His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Remarks on the 25th Anniversary of St. Philip Church
June 17, 2006
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Your Grace, Bishop IOV, the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Reverend Deacons, esteemed officers and members of the Parish Council, officers and members of the organizations, and all the faithful of St. Philip Church:
This weekend, we celebrate the prayers, hard work and sacrifice so many of you and the founders of this parish have made for 25 years to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Building up a parish is one of the hardest challenges Christians can face. It involves cooperation with other, sacrifice of our own desires and total commitment to God’s will.
Like a flower, a parish comes to be what it is through many stages. What starts off as a green bud gradually becomes a radiant and fragrant blossom, exploding with beautiful colors and captivating scent.
As any of us who have tended flowers know, it is not easy to keep healthy. They can never be taken for granted. Flowers need sun and rain, the right balance of fertilizers, and occasionally pesticides. What is true of plants is true of parishes, if they do not continue to constantly grow, they quickly die. New stems must come forth from the old ones, so that growth begets growth, and the plants build upon their previous seasons.
They must be tended to by a knowledgeable gardener, who knows when to let the plants throw forth shoots, and when to trim off dead branches. He waters and cultivates, pulling out weeds and planting new seedlings. With a watchful eye, he spots diseases and pests that can destroy growth and cripple a healthy plant.
For the last few years, Father Elias Ferzli has tended to this community, and I admire his dedicated service to God through his ministry to all of you. He has helped you, the good people of this community, get on the course set forth by the Gospel of our Lord. He has encouraged you in the Faith of your Fathers, the Holy Fathers who have proclaimed the Gospel from the beginning. He is a priest of the highest quality, and he will be here many, many years as this parish blossoms into the finest rose in the Spiritual Garden of this Diocese.
Father Elias, I am confident in your talents as a physician and healer of the souls. Just as a doctor does not despair when his patients cry out in pain as he begins the treatments, I remind you to be long-suffering in the face of any adversity. After all, the treatment of a wound means we must often increase the pain of the patient for a short time, so that it will soon pass and the wound will disappear. The short-term pain will be forgotten once the patient is healed.
However, if we always try to find the ‘pain-free’ way to heal, we will get nowhere. If the wound is not treated for fear of the pain, it will slowly infect and kill the whole body. We cannot risk losing this beloved parish, and so I charge you, Father Elias, to heal the people, through education and care, and bring them into greater and deeper Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church. God will not fail you.
Some are born into the Church, while others come as children and adults, yet we are all one family. We have one Father, the Lord God. We have one Savior, Jesus Christ. We have one Spirit, the Most Holy Spirit. We have one Mother, the Holy Church. We may come from Lebanon or Toronto or Edmonton, yet God loves all of us and desires to save all of us.
Each member of the family is like a petal in a flower. No one by himself is the flower, but a flower is the unity of many different parts. Some are colorful, while others are plain. Yet, every one of them is essential. As the flower grows, it builds up its existing parts while creating new ones.
Father Elias and I know that this parish has a wonderful future, so long as you continue to carry the message of the Gospel to the world around you and bring more and more people to the Holy Orthodox Faith. To do this, you must first be faithful to the Faith yourselves. Those of you who persevere in prayer, I urge you to continue on and encourage those who struggle with living out the Faith each day. If you desire God’s joy and peace at the center of this community, then you yourselves must let God into your hearts and be transformed by Him. Let God cleanse you of your sins, so that you may be radiant with His glory.
Just as the bee is attracted by the fragrance of the flower, people will be attracted to this community by its spiritual beauty and fresh growth. Allow God to prosper you by His grace, be open to the visitor and minister to the suffering. In loving others, you allow God to love you all the more.
You have much to share with the people of Canada. Do not think that you must ‘protect’ what you have. In fact, what you have will only increase if you share it with the community.
I rejoice that God has done a mighty work in building up this community, and I congratulate you for faithfully following Him. Never forget my love for all of you, and the joy we have in the Lord.