METROPOLIS OF CHICAGO
CLERGY - LAITY - PHILOPTOCHOS & CHOIR FEDERATION ASSEMBLY
November 4 – 8, 2009

 

ANNUNCIATION GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
MARRIOTT Milwaukee West
Waukesha, Wisconsin

 

So that the House of the Lord “May be Filled”
[Based upon, Luke 14:21 – 23]

 

Opening Remarks Offered by 

+Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos

 

The Parable of the Great Supper

 15 Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, 17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ 18 But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I say to you that none of those who were invited shall taste my supper.’”

Ἔξελθε εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς καὶ φραγμοὺς καὶ ἀνάγκασον εἰσελθεῖν, ἵνα γεμισθῇ ὁ οἶκός μου.

 

Good morning.  

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and on behalf of His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos, spiritual father and archshepherd of this Holy Metropolis of Chicago, I welcome you to what is officially called the Local Assembly of this Holy Metropolis.  It is local, not because we meet in one locality, but because we gather as the local Church from all corners of this Metropolis, from South Bend in the East to Sioux City in the West, from Duluth in the North to Saint Louis in the South, and all 59 parishes in our six states.  From many localities we gather as the one local Church, and we will concern ourself with matters affecting the life and growth of the Parishes and communities throughout the Metropolis: educational programs, financial programs, and philanthropic concerns as well as with our better organization and effectiveness.

The local Church—the fullness of the Body of Christ—is, in our sacred tradition, not simply identified with the Orthodox Church in general dispersed throughout the world.  In our Orthodox tradition, the fullness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is found in each local church which, canonically, is headed by the local bishop, and consists of the Holy People of God gathered around him in worship and in the “ministry of the Word.”   The unity of the universal Orthodox Church is really a unity of local churches, expressed by the collegiality of bishops meeting in synod, standing together in council.  Our Holy Metropolis of Chicago, headed by our beloved Metropolitan Iakovos for thirty years this year, is bonded with the other local churches of our Holy Archdiocese of America—the Metropolises and Archdiocesan District.  In turn, this bond extends to the Mother Church, the venerable and apostolic throne of Saint Andrew, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.  Indeed, this bond of daughter churches with our Mother Church is the one reason why His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos is unable to be present with us today, as he is accompanying His All-holiness Patriarch Bartholomew during his historic visit to our Archdiocese and nation.  Having just returned myself from New York, I can convey the blessings of His All-holiness upon this holy convocation of our local Church, and attest to the great concern of our Metropolitan to be fully informed of our proceedings. 

Despite his presence elsewhere, our spiritual father remains present here with us.  It is his leadership and constant pastoral concern for the welfare of our faithful that will inspire us to accomplish our sacred task these days, so that in all things and in all ways, we may strengthen the bonds of our communion and fellowship; we may improve our service and ministry; and we may progress on the path that our archshepherd has set for us to grow in Christ. 

Each of us comes to this sacred assembly as servants of the Body of Christ, whether we come as clergy, as Parish representatives, as lay ministers of the Philoptochos Society, or as members of our Choir Federation. In some instances, we have been compelled to come—and I use this word carefully.  Some of us may have felt compelled to come because of the requirements of the Archdiocesan Regulations, or due to the directive of our Metropolitan.  Typically, in our modern culture, we tend to view being compelled to do something as intrinsically lesser than those things we choose to do freely.  Yet the Lord’s Parable of the Great Supper in the Gospel according to Luke specifically uses this word to describe the actions of the ministers of the Church to gather the people at the great banquet of faith.

The Master of the House, in Luke, chapter 14, is angry that those he has invited have made excuses—they have other things to do.  And so he commands his servants, “Ἔξελθε εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς καὶ φραγμοὺς καὶ ἀνάγκασον εἰσελθεῖν, ἵνα γεμισθῇ ὁ οἶκός μου.”  “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”  If our Archdiocesan Regulations compel us to gather in this local assembly, if our Metropolitan has compelled us, if we have felt obligated to attend—this is not a bad thing, for the very word “compel” in the Gospel is related to the word ἀνάγγη, “necessity,” or “need.”  

As those invited to the Great Supper, we are compelled to respond to the invitation of our Heavenly Father—and certainly not to our detriment, only our benefit.  For indeed, we should be compelled to come together from the farthest reaches of our Metropolis to be with our family of faith.  So also, if we are true servants and ministers of our Master and Lord, then we must also compel others to enter into the joy of our Lord, that His house may be filled.  This is ultimately our purpose and goal for this Local Assembly.

An overarching theme of our Holy Archdiocese, and a special concern of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios has been, “Gather my people to my home.”  Archbishop Demetrios has highlighted this theme for it is the very essence of our mission, our Great Commission, in Christ, to go to all peoples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all” that the Lord has commanded us.  The participants of this assembly of the leaders of the local Church that is the Metropolis of Chicago have been gathered precisely in order to work together to fulfill this mission, “that His house may be filled.”

We gather as representatives of our parishes, each a cell of the Body of Christ, to grow the Church.  Growth in the Church has a dual aspect: the growth of each member of the Body to the full stature of Christ, the spiritual growth we all require; and, the growth of the church in terms of the numbers of faithful.  While distinct aspects of our mission, the two are inseparable: as we mature in Christ Jesus, others will feel compelled to join us; and we will be ever moved to draw others into our Father’s House with us, “that His house may be filled.”  

We must feel our hearts compelled to compel all peoples to join our communion in Christ—without limits based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, or any other categories we impose on other persons.  We must compel all persons to attend the Banquet of Faith, not in the negative sense of coercion and force, but in creating an atmosphere where they will sense in their hearts the need (ἀνάγγη) to join the Body of Christ.  In the Gospel parable, the Master orders the servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.”  Now it may seem self-evident to us to minister to such persons, but at the time of Jesus many believed such persons were afflicted in these ways due to the fact that they deserved it, and therefore were basically outcasts of mainstream, religious society.  Yet Jesus Christ has invited all human beings to be adopted as children of our Heavenly Father.  He opens the door to all who knock, and our invitation for others to join the Church likewise can exclude no person.

Furthermore, the Master’s directive is to go out quickly, so that His house may be filled.  The parable of Jesus contains a sense of urgency.  It is an urgency that we do not always feel in our parishes.  We often feel compelled as parish leaders, clergy and lay leaders alike, to attend to those persons who are already present week in and week out.  Maintaining our parishes is a difficult task beset with countless challenges.  Retaining our faithful in this society is one of those challenges.  Sustaining our membership and our current ministry programs becomes a primary focus.  These issues are sometimes overwhelming, but betray in actuality a loss of focus, for in simply setting the table, so to speak in a manner consistent with the Lord’s parable; we neglect to go out to the highways and byways to compel others to enter, so that His house may be filled.

This leads us to two significant problems we have historically had as Orthodox in this nation.  The first is an unhealthy sectarianism—dividing ourselves off from the ξένοι, the strangers, the heterodox, and anyone not Orthodox in the hopes of maintaining some notion of Orthodox and communal purity.  Generally speaking, such attitudes are thankfully a thing of the past, for such a stance will only compel the “others” of our society to stay away from the Great Supper, and on the last day they will be able to rightly say to the Master, “I make no excuse; I was never invited.”

The second is a more difficult, if not more subtle problem.  This is the temptation we have in our parishes to view ourselves as the fullness of the local church, disconnected from the other parishes of our local Church, a view we may call parochialism.  The temptation is strong, especially due to the geographic size of our Holy Metropolis and the many, daily issues we must confront in our parishes.  One purpose of this Local Assembly is to highlight those ministries of the local Church that serve to bind our parishes in common purpose, not only inviting participation from parishioners of all communities, but requiring the common effort of all for the successful completion of their mission, so that His house may be filled.  Indeed, our Holy Metropolis is tied in the bonds of love to our other Metropolises in this Holy Archdiocese of America, and we have established effective, often innovative ministries of national scope—many of which directly impact our parish ministry, and we must also be attentive to these.

To compel the non-churched persons of our society to come to the Faith, and to invite the many un-churched—those who have left our communion of faith—to return, we must reach out in love, compassion and mercy.  The accomplishment of our mission as parishes, as a Metropolis, as an Archdiocese, requires us to compel persons through our active service, our invitation, and our sincere welcome to the stranger and, as the Gospel according to Matthew reminds us, to the very least of our sisters and brothers in the world.

We cannot hide the light of our faith under the bushel.  We must let our light shine out to all corners of our cities and communities, so that His house may be filled.  We must make that light shine so bright, so brilliantly, that persons will feel compelled to draw near, to walk into the light.  

We must start with our administration, so often confused with the exercise of authority and control, and recognize that ad-ministration is nothing other than the facilitation and enabling of our ministry, providing for the ‘workers in the vineyard’ the resources they need to kindle that light, so that His house may be filled.

Certainly, finances are part of these resources, but neither the only part nor the most important part.  Our physical facilities (our buildings) must be welcoming of all persons, whatever their physical needs may be.  Our human resources are the most important—our clergy and our lay ministers (such as Sunday School teachers, lay pastoral assistants, Philoptochos members, outreaching ministry participants, young adults, youth advisors, liturgical assistants such as choir members and chanters, and so forth).  Training, provision of resources and encouragement must be offered to them, so that they may fulfill their sacred mission in welcoming all those who come to the Church, so that His house may be filled. 

Our Parish Councils have no other purpose, no greater calling, than to enable the ministry of all the faithful in the parishes, in our Metropolis programs, and in our National ministries.  The servant-administrators of our churches have as their sacred task the enabling of the other servants to go out, so that His house may be filled.

We must also look to the future rather than fixate on our present circumstances.  If we are to lead our faithful, if we are to compel others to join us—and we must grow or die—then we must have a plan for that future.  Our administrators—including our clergy—must develop an articulate vision of the future of our parish, Metropolis, and national ministries so that we may make the correct choices today knowing how they will fit into our larger goals and purposes.  When we ignore the long-term consequences, our decisions might seem easier but will be less effective and perhaps counter-productive.  If we take the time to articulate such a vision of where we would like to be in terms of our ministry program—even in terms of our membership—then we will make decisions not based primarily on immediate needs, but on the principle that our first purpose is that His house may be filled.

Without doubt, we have entered a new era in the life of our Holy Church.  We stand at an opportune moment, a Καιρός in biblical language, to make great strides and advances so that His house may be filled. 

His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos wishes for me to express his gratitude to all of you for attending to the needs of our local Church with your presence, your input, your efforts to learn and to share.  He is grateful to Mr. George Vourvoulias and the members of the Metropolis Council who have organized this event for our Metropolis family.  We are grateful for the presence of Mr. Jerry Dimitriou, Executive Director of Administration of our Holy Archdiocese in sharing with us the progress and needs of our national ministries.  Likewise, His Eminence is especially grateful to the faithful of the Annunciation Church in Milwaukee, and her Προϊστάµενος, Father James Dokos, for once again heeding the call to prepare and host us these days.  All these persons work so tirelessly so that His house may be filled.  Let us commit ourselves to make the most of this opportune time, this Καιρός in our assembly, and let us allow the Lord to act in us, for us, and with us; Καιρός τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ Κυρίῳ, so that His house may be filled.