Where are the Orthodox schools?
Where are the Orthodox institutions of charity? (Applause)
It’s a beautiful thing, a beautiful thing, to build a medical clinic in a remote village in Ethiopia, but it’s also a beautiful thing to build a medical clinic in a remote village in Kansas. (Applause)
If we look around us, so much of traditional American Christianity is dissolving. It’s dissolving in immorality. It’s so tragic. These fundamental institutions of our culture are falling apart.
I had the blessing over the summer to be a participant at the St. Alban and St.Sergius Fellowship meeting at St.Vladimir’s Seminary, where there were a number of priests from the Episcopal church. Now this is a special interest of mine, because I grew up Episcopalian.
Of course, that was 30 years ago, but, these people are crying out in pain. They see their church as having abandoned Christianity. And, truly it has if it endorses gay marriage, if it endorses homosexuality, if it endorses abortion, if it endorses euthanasia! (Applause)
This is the abandonment of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. And, it’s no wonder those people are so hurting. We need to reach our to them. (Applause) We need to open our doors, not only our doors, but open our hearts, and embrace them with love and help them to find a place where they can heal their souls, which have been grievously wounded.
Another thing that is extremely dear to my heart is the Orthodox Christian Fellowships on university campuses. (Applause) This is a critical ministry of our church. OCF’s are not simply places where ‘nice Greek boys find nice Greek girls and where nice Carpatho-Russian boys find nice Carpatho-Russian girls and get married.’ (I’m paraphrasing Ann Zinzel here. (Editor’s note: Ms. Zinsel is a retired secretary at St. Vladimir’s Seminary) (Applause). That must be a young woman who had this experience! Of course, that’s what she thought about St. Vladimir’s but…. (laughter)).
The OCF’s are one of the foremost opportunities for evangelical outreaches to people who are at a point where they are making radical decisions about their lives and who are looking to change their lives. (Applause) There are so many kids who are living in university campuses as in “Animal House”. It’s sex, and drugs, and alcohol. In despair. It’s all from despair, and it’s bitter, We, by reaching out to them, can give them hope in Jesus Christ and the Gospel. (Applause)
And, it’s nice to you know, to say that: “Oh, we should sponsor these things”, “We should kind of encourage these things”, but we need to do something more. I would like to see an Orthodox campus housing facility at every major university in this country with an Orthodox chapel and a campus minister who is a priest of the Orthodox Church. (Applause)
This is not hard to do! This is not hard to do!
And, there is a side benefit. Student housing – it kind of generates money (ha ha) and we have to think about that. We have to think about that. I have in my previous incarnation (ha-ha), years ago, I was in real estate, so it’s something I understand. But, if we develop, and for example, … one of the most beautiful facilities that I’ve seen just amazing, underused, for example. the Ukranian Orthodox Church in Canada had a beautiful facility in Edmonton in St. John’s Institute with 75 rooms for rent: a chapel, a dining commons, and at one time had an Orthodox priest as a campus minister. Why can’t we do this? We are a lot bigger than the Ukranian church in Canada. Right?Of course, we need to reach out to them in, too, absolutely. But, I will talk about that later.
If we start working with the college kids, and it doesn’t matter what background they come from, it doesn’t matter what color they are, it doesn’t matter what kind of socio-economic status they have, it doesn’t matter. If we start working with those kids and they are ignited in the Faith, think of what will happen. They will fill our seminaries, they will fill our monasteries, they will be our future priests, they will be our missionaries. They will be the ones who will help us carry on our mission and further our vision of bringing the full integrity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to America. Which is what Orthodoxy is – the full integrity of the Gospel. It’s so important that we work with them when they are young, and even in high school, too. Those parish youth programs: God bless you, stick with it! It’s a lot of work. But, the fruit is amazing.
We also need to care for our senior citizens. I know of one wonderful Orthodox nursing home near St. Tikhon’s. We need to have these all over the place. (Applause)
We need to build senior housing facilities with Orthodox chapels and subsidized apartments for priests who are otherwise stuck and cannot afford to retire with dignity. (Applause) We need to honor their service by allowing them to retire with dignity and respect and continue to exercise their ministries as long as they want and as long as they are capable, but, in the right context, the right context. These are opportunities, incredible opportunities for the church to have concrete institutions of charitable outreach where we are serving not only our own people, but, anyone who wants to come. You think an older couple who’s kids are living hundreds of miles away won’t be influenced by a chapel which is four doors down from theirs that has daily services? They’ll be brought into the Faith and consoled in their old age. You don’t think kids from secular backgrounds who might rent a room in an Orthodox campus housing facility aren’t going to be influenced by an active Orthodox Christian Fellowship that meets there, that lives there, prays there? They are going to drawn in.
This is how we grow the church. And as we do that, as we serve people, then the world will look at us and see, their Faith is not empty words. Their Faith is put into action by serving those who are not able to serve themselves. (Applause)
This is not some kind of thing that we need to create another bureaucracy within Syosset to have some kind of development program. My hope is that each of you in your own dioceses will be inspired to see what kind of opportunities you have right in front of you where you can help to grow the mission of the church. Working together with your bishops, you can build something beautiful for God. (Applause)
One of the things that is very important, is critical, in this position, (and I’m still kind of getting used to it – this talk about “His Beatitude”… and I wonder who that is…(laughter)) is inner church relations. We have to have close working relationships with our sister churches here in America and with our sister churches abroad. We have to have close working relationships with the Moscow Patriarchate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople and with Patriarchate of Romania, and Bulgaria and Antioch and everywhere else. And that will facilitate our relationships here. If we want Orthodox unity in this country, they have to know over there that we are for real. And, not only that we are for real, but that we respect them. And, that we love them, and that we care about them. And that we honor their saints, their traditions, and that we honor who they are and what they have been striving for. Because most of those churches in the Old World have suffered brutally, some of them for hundreds and hundreds of years under Islam, and, some of them for decades and decades in the past century under Communism. They have to know that we, who are so soft, acknowledge them. Acknowledge their suffering. Acknowledge that they have something to give. Acknowledge the sanctity that is there.
My own experience, having lived in Russia for about a year and a half, cumulatively, was an entrance into the realms of grace. There are so many experiences that I have had, going to the relics of the saints, praying before them, being filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, just standing before the relics. You go to St. Seraphim and the cathedral in Diveyo….. and it’s like swimming in grace. You walk in and the Grace of God that just flows from the relics of St.Seraphim, just permeates everything. It’s so thick that it feels like water. We need to have that experience, each and every one of us.
This is one of the great joys, I think, of being an Orthodox Christian. In California, in the Bay Area, we have the incredible joy of having the relics of our beloved patron saint of our monasteries, St John of San Francisco. That cathedral …..and it also, when you enter into it, you’re swimming in grace, which heals, which consoles, which reveals that God is real, that God is active and is a revelation of God’s love. That experience of sanctity is something that I think is often ignored, it is often something we get so busy in the day-to-day parochial activities… (Maybe there are 10,000 pirogi’s that need pinching, maybe there’s the Church festival that needs to be done, maybe there’s parish council minutes that have to get finished or the Holy Synod minutes …) or whatever and we get so caught up in all this, that when we walk into our parish church, we’re thinking more about what I have to get at the grocery store and how am I going to finish all these projects when I have this long service that I have to go to. And (you do) not remember that you have entered into the presence of God.
This is the root and the foundation of our whole life as a Christian, this awareness of the presence of God. It’s what the Fathers called the “remembrance of God”, and it doesn’t mean that you’re remembering it in your head that God is present, it’s that God’s presence is a fundamental part of your own awareness. You know that He is present, and when we can bring that awareness of His presence by stilling our minds and stilling our hearts, then His love overflows through us. And transforms us. And that experience of sanctity isn’t just limited to when we walk into or church. It isn’t just limited to when we venerate the icons or go before the relics of the saints. That experience of sanctity is with us everywhere, all the time. We have to do the one without forgetting the other.
We need to have spiritual discipline. And the disciplines (are) not in ends in themselves, but are facilitating the spiritual awareness and transformation and conversion of our souls, in order to do the act of ministries. Otherwise what are we doing with the act of ministries, they become some kind of projection of our own egos. And that’s not going to help much, if anybody, least of all myself.
And so our task is twofold, our work is twofold. It’s the inner work on our souls: prayer, fasting, alms-giving, giving to the poor. It’s great to write a check to good things; you can send it to IOCC, OCMC, these are tremendous organizations. But how about buying a sandwich for someone and handing it to them? This is the kind of hands-on charity that we need to do. Because it is this, more than writing a check, that even when it hurts, that it is going to affect our souls, because it’s a personal relationship, even if we don’t know the guy’s name. (When) we do something personally for somebody else as an act of self-denial and an extension of love, that is the real core of the asceticism to which each one of us is called.
This country needs to hear the message of the Gospel. This country needs to hear the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. And it is only going to hear it when that repentance and that acceptance of God’s forgiveness underlies every word that we say.
So, I beg your prayers, for myself, for our Church. Cast away all the darkness, bitterness, anger, and resentment, all of this other stuff and be filled with the light and the love of God.
Quiet your mind. Quiet your heart. And see what God inspires you to do.
May God bless you abundantly.”