His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH's Enthronement Address
September 12, 2004
Los Angeles, California
I would like to begin my remarks with a passage from the Book of Hebrews:
“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.” (Hebrews 5:1-4)
This passage, I believe, is one of the best descriptions of the calling of a bishop. He intercedes for his flock, dealing with them in gentleness and compassion. He knows their weaknesses because he himself is honest about his own. He is not puffed up with pride, but rather boasts, as the Apostle Paul did, in the mighty miracles the Lord has done for us.
Today we give thanks to the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who has fulfilled this Scripture in our hearing. He has granted us great men, such as our esteemed Metropolitan PHILIP and my brother bishops, those now serving and those who will soon join our Local Holy Synod. Least of all, there is me, who has nothing to offer but my love for you all, the people of God.
We have arrived at this holy and historic moment in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America through the visionary leadership of His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP. I am humbled that God has brought me, through our Archbishop, to all of you, to serve as your Diocesan Bishop and represent you in the Local Holy Synod of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
I have been seated on this throne to proclaim the Gospel and minister to the suffering in this Diocese through the love and mercy of the Holy Spirit. Today’s enthronement is accomplished by the economy of the Holy Spirit. The unction of the Spirit flows down from Christ over my human weakness, and over all the faithful of this newly established diocese. The Spirit dwells here and envelops this diocese with its perfume. We share in this grace, as we are One Body in Christ. Where the Spirit is, there the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West is.
I am enthroned by our primate, Metropolitan PHILIP, to shepherd not individual human beings alone, but a vast and diverse diocese. The grace of the Holy Spirit makes the pilot skilled in navigation, and gives the bishop who sits at the helm of the Church, the knowledge how to bring the souls of those who sail with him safe into the haven of God.
This moment is of great importance, for this new step shall increase and perfect the ministries we have struggled to establish as an Archdiocese for many years. For many, this day brings with it new life. The Bible says, "I have set before you life and death; therefore, choose life." Today we are called to choose life over death. You have been counted worthy to become living temples of God, and not sepulchers of the dead spirit of this world. Materialism, contentiousness, selfishness, schism and other such sins are of this world, bringing only death. Instead, we are offered a life of love, compassion, patience, selflessness and joy beyond measure.
But it is an immeasurable blessing to work diligently with the grace of the Spirit which the living God has bestowed upon us in this diocese. We were made to be a living diocese without blemish, beautiful, not adorned with gold or pearls but with the Spirit that is more precious than these. We are called today to go about carrying a living temple in which the fragrance of the Holy Spirit pours out in abundance. By doing so, this diocese will be filled with the aroma of life unto life, as you give yourselves up to God, an offering to God for a perfume of a sweet smell of holiness. This glorious incense drives away sinfulness and heals every wound. It brings us together, as one people, a holy nation. The Spirit of God brings unity and concord, things that the world does not comprehend.
In this enthronement, I am called to humbly lead you to enthrone the spiritual over the material, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words . “You ought not to think that which is divine to be like gold or silver or stone, the graven form of man's art and imagination” (Acts 17:29 ) . Do not look to the outside of things, but peer through the material and see the spiritual truth behind it. The bishop on the outside looks like a worldly leader, but if you allow your vision to penetrate more deeply, you will see the self-sacrificial calling of the bishop. He is a servant, one who is called to give his life for the healing of the spiritually sick and the unity of the flock. He chases after the lost sheep, and guards the flock against the snares of the devil.
You ought, therefore, to entrust your souls to your bishop to soften them by the fervent warmth of the Holy Spirit. Do not believe this world, which tells you that you must be hardened to avoid the pain and suffering of life. The truth is that if we patiently endure all suffering with hands outstretched to God, He will turn our curses into blessings, and our afflictions into mighty gifts. Be zealous to work with your Archbishop and your bishops earnestly desiring the spiritual things, that this promise might become yours. A softened heart, a mind full of love for God and all people, is filled with light and purity.
We must all use this light of the Spirit for teaching and preaching. The bishop is commanded to preach and speak authoritatively, so that those who hear may also attain this light. The Apostles were commanded to share this light with the world, through the preaching of the Good News, the sharing of the sacraments and the instruction of the faithful. For this purpose, the Apostles established the Episcopate which exists to this very moment.
He who is “nourished up in the words of sound doctrine,” first receives the benefit of it himself and then from teaching his flock. From teaching others, the bishop is blessed in return with the people’s edification. You see, bishops do not live to receive blessings from others or try to take what they want, but rather they are blessed by blessing and receive by giving. Our Lord Jesus Christ shows the duty of teachers, when He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matthew 13:52) And the blessed St. Paul gives the same advice, that “we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15: 4). Our Lord Jesus Christ made a new covenant with you, putting His laws into your minds, and in your hearts. Saint Paul said that the believers had received a law “not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”
Beloved in Christ, you are the pillars of the Church throughout this diocese, who drink the cup of Christ, and were baptized with His baptism. You have "put on Christ" (Romans 13:14 ; Galatians 3:27 ), having "feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace" (Ephesians 6:15 ). In Him you live, and move, and have your being, through the repentance and humility with which you approach God.
From this point forward, great diligence and fervent desire on the part of all is needed for teaching the Orthodox Faith to this nation. Great challenges lie ahead of us, as we move forward towards the goal of bringing the light of Christ to the Western States.
All the unchurched people within this diocese are your responsibility. As Apostles sent from above, you are called to reach out to them. In approaching them with love and Orthodox fortitude, they will marvel at the beauty of your souls, and the bloom of that virtue that God promises to those who earnestly seek Him.
If you have made ready your souls through prayer, study and good works, you will speak to them from the depths of the Spirit. You are friends of the King Himself, and you will speak of the love and light you have been given by God. "I have called you friends," He says, "for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you." (John 15:15)
This is the Orthodox message we have received from Christ through His Gospel and proclaim to you, that God is light, and you are the light of the world. The glory of His kingdom has been given unto you; and you are established in His kingdom, and excellent greatness has been added unto you. I pray that the Spirit of God shall rest upon you, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of God, so that you may continue to grow and bring hope to this nation. By seeking God’s will, the grace of the Holy Spirit shall work even more miracles in our midst.
Let us embrace God, dedicating ourselves to this holy work in One Body of Christ. I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all your love and support, because your faith is revealed today in your presence. To God our Father, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.