My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
"Now to Him Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
On February 1st of 2000 His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago assigned me to head and serve the parish of St. Andrew in South Bend, Indiana as the Proistamenos. That was exactly fifteen years ago. Presbytera Elaine and Mariam and Stefan came a little later.
My first contact with anyone from the parish was Chris Arvanitis and Stan Hiotas, God rest their souls, who picked me up from the airport in South Bend and brought me to meet the members of the parish council and a few others. I truly miss both Chris and Stan, what a wonderful introduction to the parish and how wonderful were those two men. What made them so good was their love of God, the Church, the parish, and people in general. May their memory be eternal!
Fifteen years of diakonia were filled with many difficulties, challenges, struggles, financial woes, sadness, joy, progress, triumphs and numerous miracles. In other words a quite normal experience in a typical Greek Orthodox parish.
Looking back, we have much to thank our Almighty Lord and Savior for. Saint Andrew, the holy Apostle, has guided and protected his parish for 90 years (1926). "Give thanks unto the Lord for He is Good and His Mercy endures forever" (Psalm 135/136). "Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer, and let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good" (Maya Angelou).
As Orthodox Christians we believe that the supreme treasure which God wishes to share with us is His own life. Our faith begins with the affirmation that God has acted in history to permit us to participate in His love and His goodness, to be citizens of His Heavenly Kingdom. This conviction is expressed so beautifully in the prayer of the Divine Liturgy which says: "You have not ceased to do all things until You brought us to heaven and granted us the Kingdom to come."
The fundamental vocation and goal of each and every Orthodox Christian is to share in the life of God. We have been created by God to live in fellowship with Him. The descent of God in the Person of Christ has made possible the human ascent to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit our God. Orthodoxy believes that each Christian believer is involved in a movement toward God which is known as theosis or deification.
As we mature spiritually in Christ we come to believe that if God's will is to become our will it requires a commitment to relationship in love to God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God's will is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. It is, however, not forced upon us. If God's will is to become our will we must humbly choose to accept Him and then anything that He wills in our lives. "Thy will be done on earth as it in heaven..."
We, Orthodox Christians, are to be obedient to the will of God if we are to have a relationship with Him. We must always chose Him over all else in our lives. All people, all things are validated through their relationship with God, their Creator.
Who do we honor in our Orthodox faith? We hold up as examples and honor after our Lord, the Saints. Without a doubt, it takes a great and a genuine commitment and faith to attempt to become like them. In other words, it takes a total conversion. The truth is that in my experience, even within the Church this is not easily accomplished. More times than not our attitudes are not "converted." This is the main reason why petty differences and power struggles occur everywhere and in every Greek Orthodox parish. Our own egos keep us from attaining humility and meekness.
It is necessary and extremely important for our salvation to recognize in our heart's depths God's incredible love for us. "God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (St. John 3:16). We must strive to love God as first and foremost in our lives--above self, parents, spouse, children--everyone. We have a challenge to learn to depend on God abundantly as a child depends upon a parent.
Furthermore, we must understand that whatever we do in life, we do them for His Glory and not for own satisfaction, glory and ego. Anything that we do which is not done for the glory of God has absolutely no value whatsoever. God is All-Knowing and therefore He knows if we are there to serve Him or not.
Over the years I have witnessed spiritual progress in our parish i.e., more of you worship during the week, more participate in the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession, more of you are receiving Holy Communion, more of you have a prayer and Sacramental life, more of you are seriously thinking about your salvation, more of you are actively involved in charity. This is what I consider as spiritual progress or growing in Christ.
We must not ever cease to function as a true Christian community, a community of Orthodox believers. That we understand that the divine mission of the Church is one, to save souls. To teach, guide and direct those who believe to Christ our Savior.
Glory and Thanks Be To God For All Things!
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God