New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
With a message of optimism for the future of the Greek Orfthodox Archdiocese and our Church in America, Archbishop Elpidophoros opened his first Clergy Laity Congress since his enthronement. The 45th Clergy Laity Congress was the first ever virtual Congress in the centennial history of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
The Congress opened with remarks of the Chairman of the Congress, Bishop Apostolos and the presiding office Judge Theodore Bozonelis, followed by the remarks of the Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council John Catsimatidis, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Elpidoforos.
“I am completely unwilling to say the best days of our Archdiocese are behind us. In the Light of Christ, the future is always bright.”, said Archbishop Elpidophoros.
He stressed that even in the midst of a global pandemic that has changed our world and our societies, we have found ways to live our life as Ἐκκλησία.”
He called all the members of the Church to be optimistic.
“Think of what can happen in the next two years. Think of what is coming in these next two years as we journey to the 46th Clergy Laity Congress.
Next year, we shall open Saint Nicholas at Ground Zero.
Next Year, we shall observe the Bicentennial of Greek Independence, which is dedicated to the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
And in 2022, we shall celebrate the Centennial of our Holy Archdiocese, and chart a course for the next hundred years.”
The Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council John Catsimatidis commended the staff of the Archdiocese to help putting together the first ever virtual Clergy Laity Congress and send the message to the delegates that it is important to not look back.
“Let’s not put blame on people; let’s look forward and fix what needs to be fixed”, was Catsimatidis’ message of unity.
John Catsimatidis spoke about the three major problems of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, when Archbishop Elpidophoros came to America; the pension plan of the priests, the Theologian Seminary and St. Nicholas Church.
“Archbishop Elpidophoros has tackled these and in his leadership role he is putting together solutions”, he said.
Catsimatidis said that two years ago, at the Boston Clergy Laity Congress, the pension plan wasn’t approached correctly.
“We put a band-aid on”, he said, reminding delegates how Michael Psaros quit from the position of Treasurer of the Executive Committee, protesting the decisions that derailed the plan that the Committee has put forward.
He praised Archbishop for taking the leadership and putting together a team that will fix the issue over the next few years and expressed the belief that in the next five years we will be able to fix it.
On the Seminary he said the issue was overlooked. He praised the new president of the School George Cantones, who has taken the leadership and paid tribute to late Michael Catones, father of the president, for his contributions to our Church.
Finally he spoke about St Nicholas and the measures taken to restart the project in, expressing hope that next year, at the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the National Shrine will be ready.
“The previous administration didn’t have the experience and the know how to build this church and many professionals, contractors etc took advantage of this”, he said, praising the new team appointed by Archbishop Elpidophoros.
Describing his priorities and how they were pursued during the past year, Archbishop Elpidophoros said his first priority, the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine is under construction again and is financially healthy. “I want all of you to consider the following. When Saint Nicholas is completed and opened next year, it will become the most visited liturgizing Orthodox Temple in the world – and here is the distinction – by non-Orthodox persons. There are many Churches in the world that would have more visitors, but these are in Orthodox countries like Greece, Ukraine, Cyprus and Russia. Only here in the United States, and in a City like New York, and at a location like the World Trade Center, would an Orthodox Christian Church receive such visitation. Our American Parthenon, our Light on the Hill, will be the most significant missionary and apostolic venture of our Church in America.”
Speaking on the pension plan, he told the delegates when he came to America and he was given the hard truth that had been buried for years about the Pension Plan, he immediately began seeking solutions.
“The most important thing I can say to all of you is that there is no scenario in which we will abandon our clergy! Whatever mistakes were made in the past … let them stay there. Now is the time to engage with honest principles and the real numbers which do not lie. How can we claim to be the Ἐκκλησία – the Assembly of God’s Faithful, if we are not willing to be responsible for one another?”
The Archbishop announced that there will be a National Committee established to focus on the fundraising campaign for the Pension Plan funding.
“I have only recently received this recommendation from the ABC, and we will use this committee to develop a formalized structure to shape a comprehensive fundraising plan. That plan, yet to be firmly established, will include all the stakeholders: the Holy Eparchial Synod, the Metropolises, our parishes, our affiliated institutions and donors. Let us remember that the only way we solve our problems is if we solve them together, as one, united Archdiocese.”
On the Theological School of Boston, Archbishop Elpidophoros told the Congress that with the wise and prudent counsel of President George Cantonis, we are finally facing the realities of how to run the School without exhausting our resources and pretending there are no problems.
“This has been, and will be for some time, a painful process of realignment. But make no mistake, we have no other choice if we wish to keep our School open and running, especially in the time of Covid. Sacrifice is a necessary component to any Church, and to any Christian life. We will make the sacrifices that benefit the most and hurt the least, but they will still have to be made. Two years ago, at the Clergy Laity Congress held in Boston, all the problems of the School were there for everyone to see, but the proverbial blind eyes were turned. After rushing in to save the institution’s accreditation upon my arrival a little over a year ago, we have to rebuild the foundation of the School, so that generations of clergy and lay leaders may come forth to serve our Church in America.”
The Archbishop also mentioned in his remarks the conversion of Aghia Sophia into a mosque and the Turkish threats against Greece and Cyprus.
“For a Church, a community of believers that has endured so much –and you all know of the grievous loss of Hagia Sophia and the Monastery of Chora to an alien purpose – our brothers and sisters in the Phanar are without hatred, without rancor, without acrimony. Yet their eyes have wept plentiful tears and their hearts have been pained by the open hostility and aggressive pursuit of this cultural misappropriation. They are heroes for the Faith, living martyrs to the truth of Orthodoxy through the ages…. All of our brethren, whether in Greece, Cyprus, or the Πόλη are deeply troubled by the bellicose stand-off that is now happening in the Aegean.I assured them all of our prayers and our advocacy on their behalf, and on behalf of peace, mutual respect, and the rule of law.”
In his video remarks, the Ecumenical Patriarch pointed out the fact that the Congress is virtual.
“With the assent of God, the Giver of all good things, the 45th Clergy-Laity Congress of this great Eparchy of our Ecumenical Throne, the united Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, takes place for the first time virtually, as a result of the difficult circumstances that the pandemic of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 continue to create. As we convey the commendation of the Mother Church and our Patriarchal blessing to all of you, we congratulate you for continuing this beautiful tradition, which, for many decades now, has strengthened the good witness of the Church in light of the demands and challenges of the times, thereby securing the broad participation of the people of God in the Church affairs, the exchange of opinions in a spirit of love and concord, as well as the reaching of decisions beneficial for the mission of the Church.”
His All-Holiness noted most eloquently the necessity for the Church’s engagement with the world:
“The contemporary world and its culture is not some ‘sinful Nineveh,’ whose punishment and destruction by God are desired by those overcome by the ‘Jonah syndrome,’ who believe they are the ‘chosen ones’ in the “household of the father,” but have no connection to the contemporary reality, no sensitivity for the adventures of human freedom, and no sharing in the pain of the victims of violence, injustice, and discrimination. Our objective should be a Christian witness and action in the world, which implies engagement and not disengagement, praxis and not just theoria, acceptance and not just rejection, dialogue and not just barren disputation.”
He also touched upon how the Church stands in regards to contemporary social movements.
“It is from this love that new values were sprung, social movements were inspired, and the charitable conquests of modernity were nurtured, despite the many conflicts between Christianity and modern humanism; for while these were inevitably the consequence of essential differences in the perception of human freedom, nonetheless they were primarily the result of circumstantial misconceptions and repudiations. Today it seems both sides have understood that, despite the differences, they meet in the joint mobilization for the sake of the protection of human dignity, justice, and peace. In this context and encounter, the Orthodox Church highlights the social dimension of freedom, the priority of the culture of solidarity. The late professor Fr. Georges Florovsky was right to underline the central place of social sensitivity in the Orthodox tradition: “There is still, as it has been for centuries, a strong social instinct in the Eastern Church in spite of all historical involvements and drawbacks. And possibly this is the main contribution which the Eastern Church can make to the contemporary conversation on social issues.”