His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Opening Remarks to the 2005 Diocesan Clergy Seminar
February 7-11, 2005
San Fernando, CA
"Homo Scientificus aut Homo Deificus?”
Right Reverend, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Reverend Deacons, our honored guests and beloved Faithful:
I welcome all of you to this 7th annual Diocese of Los Angeles and the West Clergy Seminar. Before I begin my opening remarks, I would like to thank our Protosyngellos Fr. Paul Doyle, Fr. Nicholas Speier and Fr. Jon Braun, the Dean of the Southern California Deanery, for their hard work in organizing this event for us. They have worked very hard to put this seminar together, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. Thank you!
We are honored to have the Very Reverend Father John and Khouriyeh Lynn Breck with us for the week. I don’t need to remind all of you of their accomplishments, both academically and in service to the Church. Like all of you, I am very much looking forward to hearing what they have to teach. Father John and Khouriyeh Lynn, on behalf of everyone here, I thank you for making the journey to be with us and to minister to us through your presentations.
These presentations are very important, and I know that we will receive much knowledge and enlightenment. We may be troubled by some of what we hear. We may even disagree at times, but we all have one purpose, to bring the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to this land, and to point out the way of salvation to those who are lost in the lies and turmoil of this ocean of contemporary disfiguration, deception and confusion. Father John and Khouriyeh Lynn have spent their lives dedicated to the furtherance of the Orthodox Church’s apostolic calling, both in America and abroad. This is worthy of our respect, and your words should be taken by us in light of your honorable works.
The topics which our speakers will be addressing, centering on the struggle between modern ethical issues and the Gospel message are vital to our ministries of healing within our communities and evangelization. Those of us who have ministered to our people know that the pain of the world is in our parish sanctuaries and our altars, as our faithful come to God’s house seeking His forgiveness and healing. It is the suffering of the passions, which our fallen selves are shot through with. The faithful turn to the clergy for help in making difficult situations, so that the torment of their consciences may subside. Often there are no easy answers. We cannot always remove all of the pain our faithful endure, and many of us here carry great burdens that seem to all but crush us.
Yet, this suffering is not without hope. Our suffering is, by God’s grace and mercy, transformed into a path by which we can ascend to the Heavenly Kingdom. New theories, philosophies and even moral dilemmas may arise each day, but we know that humanity has always endured the same pains of loss and brokenness, of isolation from God and His goodness and the dark shadow of eternal torment. There is no real ‘new’ form of suffering, though the circumstances are constantly changing.
Our mission is to fight against the evil one, who sows despair and assails us with temptations. The virtues that our Lord, Jesus Christ, have taught us are not arbitrary rules. They are the reality of the world as created by God. Immoral and unethical behavior is against the created order of the universe. We know this because, when we stray from Divine precepts, we experience mental and spiritual anguish. Those without God’s love in their hearts despair, and so they chase after the passions in the hope that by appeasing them, they will disappear. Instead, the trap deepens. Our free will becomes a dangerous liability without the truth embodied in the teachings of the Church. Rightly applied, the ethical teachings of the Church frees us from the bondage of guilt.
If we are able to better understand the ancient holy teachings of the Church regarding moral behavior, we can apply them to new circumstances, and continue in our historic calling to be healed and to heal. This is not about coming up with snappy answers to somehow defend our Faith. We don’t need to do that, for only God alone on the Cross is up to such a task. Rather, we are called to become disciples, and to learn so that we might become better equipped to go out into the world and transform it with the truth of Orthodoxy. I know that in America, there is an old saying that ‘the best defense is a good offense.’ My brothers in Christ, this is not just for football, but it is the very core of the Christian calling:
For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)
We are called to go forth and boldly proclaim the Good News, following in the footsteps of the Disciples. But, we cannot do this unless we know what we are talking about. We must know our Faith inside and out. We must sharpen the sword of the intellect through prayer, ministry to others and study. Father John and Khouriyeh Lynn are here to help us perfect our ministries by getting us to think about these modern ethical issues and the Orthodox therapeutic approach.
To show you how easily we can be lost, I will give you one example. I know a man, very devout, and deeply concerned about the financial situation in his parish. He waited for a long time for the opportunity to present to me his plan to rescue his parish. I listened to him, as he earnestly asked my blessing for his plan. Unfortunately, he wanted the parish to hold bingo games. Out of respect and courtesy, we discussed this issue at length showing him the divine image of the Holy Church. While his intentions were good, I made it very clear that gambling is not compatible with our Faith.
Christian virtues are based on the daily struggle to keep ourselves on the road to the Heavenly Kingdom. We cannot call ourselves ‘moral’ or ‘ethical’ unless we remain focused on salvation. All other things are minor in comparison. Our primary work is to make manifest the Kingdom of God in our families, in our parishes, and in all that we do. Through constant remembrance of God’s love and care for us, even through difficult worldly circumstances, we can endure any kind of trial. The Love of God will reign within us if we allow ourselves to be guided by God, and we are transformed.
The Scriptures liken this transfiguration to light. Are we not called by our Lord the ‘light of the world?’ How can we radiate the joy of salvation when we constantly worry needlessly? Obedience, chastity, poverty…where is the shame of these in the eyes of God? Yes, the world calls these shames, and tempts us with earthly pleasures. Yet, we know that even with financial security, fame and power, a man can be perfectly miserable. Happiness is found within us, when we genuinely trust in God’s providence.
We must not let worldly troubles divert us from our Savior, Jesus Christ. We cannot reduce parish life, or even the Diocese, to balance sheets and bank accounts. A watched pot never boils, a watched wallet never fills, and a watched pew is never occupied. If we are to watch for anything, it should be for the Bridegroom. Eyes turned to heaven will see all things fulfilled. If we carry out the Great Commandment to bring the Good News to the ears of God’s people, our churches will be filled and our wallets will have no lack. The details will take care of themselves.
Recently, I declared that 2005 is the Year of the Youth. As you all listen to the presentations this week, think about how the Godly things we will learn this week can improve our ministry and heal our youth. We shall be judged by God as to whether we have helped the children come to God, or whether we drive them away through our negligence and unloving attitude.
The proceedings this week tie into a long-term plan for this Holy Diocese. Next year, I am happy to announce that Dr. Tristram Engelhardt will be lecturing for us, and out of these two seminars I will be compiling a small booklet on ethical issues of the pastorate. If you have something to say, I urge you to interact with the presenters, so that we may consider all points of view. Together, we can make something that will bless many people for years to come.
I would like to end my remarks by saying that this seminar is one of the high-points of my year. It is not only that we come together to learn, but also to worship together and build up our brotherhood. It is good that we have this time to rest from our toils, to take a morning walk, to play, to eat together, all within a spiritual fellowship. We are all brethren, bound by the Holy Spirit to each other as members of the One Body of Christ. This is our joy and our hope. Thank you.