Canada Conf Banquet speech
Dearly beloved in our Lord: “Christ is in our midst!”
I am so very pleased and honored to, once again, be among the faithful clergy and laity of the God-blessed CanAm Region. It is with joy that I bring to you the greetings and blessings of His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP, our beloved primate, as well as the greetings and blessings of Their Graces Bishops Antoun, Joseph and Basil. The faithful of the Midwest Region, clergy and laity together, also send greetings to you. You should be proud of he accomplishment of this Region. For it is a strong Region – strong in its faith; strong in its commitment to God, and our Archdiocese.
For me, our time hand in hand during this Parish Life Conference has been far too short. I have very much enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones. The hospitality you have extended to me has been very wonderful. I know that I will always cherish the many memories of this conference, and our time spent together.
However, we are now fast approaching the close of our time together. As we have come to the end of this conference and are preparing to go back to our home parishes, I hope and pray that this weekend has been a time for renewal in your life. The purpose of attending and actively participating in our Parish Life Conferences is to grow, to learn and to strengthen our Faith and our devotion to God. Without this as a foundation, a gathering of this type would have no purpose. Here, we are constantly reminded that God wants us to leave behind our old ways and ideas and embrace the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church with all our heart, soul and strength. This means that we are called to constantly rekindle our faith.
Indeed, the theme for this year’s Regional conference, which comes out of the book of Revelations, is, “Behold, I make all things new.” Perhaps, we should say that, it is not only the theme of this conference; rather it is the central theme of our Christian faith. Elsewhere in the Holy Scriptures, St. Paul tells us: old things have passed away, behold, all things about us have become new through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Truthfully, this is why Christ came! He came to earth, taking on our humanity, in order that we, through Him, may be able to overcome sin. He came in order that we may stop existing in a hopeless manner of life that only leads to death and the grave. He came that we may be totally renewed into His abundant life — so that we may start living in heaven while still on earth. This is the ageless Truth of our Faith.
Now, as we are gathered here, we must ask ourselves this very important question: Are we, as Orthodox Christians, renewed people? I want you to think about this for a moment, for it is a very, very serious question. When we look at our lives, and how we respond to the things of the world, are we any different from those people who are not Christians? Are we responding any differently to our neighbors, sin and the world today, than we responded last year, last week, or even yesterday?
Jesus tells us that the world will know that we have been renewed, and are thus, His followers, by the love we have for one another. Can this be said of us today? Are love and kindness words which people use to describe us? Can the world look at us and say, “You can tell that person is a true Christian by how loving they are”?
Love — God=s love — was the beginning point of our creation. Therefore, through Christ, Love has also become the manner of our renewal. Because of His great love for us, God sent His Son, so that we can live in everlasting blessedness with Him. I tell you, such a renewed life is not only our personal mission: it is our God-given heritage.
Now, having said that, the next question is, “how does this apply to my and your life?” Look at this conference – so many people have worked so hard to make it a success. But, from a Christian viewpoint, what does it mean to be a success? Is success measured by how good the parties and get-togethers are? Should the success of this Conference be measured by how much fun everyone had? Or by how well the Banquet is attended? Or by how good the music is?
No, of course not! We all know that it is wonderful to have a well-attended Banquet, which everyone likes. No one would argue with this.
However, we come together as a Christian family, united in purpose and vision, to be unified and renewed in Christ=s love. Success is measured by how we respond to the voice of Christ, and His reaching out to us to give us new hearts and minds. Success — our success as Christians — is measured by how we lovingly respond to the needs of our brother and sisters.
In her wise and continuous concern for our spiritual welfare, the Church offers us, through her many activities like this conference, the opportunity to take seriously the work of our renewal. Whatever activities we choose to be a part of, if they are not centered in Christ, following His example as shown to us in the Gospel, our efforts will be of little value. Some people have the wrong impression. They think they can be involved in worldly matters and be attached to materials possessions, and at the same time, expect the help of God’s providence.
What do I mean by this? Simply, that we are deluding ourselves if we think that we can come to this Conference, focusing solely on social activities and involvement, and at the same time fulfill our vocation as Orthodox Christians. Too often we turn our backs on the necessity to be a regular part of the spiritual life of our parish, our Region, and our Archdiocese. We are content with being “once-a-week” Christians. Our faith, for many of us, is no longer something we live. Rather, we have reduced it to something we do once in a while. Thinking that we know the Orthodox Faith, we do not study our faith to learn more about it. We criticize those who try to teach us or correct our misunderstanding it. We make light of fasting and Christian piety. Or worse, we try to rationalize our refusal to fast, or live in piety, by invoking the need to be modern or contemporary.
Jesus said, “Many will say to Me…, ‘Lord, Lord…’