By Jackie Morfesis
We never cease to be amazed by the words and intentions of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros. His latest missive against the Orthodox Church, and as always veiled in his social and political agenda once again seeks to revise a faith tradition from the time of the Apostles. Here are his words from the Annual Leadership 100 Conference in Naples, Florida:
“But today, I want to challenge us all – here in the “New City” of Naples – to think about what new thing are we going to be known for in the next hundred years. What makes our faith so marvelous is that even though we repeat the cycles of holy seasons and services with a precision unmatched, we always can infuse our traditions with new enthusiasm, new excitement, and new energy.”
Let’s take a moment to unpack and reflect on the not-so-veiled meaning and purpose of this statement. He uses the “New City” of Naples as his starting point, entry point, permission if you will, to launch his ever-present and ongoing theme of changing the unchanging and changeless truth of God and His Holy Mysteries. Just as he previously did in revisioning the Annunciation of Mary with language very purposely crafted to tear away at the position of the Orthodox Church regarding the right to life of the unborn.
We know that as Orthodox Christians, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). We also know that as believers, we are made anew in Christ. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away; behold, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet, the archbishop feels the need to somehow make anew what has already been perfected. The notion that it is we who bring new energy and infuse our liturgies and sacraments and traditions is a false and concerning one. We know very well that we are partakers in the Divine Mysteries of our God and that we are to stand as good stewards and shepherds. We are not the “creators” of the Divine.
And the cycles and holy seasons and services are not offered year after year, season after season, as rote repetition whose aim is a seamless precision. They are offered with reverence and worship. The only reason His Eminence would believe that we need to infuse anything is if they are in some way lacking. And the Holy Spirit is not lacking. God’s favor and providence is not lacking. And God’s healing, forgiveness, and love is not lacking. There is no slack nor lack with God. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Yet, it is we, who lack. We lack bold faith. In fact, as Orthodox Christians, we are not readily taught God’s Holy Word. We do not know the Bible the way other Christian denominations know the Bible. And we know that God’s word is our daily bread. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Exodus 16:16). We also know that God’s word is the sword of the spirit. Ephesians 6.
We are not taught that we are a child of God, a disciple of Christ, and an ambassador in the kingdom. And sorely, we are not taught that we are to lay hands and heal in Jesus’ holy name. This is not only something relegated to the clergy, but to all of God’s children.
No, Archbishop Elpidophoros, it is not our Divine Liturgy and services and observances that need to be infused with new energy, it is the very stance of our church leaders who believe that the power of the Holy Spirit, though they tell us is given to us at our baptism, is only in their hands to be meted out to parishioners at will. And it is not.
Jesus said: “I will not leave you orphans. I will comfort you” (John 14:18). The Holy Spirit is our comforter. And we, in turn, are to comfort others. Not only comfort others, but as is told to us in scripture, offer healing in Jesus’ name. We know very well that Jesus is the Master Physician of our souls and bodies. And our life is in His hands as His follower. We are gifted by medicine. and we appreciate and value all who are learned. We appreciate and value our doctors, surgeons, and medical professionals. But we must not speak words that convey we have forgotten who is responsible for the healing of body and soul.
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros is weaving a tapestry, but it appears more so a web, to recreate what has already been created. A carefully crafted web with a very specific agenda and purpose.
We should all be impassioned. We should all be desirous of learning more. We should all be willing to open our hearts, minds, and souls. We should all care about our neighbors and our communities. And not only care but put into action our mercy and compassion. And in these ways, we can all do better as Christians and within our parishes. Especially parishes that are able to allocate millions of dollars to build new community centers and have not included spaces for outreach to God’s children in need as referenced in (Matthew 25.35).
But as an Orthodox Christian, this is not achieved by struggling to decide what “new thing” we will be known for in the next hundred years. It is not achieved by revisioning, reimagining, remaking, and reestablishing our traditions, sacraments, and services, that have endured since the time of the apostles, founded upon God’s Holy Word.
It is achieved by diving deeper into our faith with prayer, humility, and dedication. No, Archbishop Elpidophoros, we are not here to be concerned about what “new thing” will we be known for in the next hundred years. We are to be concerned by how we will be viewed by God throughout eternity.