His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH's Parish Council Election Message
To be published in the bulletin and read in the Parish Council meeting
January 4, 2006
The Right Reverend, Very Reverend, and Reverend Fathers; Reverend Deacons, Esteemed Parish Council members, and all the faithful of the Holy Diocese of Los Angeles and the West:
May the peace and joy of the revealed Lord be in your hearts and minds!
I salute you all in this way to remind you of God’s love to us all, and that we may be transfigured by the Divine revelation of the Holy Trinity during this blessed Theophany. The world is a place of conflict, violence and despair. However, such things are alien to the Orthodox Christian whose eyes are fixed upon the Trinitarian revelation in the River Jordan. Therefore, in all things, I admonish you all to never forget the great love that God has for us all, for this love casts out all fear with which the world would entrap us.
Those who live according to the world are prisoners to fear, and so they know only conflict. They cannot be at peace, for they have not received the revealed God into themselves, even if they mouth the words of an Orthodox Christian. If you desire godly peace and joy in your parishes, I urge you during this coming year to elect Godly and pious people to places of leadership within your community. The parish is not about business, but about spiritual healing and growth, which can only occur in an environment of calmness and mutual love. If you elect leaders who are peaceful and devout, you will have wonderful results. If you elect ‘tribal’ leaders or those who see the parish as a business venture, then you will have the same infighting found in the world of tribes and business. When you become spiritually healthy, parish finances will not be a problem for you.
Do not forget that our parishes must conform to the Archdiocese’s Model Parish Constitution, and I strongly recommend that all of you in lay leadership study the Holy Scriptures, the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch and the foundational documents of our Archdiocese. As you will see, each parish community is not its own island, but rather a part of this Diocese and the Archdiocese as a whole. As such, each parish council and every lay leader elected by the community serves under the blessing and guidance of the Diocesan Bishop, who has the final approval of all elected leaders.
Anyone who is reconciled with all people, obeys the Bishop and the parish Priest, prays daily, keeps a confession rule, commits himself or herself to the Orthodox Faith, and desires to serve God in a self-sacrificial way, is invited to be nominated and run for the office your community thinks you would be suited. Should you be weak in any one of these things, please do not run for office. Being that I am answerable to God for all parish council members in this Diocese, my duty is to verify whether they have fulfilled the spiritual, liturgical and canonical requirements of the Faith. Anyone who jeopardizes and violates the rules through inappropriate conduct will be disqualified.
Whether you are in a leadership position or not, I commend all of you to the care of your parish Priest. Each pastor acts as my representative, and he speaks for me in matters of the community. In as much as I am obedient to the Local Holy Synod, so my Priests obey me. Therefore, you ought to obey your Priest, who ministers to you out of love. If God is Love, then in love we encounter the Divine.
Being my representative, the Parish Priest is the head of the local parish and is vested with the responsibility and authority to administer the parish assisted by the parish council. Therefore I am asking for each Parish Priest to have an orientation program for each of the newly elected members to the parish council before their installation.
I pray that during this year all of our communities are furthered in all good things. My deepest desire is that, through the mercies and compassion of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that all of us experience the peace and joy of God more and more deeply in both our families and our parishes.
Your Father in Christ,
Bishop of Los Angeles and the West
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America