Philadelphia – Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed from the Phanar in Constantinople the delegates of the 42nd Clergy-Laity Congress via remote video-conferencing through Skype and conveyed his greetings and his Patriarchal blessings to all attending the official opening at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown Hotel. The opening session program Monday morning was filled with excitement and anticipation and included the Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter and U.S. Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania who offered warm and cordial greetings.
The program started with opening prayer service led by Archbishop Demetrios of America, with the participation of the choir of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians who also sang the Greek and American National Anthems. The two co-chairs of this 42nd Congress, Michael Karloutsos and Anastasia Michals offered a warm welcome to the almost 1500 delegates of the Congress and the Philoptochos convention, the Hierarchs, the priests, the presvyteres and the other participants.
Michael Karloutsos, who also acted as the Master of Ceremonies, introduced the Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter who expressed his enthusiasm for hosting in Philadelphia, the great city of brotherly love, this gathering of Greek Orthodox Christians from across the country.
Church World Service, represented by its chairman Dr. Earl D. Trent Jr. and its president Rev. John L. McCullough, presented to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese the first Church World Service Ecumenical Award. The Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States George Chacalli conveyed the greetings and goodwill of the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades and the gratitude of the People of Cyprus for the Greek Orthodox Church in America. United States Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania in his greeting to the Greek Orthodox faithful spoke about the importance of family, which is the focus of this Congress. Aphrodite Skeadas, the National Philoptochos President offered her greeting and was enthusiastically received by the delegates and the Philoptochos representatives.
A special greeting and welcome was offered by the host Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey who in his address said that historically it is because of the strength of the Greek Orthodox family as a unit that our Church in America has thrived and blossomed with the grace of God.
Metropolitan Stephanos of Kallioupolis and Madytos read the written Patriarchal Message, while the other patriarchal representative Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium offered his pastoral greeting.
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America delivered the Keynote Address on the theme, “The Orthodox Christian Family: A Dwelling of Christ and a Witness of His Gospel.”
Before he began his address, the Archbishop publicly offered tribute in memoriam of Emanuel G. Demos, the General Legal Counsel of the Archdiocese for many years, who passed away Friday, July 4. As several pictures of Emanuel Demos from previous Clergy-Laity Congresses appeared on the large screens behind the Archbishop, he spoke of Demos’ devotion and service to the Church.
Archbishop Demetrios in his Keynote Address, first reviewed several developments and events in the Church since the last Congress. He included the Synaxis of the heads of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches in Constantinople last spring and the decision for the convening of the Great and Holy Synod in the Spring of 2016; the historic meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis in Jerusalem last May; and the finalization of plans for the rebuilding of the Church of St. Nicholas at the World Trade Center, which will commence sometime in September.
His Eminence described how the traditional perception and image of a family has changed over the years, and he pinpointed the attacks and heavy pressure this image and structure of the family is under, as “its very sense of identity and uniqueness is being eroded by a huge change in public sentiment.” He added that “if everybody and everything is a family, then nobody is truly a family in any meaningful sense.”
Finally, Archbishop Demetrios proposed and urged all the individuals, the groups, the departments, and organizations of the Church in America to focus on the issues of the family as a top and a first priority, above anything and everything else.