His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Remarks at the 50th Parish Life Conference Clergy Meeting
June 29, 2005
San Francisco, California
Right Reverend, Very Reverend, and Reverend Fathers; Reverend Deacons; and candidates for the Holy Diaconate:
Christ is in our midst!
It is always a joy to be with you. You are more than my friends; you are my sons and my brothers. I thank God each day that I have been so blessed. I am proud to be your servant, and it is my honor to be your father in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Because of my deep love for you, it has been easy for me to forsake the old world for the new, and to be called an American.
Being an American is important to me for the sake of my unity with all of you. Yes, we have human differences, clashes of personality or opinion, but through the Holy Spirit we are one. Just as much as the Holy Orthodox Faith binds us together, so also does our nationality when it is Baptized and Transfigured by the Light of God that shines forth from the Only-Begotten Son of God. For me, the only way to truly be an American is to be Orthodox. For only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we truly be one people.
We are called out from amongst our people to not be conformed to the world, but rather to the Image and Likeness of Jesus Christ. Just as there is perfect unity between the Father and the Son, so too we are called to unity amongst ourselves. The great president Abraham Lincoln said, ‘A house divided cannot stand.’ This is true of our Archdiocese, and this Diocese in particular.
True unity comes from within. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. So, when we fall into squabbling and disputes, we know that we are departing from the Will of God. As a new and delicate blossom, this Diocese cannot afford such divisions. We must be unified if we honestly desire to serve the Lord and carry the Gospel message to America. Our ministries as clergy depend on our unity. Therefore, I ask all of you, with careful thought and deep prayer, to examine yourselves. Are we as persons fully committed to this unity in all our actions?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking only of our struggles within the parish. Many of you feel overwhelmed by the demands of the pastorate, and I know some of you have been pushed to the brink of despair. Brethren, I ask you to pray for one another and hold each other up. Do not envy or resent one another, but rather rejoice in one another’s blessings and seek to aid the brethren who are stumbling. Even the one who seems unworthy of his office is worthy of mercy in the eyes of God.
I also need your help. We are in a time of transition between the old ways of doing things and the new. Some of you have been impatient for these changes, and I do not blame you. It is hard for me as well, because I would like to see us improve how we do things. Old habits die hard, so we should be prepared for times when it seems our progress is stymied. This is when we turn to our Lord, Jesus Christ, and ask for patience and endurance.
Patient endurance is what we need to have when dealing with the idea of Orthodox Unity in North America. Some believe that SCOBA is dead, and that unity will never be achieved. However, it is my firm belief that SCOBA is not dead, but rather struggling to deal with the changes that are occurring within many of the jurisdictions, not the least of which is our own. I’m sure most of you realize that the entire Orthodox world is looking at us right now. They are waiting to see what this Archdiocese does next. The ancient Churches are wondering whether we will fail or succeed. What do you think, will we grow? You will see SCOBA reborn and renewed by what we do right here as a Diocese. You have heard it said, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way.’ The Antiochian Archdiocese is preparing to take the lead, and I invite you to be part of that. Do not sit on the sidelines while the ball is in play.
If you desire success, then I ask you to help me. When I declared 2005 the Year of the Youth, the response was dismal. We are starting exciting new ministries like OYO, and we are looking for a bigger camping facility to replace Camp St. Nicholas. I need your enthusiasm! I need your vision, and I need you to rally the people to these worthy causes. Please, for the sake of our Lord, Jesus Christ, do not abandon this Diocese. If you are overworked, let’s find a way for you to share your burdens, so that you can be refreshed and regain the enthusiasm you once had. If you are excited, then do not be afraid to step forward. There is plenty of work to do, and where there is labor for the Lord’s sake, there is abundant grace. If you desire to grow in your relationship with God, fall on your knees in repentance, then stand up and get to work. We have much to do.
One of the most critical components of our new Diocese is the formation of an Advisory Board. Over the coming months, we need to work out a plan for how this new Board will function, and how its members will be selected. There are a number of new clergy committees that must be organized to deal with important matters. My own vision for this Diocese is that its administration be conformed to the ancient model of the Bishop in council with his priests. I ask you to become willing participants in this model. I also beseech you to offer all your prayer, love, and gifts to this Holy Diocese in ways that only you know that the Lord calls you to do. Many of the administrative tasks of the Diocese should be entrusted to the clergy. But that can only happen if all of you are willing to step up to the plate and take a swing at the ball. Those who sit on the sidelines have no right to complain.
There is much to do, and so we have no time to sit in the old thinking of the past. We must rally together around the Cross of Jesus Christ. If you want to be heard, speak up. If you want things to change, you must take action. I want to encourage all of you to be active participants in the creation of this Diocese. Like the New Jerusalem described in the end of the Book of Isaiah, we are surrounded by the dry bones of the enemies of God. We know what will happen to us if we fail to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must either pull together and get to work, or our new Diocese will quickly wither and fade like a blade of grass.
Take the time this week to pray and think about what I have said here. God is offering a unique opportunity to be coworkers in His creative process. Do not quickly turn away from this wonderful gift being offered to us all.