His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Address on the 20th Anniversary of St. Matthew Church
November 20, 2004
My beloved children in Christ, Fr. Paul, Fr. Duane, Fr. Simeon and all the faithful of St. Matthew parish:
On this joyous occasion, let us take a moment to reflect on the many blessings God has bestowed upon us all. You know, it is impossible to have a spiritual life, let alone be called a Christian, without a deep and abiding sense of gratitude for God’s many gifts to us.
When our hearts drift away into complaining about what we think we lack, or how we ought to do this or that to get more of what we want, we are quite literally pulling away from God. This is because we have taken our spiritual eyes off of God and focused them on worldly cares. We drift from light into darkness, for God is the true light, and in His light we see Light. To take our eyes off of God is to cut ourselves off from all that is good. This is why such departure from God always leads to strife, anger, envy, discontent and schism.
Yet, the eye that beholds God is full of love and patience. This does not mean that we get our way all the time. God is not a magical power we harness, but rather our loving Father who gives unto us according to our ability to bear. When we do not receive the blessings we want, then the answer is simple: we are not ready for them.
Let us think about this for a moment. If we are God’s children, and He is our Father, He only gives us good things, and yet we are not mature enough to understand His ways. Sadly, we delude ourselves into thinking that we know exactly why God does what He does, even though we have heard from the Scriptures that God’s ways are unsearchable.
When we do not get our way, and we forget our limited nature, we end up assuming we can attain certain things by our own action alone. Therefore, when we lack something we are trying to achieve, we turn on one another in the ‘look to place blame game.’ The truth is, such actions reveal how very far we are from understanding that it is God alone who bestows good things, even when we do the wrong things. No matter what mistakes we make, our human action is not enough to sway God. If He believes we can handle His blessings, we will receive them even when we do the wrong things.
When your parish was in its infancy, you received a great blessing: the ministry of Fr. Paul Doyle. A man of such great patience and virtue should have been sent to a large community and given a huge salary as reward for his dedication and loving service to the Church. Instead, God sent him to all of you, to minister to a young, financially-strapped parish operating in a temporary facility.
Fr. Duane has also blessed you with his kindness and gentleness. You have seen how hard he worked to minister to prisoners, and even now he prays for you with great fervor.
Now, Fr. Simeon, the Pastor of this Holy Community, has been sent by God to minister here. His youth and education give him the tools through which he can minister to you out of the gifts he has received from God. He will continue in this holy ministry in the same spiritual tradition of Fr. Paul. I need all of you to support him in his Holy Priesthood, that he might keep it holy and not be dragged down with things unrelated to Salvation. Just as I encourage him to keep his ministry pure and untainted, so I ask all of you to likewise support him and his lovely family to the best of your ability.
When you needed a new building, God brought you here and blessed you with a bigger place in which to minister to His people. He has sent you countless visitors and new families. He has raised up clergymen in your midst, more than most parishes have ever experienced. You have become a home to Orthodox Christians from many different walks of life and ethnic origins, and, of course, Americans old and new. You have opened your arms and felt the embrace of so many.
With all these blessings, I tell you that even greater things await you when you can learn to be content with your blessings and be grateful with what you already have. I visit the parishes of this Holy Diocese every week. I see what other burdens our brothers and sisters labor under. I can tell you that you have many great blessings, many that our brothers and sisters desire to receive. They work day and night to prepare themselves to receive these gifts from God.
I am very hopeful about your future. The more each of you struggles to bear your own Crosses with faithfulness to God and love for one another, the nearer you grow to God. Your burdens feel heavy, but that is only because you have received so much already. Jesus Christ is with you all, offering you joy indescribable and peace unending. Will you receive it? Will you take it for yourselves and share it with others?
This is the evangelical call of the Apostles. They went out into the world, they left the earthly Jerusalem to proclaim the joy of the Heavenly Jerusalem to all the world. For it, they were persecuted and murdered, they suffered loss and want, and yet they were victorious over empires and kingdoms, false religions and obscene idols. They preached the hard road of repentance, and people accepted what seems to be an impossible path.
People accepted Jesus Christ as the true Word of God, the Eternal Logos, because they saw that the joy of the Apostles could not be diminished by earthly circumstances. For each of us here, this is the same calling. Will we stick together and overcome our personal obstacles and worldly troubles with blissful happiness, or will we become depressed and angry with frustrated desires? You have overcome great challenges in the past, and I am sure you will also overcome any future challenges that come your way. Now, twenty years later, you have seen that God has never let you down. You have all the signs before you that what you are doing is blessed by God. There is no reason to doubt that even greater days are ahead for you.
Today is a celebration of God’s divine mercy. It is a moment when we reflect on the constant labor of the Holy Spirit on your behalf. It is a feast in honor of the Most Holy Mother of God, who has interceded for you from before the beginning of this blessed parish. It is a recognition that the love of Jesus Christ is with all of you, and that His death and resurrection were not in vain.
You have been set aside by God to receive His holiness and sanctity. You are not of this world, but are citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. Your compassion is from God, for He has been compassionate to all of you, and you have shared this with all who have come here.
Now, I tell you, is the time to go out into the world and witness God’s mercy to your neighbors. The banquet table is set, and there is still room for more guests. As servants of the Master, you have received the call to bring more to the feast. No one shall be turned away, and no one shall leave empty. All who come shall be filled, and there is no such thing as want at the table of the Lord. Go out and bring them in. That’s all you need to do, for the Lord Himself is in your midst and will feed the visitor, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Reveal to the outside world the joy you experience. Many will reject it in preference for their passions, but many others will hear your voices and hearken to the Word of God. Do not be afraid, only be faithful, and you will be rewarded in such ways that you do not have the minds to imagine. Be courageous, and your courage will open new doors for you. Be loving, and you shall feel God’s love envelop and penetrate you like a divine incense.
Never cease to pray for one another, confess your sins and be cleansed, struggle against the fears the devil tries to tempt you with, and we shall all be blessed with the Heavenly Kingdom that is emerging in your midst.
May God continue to bless and sanctify all of you with His peace and joy. You have all my love, prayer and support.