His Eminence Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Your Eminence, Elder Archbishop Demetrios of America,
Your Eminences and Your Graces,
Your Eminence, Cardinal Blasé Cupich and other representatives of Christian Churches,
Honorable Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti
Honorable Counsel General of Greece in Chicago, Ambassador Polyxeni Petropoulou
Beloved and pious clergy, venerable monastics,
Honorable Archons of the Holy Great Church of Christ,
Honorable representatives of the local authorities and Hellenic organizations and associations Orthodox faithful of the Holy Metropolis of Chicago
My beloved friends,
As we come together in this sacred space dedicated to the Annunciation, the words and melodies of the psalmist come to mind: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his mercy endures forever. Let Israel say: His mercy endures forever. Let the house of Aaron say: His mercy endures forever. Let those who fear the Lord say: His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 118). Our celebration today invites us to raise our own voices and exclaim: “God’s mercy endures forever!”
Indeed, God’s mercy, which streams across centuries, not only endures forever, it vivifies and sustains the universe. This is so because God is love, and as love, God assumes every fragment of the universe and sews it together, forming a community of love. And because God’s love is the fabric of our being, not even death can tear us apart. Each of us is therefore directly connected to all people, even with those who have gone before us: prophets, apostles, fathers, patriarchs, hierarchs, priests, deacons, monastics, and laity.
At this very moment, I cannot help but call to mind my predecessors of blessed memory: Bishops Filaretos and Gerasimos, and most recently, Metropolitan Iakovos. These shepherds were spiritual pioneers, who tilled the hearts of people so that they might one day abundantly bear spiritual fruit for generations to come. Metropolitan Iakovos, who served the blessed people of the Metropolis for 38 years, baptized and married most of you; he ordained the vast majority of our clergy; he experienced your joys and sorrows. He was your father who knew you personally, and we pray that he may find rest in the bosom of Abraham and taste the joy of the resurrection.
I offer my sincere gratitude to His Eminence Elder Archbishop Demetrios of America, who bears the great responsibility of presiding over our Holy Eparchial Synod. I thank you, Your Eminence, for all that you have taught me during the past 19 years. I also thank the Hierarchs of our Holy Archdiocese and those of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States for their guidance, patience and paternal love. I am thankful to His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit for his service as locum tenens of this Holy Metropolis for the past nine months, and I also express my thanks to His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, a child of Chicago, who, until recently, served as the chancellor of the Metropolis. I am certain that the Lord our God will bless His Grace and reveal to him new paths of service as an auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Demetrios.
Above all, I give thanks and call to mind with profound respect to our common Father, His All-Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch. I am grateful to His All-Holiness and to the members of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Church of Constantinople for electing me Metropolitan of this God-saved Metropolis of Chicago. As the first among 300 million faithful Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch is uniquely charged with the awesome responsibility of securing our unity. Nonetheless, this broad mission does not prevent him from paying close attention to what occurs locally, a fact that confirms that the Metropolis of Chicago will always be under the protection and care of our Patriarch. We all pray that the Lord our God continues to bless Patriarch Bartholomew, along with the handful of Christians who reside and remain devoted to their ancient homeland of Constantinople, and other regions of Asia-Minor, Pontus, and the islands of Imbros and Tenedos, committed to protecting the gates of Orthodoxy. We must never forget their plight; these brave souls teach us the true meaning of the Cross and the Resurrection.
Beloved fathers and pious faithful of the Metropolis of Chicago, as the disciples traveled with Christ, they encountered numerous challenges that often stirred in them a sense of uncertainty. In one account, the Apostles found themselves on a boat battered by the waves and throttled by the wind in the midst of a fierce storm. Their fear swelled even more as they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water’s surface. “It’s a ghost!” they cried out in fear. The response of our Lord gave them hope: “Take courage! Do not be afraid. It is I.” Immediately Peter is emboldened and makes his way to Jesus, walking on the water just as his Master. Suddenly, in a moment of weakness and doubt, Peter falls victim to the natural elements and begins to sink. Jesus stretches out His hand, pulls him up and says: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
My beloved, whether we wish it or not, we live in tempestuous and uncertainty times. This, however, should not trouble us; we should not lose our faith. Today, I come before you to affirm what you intrinsically know to be true. Take courage! Embrace Christ and His example and, through it, strive for holiness. Even though one storm may replace another during our life, we must take comfort knowing that our Church is the unwaning and authentic light, no matter the magnitude of any storm. We must never lose sight of Christ. When Christ stretches forth His hand to us, we must find the courage, humility, and common sense to reach for and accept His hand. Only then can we realize that the storms are temporary and that a new day is upon us.
As a community of faith, you have made great strides in your pursuit for both spiritual growth and social responsibility. Over the course of history, you not only established parish and monastic communities that offer spiritual refuge for the heavy-hearted, but also founded special ministries and initiatives that have provided the basic needs of our neighbors. I commend you for your dedication to the core principles of our faith—love of God and love of neighbor—and today I invite you to walk with me so that we may apply the principle of love in dynamic new ways.
Today, hundreds of thousands of young people are taking to the streets of cities and towns around the world; they have even gathered just a short distance from our Cathedral! These young people are marching in the streets because they “demand that their lives and safety become a priority” for those in positions of authority. Ιt is daunting to consider that these young people—our young people—are not marching to Church to find refuge or a place to voice their concerns. They sadly take to the streets because they feel that no one cares about them in their homes, in their schools, and in other familiar places, yes, including the Church.
I know that we all desire to do the best we can for our youth, but as a unified Metropolis family, we must find new ways to engage them. It is not enough for us to issue invitations and passively wait for them to arrive at our doorsteps. It is our responsibility to go to them, yes, even if it means joining them in the streets. As servants of Christ, our mission, among many others, is to fill the “Master’s table” with all who are invited, especially our youth, by searching for them on “the highways and hedges of cities.”
As I stand before you today, cloaked in the bishop’s mantle, and as I hold the shepherd’s staff, I do so not as your master, but as your father. And as your father I wish to echo the message of Christ on the stormy sea: “Do not be afraid”! Do not be afraid, for your father is prepared to struggle with you. Do not be afraid because, for your father is prepared to cry with you. Do not be afraid, for your father is here to comfort you. Do not be afraid, for your father is prepared to lay down his life for you.
As your father and chief-shepherd, I reassure you that my hierarchal ministry will focus on three basic principles:
First, it shall seek to unify all people in Christ. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided along ideological lines. For too long has “brother betrayed brother, and sisters turned against their own,” as Saint John Chrysostom notes. Today marks a new day for the Holy Metropolis of Chicago, a new day focused on unity in service of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And to cultivate greater unity and trust among us, we will emphasize fundamental Christian principles of governance and administration, including: accountability and transparency.
Second, as your father, I will do all that I can to open those doors that were once shut and be inclusive of everyone in the work of the Church—especially those who were once ignored or marginalized. I beseech each of you to get involved so that together we can serve as God’s left and right hands, thus sharing His hope and love with the world. As I have in my prior ministries, I intend to continue actively working in the community to help those in greatest need, and I will expect the same of our clergy. We must extend the love of God beyond the walls of our churches and into society, particularly to those in greatest need of that love.
Third, as your Metropolitan and father, I wholeheartedly accept the awesome responsibility and obligation to lead you closer to Christ. It is not adequate when we only focus on finances, administration and on social ties; we must simultaneously pay attention to our spirituality. I do not forget that the primary task of every hierarch is the salvation of souls.
As the head of our Orthodox family, I acknowledge and accept that I am nothing more than what Christ was in the world, that is, a deacon and servant. As your shepherd, I am called to serve you, not the other way around. To this end, I stretch forth one hand to Christ, receiving His mercy, and extend my other hand to you, sharing with you and your families His grace.
My beloved children, as we depart and set our eyes on what lies on the horizon, I urge you to set you’re your hearts on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Moments before His betrayal, and a few hours before His passion and crucifixion, He summarizes the Scriptures for His disciples in a few simple words: “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 34-35). Amen.