My beloved spiritual children in Christ our Lord,
Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133)
Fourteen and a half years ago I was assigned by His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of the Chicago Metropolis to be the spiritual head of the parish.
During the past fourteen and half years I have faced many difficult challenges and obstacles but, by the grace of the Almighty God and the holy intercessions of the Holy Apostle Andrew, they were overcome. The old divisive parish politics have subsided and gave room for parishioners to build new friendships and view themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ. The genuine Orthodox Christian understands that the true mission of the Church is to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to seek the salvation of their souls. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God which is Christ Himself. The parish of Saint Andrew is now experiencing harmony, peace and steady spiritual progress and financial stability. The character of the parish has changed as new families are becoming members of our parish and stimulate it by their ideas and active participation. More and more of our parishioners are becoming aware of the importance of having a sacramental and liturgical life as Orthodox Christians. There are a number of achievements that have been accomplished in the past fourteen and a half years: i.e., the restoration of the dome of the church, the establishment of the Endowment Fund, the iconography of the church, the restoration and renovation of the Parish center, the establishing of a new catering service, the new festival building, the restoration and expansion of the Holy Dormition Chapel in New Carlisle, the great improvement of the Annual Greek Festival, the paying off of the church mortgage. All of these were accomplished because of the prayers of our Patron Saint Andrew, the blessing of God and the syndiakonia (working together) of the good members of our parish. Where there is love, God is there.
The aspiration of every Orthodox Priest is for the parish which he serves to function, not as a social or secular institution but, as true Orthodox Christian church where the spiritual needs of the Christian believer are met--where we have strong parish ministries--i.e., a devout and dynamic parish council, a strong religious education program, a youth program, a vibrant philanthropic ministry through our Philoptochos Chapter, a dedicated Choir and Cantors ministry, a Seniors Ministry, a Stewardship Ministry, an Outreach ministry, etc. Many wonderful and positive tasks can be accomplished when we work together with faith and humility for the glory of God. Saint Paul states: "Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8). "We are born and we die in the bosom of the Church. We place all our hopes for the future in the Church, for the Church alone will remain as the divine and eternal institution. And for this reason we have made the Church the center of our lives. The Church is everything to us!" (Archbishop Iakovos)
The definition, aims, purposes and mission of the parish has gone through a development and an evolution. The Uniform Parish Regulations state the following:
"The parish is the local Eucharistic community of the Church in a given locality, organized under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese, whose ecclesiastical authority is its canonically consecrated Bishop. The aims and purpose of the parish are to keep, practice and proclaim the Orthodox Christian Faith pure and undefiled."
During the Sacrament of Ordination in the Orthodox Church a very unique act takes place. Once the candidate to the Priesthood has been ordained a priest of the Church and fully vested, the Divine Liturgy continues where it left off. After the consecration of the Holy Gifts, the Bishop places the Communion Amnos (consecrated Body of Christ) into the clasped hands of the newly-ordained priest and has him stand at the Crucifix behind the Holy Altar. The celebrant hierarch charges the newly-ordained priest with the following words:
"Receive this deposit and vigilantly watch over it until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, at which time from Him it shall be asked of you!"
The parish is not and cannot ever be independent of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. "The Parish shall conform faithfully to the worship, sacramental life, doctrines, canons and discipline of the Church. It shall also adhere to the Archdiocesan Charter, the Regulations and Hierarchical encyclicals" (Article 5, Section 5 of the Uniform Parish Regulations).
The Uniform Parish Regulations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese are very clear and define each one's role in the parish precisely i.e., clergy:
"The Priest by virtue of his canonical ordination and assignment heads and administers the Parish and exercises on its behalf the priestly duties, which consist in shepherding the Parish entrusted to his care, directing its orderly life, preserving its unity and keeping it faithful to its divine purpose...Priests are accountable to their respective Hierarch and will submit a report of their ministry to him at least annually..." (Article 17, Section 1).
On the Parish Council it says, "The members of the Parish Council shall attend the Divine Liturgy regularly and participate in the sacramental life of the Church, thereby setting an example for the Parishioners. Under the leadership of the Priest, the Parish Council will (a) assist the priest in the administration of the affairs and ministries of the parish…." (Article 29, Section 1 of the Uniform Parish Regulations),
If all of us follow faithfully the Uniform Parish Regulations of our Holy Archdiocese there can never be any confusion, rivalry, power struggles, turf wars or divisions. The Parish Priest "is not a figure head" in the local parish. He is totally responsible and accountable for everything that occurs within his parish to His Eminence, the Metropolitan. It is therefore clear that he alone is the head of the parish and that no parish council or parish council member or any chairman of a committee or any head of a parish ministry may make a decision without the permission or blessing of the Parish Priest who is the Proistamenos of the Parish. There is no other head in the local parish and there are no divisions of responsibilities or duties within the parish i.e., the priest is in charge of the religious aspect of the parish and the parish council the business or more secular aspects of the parish. The Parish Priest is responsible for both and depends on the members of the parish council to assist him in his priestly ministry.
All parishioners and members of the Parish Council should have a copy of the Uniform Parish Regulations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and it can be obtained through the Church Office.
Members of the Parish Council that have taken the affirmation of office that states:
"I, (name) do solemnly affirm that I will uphold the dogmas, teachings, traditions, holy canons, discipline, worship and moral principles of the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as the Charter and Regulations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and that I will fulfill faithfully and sincerely the duties and obligations required of a member of the Parish Council. So help me God."
If after taking the oath of office, a member knowingly and deliberately violates it, he/she cannot continue serving on the Parish Council.
It is my prayer and hope that if we all, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will continue serving our Lord Jesus Christ, His Church and everyone within our parish with mutual love, respect, devotion, humility and sincerity, our Lord will bless us abundantly.
There are still many improvements to be made and challenges to confront presently and in the future i.e., to make our parish financially sound, to strengthen our Stewardship Ministry (time, treasure and talent), to create an outreach program and encourage those who are not active in the parish to become active, to work together to form strong Youth Ministries, to become more involved with local charities and the greater Michiana Community, to strength and improve the infrastructure of the parish, to harness the talents of the members of our church for the general good of the community, to engage all of our parents in the Religious Education of our children, to offer a Greek language program to all of our children and even adults, to use our Holy Dormition Chapel for various programs, to involve greater numbers of our parishioners with the Annual Greek Festival, to have a greater participation of the members of our parish who are in good standing to the Parish Assemblies, to participate more in the Sacramental life and worship of our Church, to have a parish vision, to participate in the various programs, summer camp and all the Metropolis of Chicago Ministries. The Parish of Saint Andrew has functioned for over 80 years in isolation and that, my friends, is not only unacceptable but it leads the parish to destruction.
With agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God