His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Remarks on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary in the Holy Priesthood and the 50th Birthday of Archpriest Michael Laffoon
June 12, 2005
Right Reverend, Very Reverend, and Reverend Fathers; Reverend Deacons; and beloved Faithful:
It is a joy to be with all of you today, as we gather together to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Father Michael’s ordination and his fiftieth birthday. I think the first part is more important, though I must say that you can’t be ordained unless you are first born!
But, none of us have been asked to be born. It is a gift, the gift of life, and we shall be judged on what each of us does with this gift. Some people waste this precious gift by living only for themselves. They seek only to gain more and more by their own means. They seek pleasures by indulging their passions, feeling that their ego is the center of their world. They justify all kinds of poor behavior, thinking that they increase themselves by doing what they think ‘feels good.’
Our Lord teaches us that all things come from Him. He is the source of all good. If we follow Him, even in times of sorrow and hardship, He increases us by allowing us to participate in His divinity. We become filled with a joy that the world cannot take away. We must give up everything, even our own selfish lives, so that we can be alive in our Lord, Jesus Christ.
When a man is ordained, he makes this very decision. His entire life is made holy, not only by his actions, but by his complete surrender to God’s will. He gives up the promises of the world for the promises of God. Then the Lord permits the priest to endure great hardships. Why? Why would God allow a man, who has chosen to serve, to suffer? Because in the priest’s suffering, he is perfected. The priest learns that his decision was not taken lightly, and that he can endure. He becomes confident in the Lord, and this confidence becomes the medicine he can use to heal the souls of the people he ministers to.
Some men cannot endure. Every priest knows at least a few of his brothers who gave up their ministry. Some had good reasons, but others despaired. They are like men who flee from a battle which their army is about to win. Our victory is not in worldly pursuits, but in spiritual struggles which bring us closer to God. The priest is on the frontline, fighting daily against his passions and persevering against the temptations of the devil. Each day he makes a little progress, and shares the grace he receives from God with the people he serves. He leads through his personal example. In his weakness and in his strength, he displays his loyalty to God and the Church, by which he remains steadfast in the midst of troubles. The man who is loyal to God cannot be shaken, for in his reliance on God he finds strength and courage.
Such celebrations, as this one today, is a witness to the fruit of this courage. Father Michael has been courageous, for he has held onto God for all these years. Certainly, he has been tempted to surrender. The devil has tried to get him to give up on ministry, or to collapse into worldly temptations. However, in our gathering today, we bear witness to the failure of the devil to draw Father Michael away from his holy calling. Rather, Father Michael has preserved his priesthood in purity. He has kept himself from scandal, and excelled in the Christian virtues.
How has he done this? I believe that Father Michael has kept himself from straying from the path by bearing his cross in humility and living each day in the light of the Gospel. His strong faith in the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, has made his twenty years of exemplary service a reality. If he continues in the way of faith, we shall gather again in another twenty years and see how much further he has progressed. His future is filled with greater things, so long as he continues to endure and allow God to build up his compassion, humility and patience.
Whenever we speak of the priest, we cannot ignore the important role of many important people in his life. Today, I would like to speak about two, his wife and his mother. These two people have polished his life big time. His mother, Emily is the Icon of true Christian Holy Ministry. Thank you very much, Emily, for giving birth to this fine human being, and this fine Priest. Thank you very much for your untiring ministry.
Also, his wife, Kh. Donna has never abandoned her husband during his dark and difficult days. She has stood by him through thick and thin, through good times and bad. All the while, she raised up their children, Sophia and Joe. She also raised the Children in the parish by her good example. And, she has displayed the Christian virtue of patient endurance during hardships. She now enjoys the sweet fruits that God brings forth in us when we are steadfast.
You may wonder why I am speaking so much about the difficulties of the priesthood. This is supposed to be a time of joy, and you may think that when rejoice we ought not to think of troubling times. This is not so, for the joy of Pascha comes to us through the reality of the Cross. The bliss of salvation comes through our death at Baptism. The best things, the things we treasure most, come through difficulties. If we ignore the difficulties, we are neglecting the true joys. We are joyous today because Father Michael and Kh. Donna have done something that is not easy. Therefore, our joy is greater.
So what about this joy? Why should we care? My beloved children, this joy is as much for us as it is for them. For in this joy, we have a witness to the effectiveness of the Orthodox Faith. Our faith is not some abstract principles devoid of practical application. Father Michael and his wife are living martyrs, demonstrating that the surrender to God’s will and selfless service to the Church is a path of sorrows that leads to great blessings. Our faith increases when we see the rewards for the faith of our brethren.
Let us leave here today not filled with food, but filled with hope. Let us go forth in confidence that God blesses those who cling to Him. Let us remember the example of Father Michael and Kh. Donna that we might take hope and strength from the blessings they have received. Let us all come away better people than we came as. Let us rejoice, for God is with us and made Himself known to us.
This Holy Community of St. Mark is very dear to me. Thank you very much for being a good orchestra with Father Michael. Thank you for being very faithful, devout, and loving, and for making this event a special loving celebration.
Father Michael AXIOS on your 20th and Happy Birthday on your half of a century.
God bless you all.