[431: 23). If the world hated the Lord, we know that it will also hate us (John 15:18-19). If the world persecuted Jesus Christ and crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8), the world will also hate and crucify us.
While this is true for all committed Christians who serve in the ministry of all believers, it is especially true for those who are called to be set aside, called out of the laity to lead others: the clergy and the hierarchy.
THE JOY OF CHRIST
But in the face of such sorrow, hatred and persecution as the world gives to us, how are we who accept the heavy weight of the episcopate to find the joy of the Lord? In other words, where is the joy of Christ to be found amidst the suffering? Such a question is critical for one in my present situation.
The only way to find this joy is by learning to imitate our Pastor of pastors, the Shepherd of shepherds. It is when we learn to imitate Christ Himself that we also learn to cooperate with His Holy Spirit. And in turn, to incarnate the Spirit of Christ, is to turn His legacy into flesh.
Such is the spirit of the Church of Antioch throughout history. Such is the spirit of the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America. Such is the spirit of the true visionary leadership of Metropolitan PHILIP.
Nobody can receive the high ministry of the episcopate unless, like Saint Ephraim, we learn to "care so greatly for the flock!" And nobody can so care for the flock unless he has – again to use the words of Saint Ephraim – first learned the ways of tending the sheep, and thus, received the trail of carefulness.
This very ministry, then, is called our duty by Saint Ambrose of Milan, when he wrote, "The duty of our ministry is to help all and to harm no one . . . Thus, in Saint Paul’s qualifications for the ministry, we see how many qualities are asked of us" (Titus 1:7-9).
This has to be said now, as it is a must: since during my theological studies near His Beatitude Patriarch IGNATIUS IVand during my many years as presbyter under the leadership of Metropolitan PHILIP, I have learned well what both Saint Ephraim and Saint Ambrose are declaring. And this means everything to me, because our future is so often taught by our past. As we stand at the threshold of the 21st century, the advice of these two great saints still stands, that is: to care greatly for the flock by God’s Grace.
I have been taught these ways through my life in this Church of Antioch, on the hills of Balamand, and throughout the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. The many advanced programs and rich experiences to which I was exposed have taught me this incarnational truth of spiritual life. Also I have been shown that faith includes good deeds, for "not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). I pray that my own episcopacy may be marked by that very same spirit, the spirit of the theology of Antioch and the spirit of its Patriarch and Hierarchs.
THE MAGNITUDE OF MINISTRY
Here, then, is where I hope to experience the joy of the Lord, so that if I suffer, it is not for the morbid spirit of suffering itself. Rather, it is a willingness to do the works of the ministry which lead to that same joy experienced by Christ’s disciples: "The seventy returned with great joy, saying, Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And Jesus said, "But rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:17, 20).
In seeking to serve, we can be led to the newness of life for which we all long. But we suffer from the weaknesses inherent in human nature, and we are surrounded by hostility. Dramatizing this reality, Saint Gregory the Theologian is not hesitant to speak of poisonous serpents surrounding him. Naturally, wisdom and skillfulness are required of the bishop. According to Saint Gregory, this skillful shepherding of the flock is the "art of arts" and the "science of sciences".
Taking into account both the dangers and the magnitude of the sacred mission of the episcopate, and knowing my own limitations and my unworthiness for this high office, I am filled with awe and amazement. My immediate response is to repeat Jesus’ prayer: "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39).
It is true that whoever desires to become a bishop, desires a good work (1 Timothy 3:1). Therefore, I submit to the call of God, acknowledging my weakness, so that the power of Christ will dwell in me. And like the great Apostle to the Gentiles, Saint Paul, I know and I confess that "my strength is made perfect in weakness’; that "when I feel weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9), so that "the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Furthermore, I know that now more than ever the fallen man needs to be raised by God, that the human spirit cannot be lifted upward except through the Spirit of God, the true humanity is a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). A creation which is renewed like the eagle’s youth (Psalm 102, :5), becomes so by the creating and perfecting Spirit of God. I know the Church of Christ is the only healing and sanctifying power the Lord has given to His world. In the Church we have priests and bishops responsible for watching over the faithful. In accepting the office of bishop, I lift my hands in prayer so the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit will fall on me and enable me to be worthy of His service, and thus I will discover His renewing spirit of joy.
And now, turning to those whom I love, standing here in gratitude and reaffirming my trust in love, Your Beatitude and most Reverend Hierarchs, to you I pledge to serve the Archdiocese of North America under His Beatitude’s guidance, Patriarch IGNATIUS IV; and under the directive of its Metropolitan PHILIP. Also, I thank the North American delegation, headed by His Grace Bishop ANTOUN, for their sacrifice and love in accompanying me to Damascus.
Of course, I owe very special thanks to my parents for whom I hold the deepest love and devotion; they have offered to me the Lord and His Church from a young age. And to all my relatives, my brothers, my sisters, my cousins and their families; their presence here is an expression of deep love.
Finally, my sincere appreciation goes to those parishes and parishioners who taught me more than I taught them: Saint George in Boston, MA; Saint Mary in Cambridge, MA; Saint George in Allentown, PA; Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY: and especially my dear parishioners of Saint George Cathedral in Miami, FL. I thank them for making me part of their family. And my heart continues to belong to them. My personal satisfaction is to continue to see them growing in the faith and offering their dedicated services to Christ and His Church.
May the Lord continue to bestow upon us all the abundance of His blessings.
This article first appeared in the May, 1995, issue of the WORD MAGAZINE. Father Peter Gillquist is Chairman of the Archdiocesan Department of Missions and Evangelism.