Keynote Address at 43rd Clergy-Laity Congress

And now we face the theme for this 43rd Clergy-Laity Congress of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America:

The Lord said to his disciples after His resurrection:  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you (John 20:21).  Here an amazing mission is described, a mission to continue the work of Christ on earth after His ascension.

He also said to His disciples, You are the light of the word (Matt. 5L14).  He did not say you must be the light, or you have to be the light.   He said You are the light.  This is a flat statement of a fact.

Thus, we can hear Christ saying to us today:  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.  You are the light of the world.  You are my voice.  You are the voice of Christ in a changing world. 

What is the specific meaning of such an awesome mission charge?

1)  If we are the voice of Christ in a changing world, if we are to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, we must first of all and above all know Christ.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul offers us guidance related to the absolute importance of knowing Christ.   He writes:  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8).  And he adds that the purpose of his life it to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and to share Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:9).

From this proclamation of the paramount importance of knowing Christ, we can see that it is essential to know Christ in order to be His voice.   We must seek Him above anything else.   He is the source of our life and hope.   He has entered our humanity for our salvation, revealing the grace of God and showing us the way to restore our communion with our Creator.   We gather in His name, receive Him in the Holy Eucharist, and offer Him praise and adoration.   His is our life, our peace, our joy, and our eternity.   We must count everything else as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8).

2) If we know Christ, if we constantly grow in His grace and knowledge (2  Peter 3:18), what do we offer as His voice?

The first precious thing is hope.  Christ’s voice was engendering hope.   If we are His voice, we spread hope to environments void of hope and true life perspective.   There are plenty of such hopeless environments in our changing world.

Second, the voice of Christ is the voice of truth.   Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  His words offer divine wisdom and reveal the truth of God.  His voice illuminates truth in a world where many are victims of error or misguided by false ideologies.  If we are His voice, we offer the truth that He revealed in His Gospel, thus eliminating all forms of lying, error, falsehood, unfortunately so pervasive in our society.

Third, the voice of Christ is filled with grace.   He came and in a graceful way revealed God’s great love for us.   His teachings and healings were filled with grace.   We are His voice conveying grace every time that we speak about Him.   Christ’s voice is also a voice of healing power.   His words were powerful agents of producing miracles of cure, even resurrections.   The voice of Jesus through us speaks clearly, powerfully and in a caring way in the face of adversity, persecution, secularization offering a witness of hope, truth, grace and healing power.

3)   Our theme affirms that we are the voice of Christ in a changing world.  It is a   challenging world due to change.   We experience this in our own lives as we go through each day, as we reflect on the past months and years and consider the course of our lives over time.   Due to multiple means of communication and “real time” information, we are presented constantly with events and moments of change from around the world.

We have seen rapid change in technology and the tremendous impact this has had on our lives and societies.   In this constant change many advancements have been made that save lives, enhance education and access to information, show the power of human ingenuity.   We also see and experience many challenges related to these changes: cost and access to technology, environmental impacts, materialism, and the threats from abuse.   Today there is increasing talk about technology addiction.  Many are asking how to navigate in the midst of these constant changes in our world and make wise decisions.

The voice of Christ is needed in addressing such rapid changes for His voice is the voice of wisdom, stability, love and truth. His voice offers discernment in evaluating the benefits of technological change in relation to human life, purpose and well-being. His voice guides us to look beyond convenience and wants to reflect carefully on the broader impact of change in our lives, our communities, and the entire world.  The voice of Christ answers the questions regarding what is good, what is true, what restores our relationships with God and each other.

It is essential to affirm that our changing world is also a world of opportunity. Certainly, it is a challenging, sometimes even a provocative and complex world.  The pace and manner of change is at times astounding;  but it is a world of great need.   We are sent by Christ to be His voice, to speak of truth and love, to offer hope and perspective.  In a changing world by being Christ’s voice we offer comfort, healing, restoration, stability and purpose.

4)  In analyzing our theme we need now to ask the question:

How are we offering the voice of Christ in a changing world through the ministry and service of our Greek Orthodox Church in America?  During our discussions here our primary work should be evaluating the current ministries and resources at all levels of our Holy Archdiocese as opportunities to offer the voice of Christ.

First, we offer the voice of Christ through worship and ministry in the parish. Through worship, the parish becomes the Body of Christ and listens to His voice. With our worship in the parish we become the voice of Christ.  In words and actions the voice of Christ is spoken, heard and experienced in worship so that the parish becomes a home, a place of comfort, renewal, and hope.

Second, we offer the voice of Christ through the ministries related to the family.   We have seen ministry and resources grow significantly throughout our Archdiocese since our last Congress.   However, the challenges to the family are tremendous and growing.   Many other voices and demands are pressuring families to conform to the world and to live by temporal standards of success and happiness.  We cannot relent in our efforts to care for families and to offer the voice of Christ in a changing world that is attempting to alter radically what God has created.   Family ministry and our Center for Family Care should continue to be a major focus of discussion and planning at our Congress so that we are equipped to offer the voice of Christ in truth and grace and provide clarity, love and guidance in the midst of so much confusion.

Third, we are the voice of Christ through our ministries of outreach and evangelism.   Being the voice of Jesus we are sent into a changing world to offer the voice of Christ to those who are not connected to the Church.   This includes those who have never heard the voice of Christ, others who have not been prepared to listen, and still others who need a new invitation to return to Him.   For these and even others who are distracted by disparate and deceptive ideas, the voice of Christ through us offers meaning and purpose in truth and love.   In fulfilling our commission from God, we must continue to strengthen our ministries of outreach and evangelism so that our clergy and laity have the guidance, programs, and resources to offer Christ’s voice clearly and effectively.

E.   Concluding Remarks

Allow me now to conclude by emphasizing the need to engage in three major tasks:

Task number one:  We need to proceed with a thorough evaluation and a serious revision of the material and the educational resources and means uses in our Church for advancing our knowledge of Christ and the truth revealed by Him in the Gospel.   We cannot be the voice of Christ without a profound knowledge of and connection with Him and with the contents of His saving teaching.   Especially when we face the tremendous challenge of a changing world.

Task number two:  We have to reach out and be the voice of Christ for our brothers and sisters who are not strongly connected with our parishes and come to the Church only on Holy Week and Christmas.   They are plenty of them.   This is a task that must be systematically organized and engage in creative action all the members of our parishes.   Think especially of the disconnected families of interfaith marriages.   Let them hear through us the voice of Christ inviting them to join our community of grace and peace in the midst of a turbulent world.

Task number three:  Cultivate and organize the members of our communities in a way that they recognize the urgent need to go out and be the voice of Christ to the millions of people lost and confused within a changing world.   In our recent Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church in Crete, this urgent need was repetitively and persistently presented and emphasized.   Our communities cannot be enclosed to themselves and live in a spiritual ghetto.  We have to reach out.   Our voice as voice of Christ must be heard outside of the walls of our parishes.   The entire America is our field within which the voice of Christ will resonate.   But please, remember that the voice of Christ as language used by Him was a very powerful one.  If you read the Gospels carefully, you will not find any occasion in which the words of Christ were uttered and had not produced immediate results, be it the healings, exorcisms, or extraordinary changes in the natural conditions.  Here is a test for us: When we are the voice of Christ for the people who do not know Him, how effective is this voice?  In essence, when offering the voice of Christ, we do what He did, in other words we produce works.  In the Gospel of John, before going to His Passion, the Lord teaching His disciples offered to them a really amazing statement when He said: he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do (John 14:12).  If we are His voice, and called to continue His work, we are the recipients of this amazing promise.  Are we ready to really do what Christ did and even more?  Are we ready to be His powerful, healing, illuminating voice?  Are we willing and ready to change our changing world?

Let us ask God to be with us in this awesome work which He is opening for us.