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Unusual words from an Eastern Orthodox bishop

Thu, 10/24/2013 - 01:54

It happens all the time: Church leaders stand at podiums and urge members of their flocks to go and share their faith, striving to win new converts.

These speeches rarely make news, because they are not unusual. But something very unusual happened earlier this month in Brookline, Mass.

"You will surely agree that our mission ... is to lead our brothers and sisters -- both inside and outside the church -- to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," said the featured speaker.

"This is becoming more and more difficult because many hesitate to share their faith, fearing they will be considered quaint and bothersome. This is especially the case in America's colleges and universities where atheism and indifference on matters of faith and religion reign supreme."

This would be ordinary, if not tame language in a gathering held by Campus Crusade for Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention or any Bible Belt megachurch. But this speaker was Metropolitan Methodios, the white-haired leader of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, addressing clergy and laity in a conference center dedicated to Greek culture.

The spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox believers in New England didn't stop with this call to evangelize people inside and outside his flock's sanctuaries. Instead, he directly challenged the lukewarm or even compromised version of the faith that may result from the media "bombardment of materialistic and hedonistic philosophies" that shape the public square.

All too often, he said, the result is neither orthodox nor Orthodox.

"People today fashion their personal beliefs by integrating Orthodox and non-Orthodox elements," he explained, in the speech text posted online. "Without realizing it, they become 'cafeteria Christians.' Just as they do not partake of every food item in a cafeteria line -- but only those foods which they like -- in the same way they feel they can pick and choose from what Orthodoxy teaches. ...

"Let me be clear: Core teachings of our faith are not subject to popularity polls or political correctness."

Metropolitan Methodios even, without mentioning a specific name, criticized a New England legislator who "claims to be an Orthodox Christian" and who "champions Greek political causes" because of his public advocacy of same-sex marriage.

It's important to note that, through the years, Eastern Orthodox bishops have released occasional public statements in which they affirmed basic tenets of their ancient faith. In some cases they have applied these doctrines to public issues in American life.

For example, the Eastern Orthodox bishops of North and Central America recently released a document that expressed "deep concern over recent actions on the part of our respective governments and certain societal trends concerning the status of marriage in our countries, in particular the legalization of same-sex unions."

Also, the symbolic leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians (including me) recently addressed challenges to church teachings on marriage. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul stressed that the "partnering of the same sex is unknown and condemned" in church teachings, along with the "contemporary invention of 'mutual cohabitation,' which is the result of sin and not the law of joy."

These kids of documents are good, but only carry so much weight, noted Father Johannes Jacobse, head of the American Orthodox Institute in Naples, Fla. It is one thing for bishops to affirm two millennia of church teachings. It is something else for a bishop to openly challenge his people to life by them.

"This is the first time I have heard a Greek Orthodox bishop speak publicly with this kind of clarity and certainty on some of the pressing moral issues of our day," said Jacobse, who served as a Greek Orthodox priest from 1991 to 2009 and currently leads an Antiochian Orthodox parish. In this case, a veteran bishop "just stood up there and SAID IT. There seemed to be no sense of hesitation or fear that someone might think that he sounded like -- heaven forbid -- an evangelical or a moral conservative or something."

The bottom line, concluded Metropolitan Methodios, is that clergy and lay leaders must recognize that they need to "re-evangelize, to re-catechize, to re-teach the faith" to their own people, especially those on the margins of church life.

"The truth," he stressed, "is that many brethren sitting in the pews of our parishes are not knowledgeable of even the basic teachings of Orthodoxy."

Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.

St. Michael's Home to Host Annual Name Day Gala

Fri, 09/27/2013 - 13:03

Honoring Mr. John Koufakis, Recipient Archangel Michael Award, & Special Presentation to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

[YONKERS, NEW YORK –SEPTEMBER 19, 2013] St. Michael's Home is pleased to announce that its 2013 Annual Name Day Gala will be held on Sunday, November 10 at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan (NY). Serving as Chairperson of this year's gala is Board of Trustee member, Mrs. Efthalia Katos. The event will begin with a 4 o'clock reception, followed by seating at 5 o'clock for a sumptuous dinner, awards program, and dancing. This year's gala is not only an evening of fellowship, but an occasion to celebrate the 55 years of quality care which the Home has offered the elderly of the community, as well as to raise funds for the expansion of the facility. This year's celebration is enhanced by the Home's recent purchase of an 11 acre property on Long Island which will be the site of the future continuum care facility able to house 150 residents!

In conjunction with the Gala, St. Michael's annually honors a distinguished member of the Greek Orthodox Community who embodies and promotes the finer qualities and traditions of our Faith and heritage. This year's recipient of the Archangel Michael Award is Mr. John Koufakis, who will be recognized for his extraordinary accomplishments and tireless dedication to the Church and community. He has lent his name and support to countless causes and has been an example through his tireless efforts and boundless generosity.

The evening will also include a special presentation to the Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York. In recognition of his 12 years of outstanding service to the City and its people including the Greek American community, the Home wanted to thank the Mayor and wish him well as he departs from public service.

For more information on St. Michael's, especially regarding ticket purchases, sponsorship opportunities, raffle information, or to include a message in the commemorative journal published in conjunction with event, please contact (914)-476-3374 or visit our website at http://www.stmichaelshome.org/what-our-residents-do/gala/.

Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops Makes Progress at 4th Annual Meeting

Tue, 09/24/2013 - 13:34

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America held its fourth annual meeting September 17-19, 2013 in Schaumburg, IL. Forty-three hierarchs representing 11 jurisdictions were in attendance. At the conclusion of the meeting the Assembly released three official statements to the faithful: on the Church's unchanging view of marriage; expressing grave concern over escalating violence in the Middle East; and a message on the conclusion of the fourth Assembly.

In the statement on marriage, the Assembly expresses its deep concern over recent actions concerning the status of marriage, in particular the legalization of same-sex unions. It goes on to read, in part:

The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, two millennia of Church Tradition, and Canon Law, holds that the sacrament of marriage consists in the union of a man and a woman, and that authentic marriage reflects the sacred unity that exists between Christ and His Bride, the Church.

The full statement on marriage can be read here.

In its statement on the escalating violence in the Middle East, the Assembly "expresses its grave concern over the escalation of political unrest and ongoing violence in countries throughout the Middle East, especially in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq and more recently in Syria." It goes on to read, in part:

Our Assembly repudiates any and all attacks on human beings, irrespective of race and religion, by means of violence, kidnapping, torture and killing. Moreover, we deplore the destruction of all places of worship. We are especially disheartened at the inexcusable indifference and unjustifiable inaction of authorities, which have failed to protect the Christian population and the broader public in these regions.

The full statement on violence in the Middle East can be read here.

The Assembly's message to the faithful offers a summary of the proceedings and shares the spirit of fraternal love in which the meeting was held:

Forty-three Hierarchs convened in the unity of our holy Orthodox faith, mindful of our responsibility to each other and to the whole Church as the Body of Christ. We recognize our responsibility to "do all things decently and in order" as our foremost duty towards His holy Church and the people of Christ, especially the youth. We belong to the Church, which believes in and manifests the grace of the Triune God and the power of our Lord's passion and resurrection...Throughout the meeting, we had a candid and fraternal evaluation of achievement hitherto and work that remains outstanding in our ministry as Orthodox in this region, observing that, despite the geographical expanse of our regional assembly, we are nevertheless bridged by our love for God.

The full message to the faithful can be read here.

This year's priority discussions included the vision of the Assembly and interpretation of the Chambésy decision and canonical restructuring of the Church in America. The Assembly reviewed a model for canonical restructuring that was presented by the Committee for Canonical Regional Planning under the leadership of Archbishop Nicolae. The model was a further development of one put forth at last year's Assembly meeting. The hierarchs engaged in a lengthy discussion and provided comments. Based on the feedback, the committee will continue the process of developing a model that will garner the consensus of the hierarchs. As an immediate step, the committee's membership will be expanded to represent the viewpoints of every jurisdiction.

It was acknowledged that the unique history and experiences of each jurisdiction in the US results today in a range of responses to ecclesiastical unity. In particular, one of the points of discussion was the pastoral care of recent Orthodox immigrants and the need for any future action to consider the needs of these communities.

Additional outcomes of the annual meeting included the Assembly giving its blessing on a proposal to plan for a national gathering of high school students. The proposal was brought forth by the Committee for Youth. The gathering would enable Orthodox youth from all jurisdictions to come together, share in their faith, bear witness to the Church, and build bridges across our Orthodox family. It is envisioned that the national gathering, which is to be organized by jurisdictional youth departments, would take place in 2016 or 2017.

The hierarchs also agreed to create a new committee to oversee agencies and endorsed organizations. The committee will review recommendations that have been made as to the relationship between the Assembly and its agencies and organizations, and determine criteria for future agency and organization endorsement. The committee's members will be those hierarchs who serve as agency liaisons, with a chairperson to be appointed.

Before adjourning on the final day, the Assembly voted unanimously to re-elect Bishop Basil as secretary and Metropolitan Antony as treasurer. Archbishop Demetrios recognized and commended them for their devotion to the Assembly over the past three years. The Assembly also reviewed and approved the 2014 budget.

The hierarchs concluded the meeting by singing the Apolytikion of Pentecost: Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast shown forth the fishermen as supremely wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them didst draw the world into Thy net. O Befriender of man, glory be to Thee.

The Assembly expects to hold its next meeting in September 2014.