His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s remarks on the 10th Anniversary of St. Andrew Church
January 28, 2007
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. Andrew Church:
It is truly good to be with all of you during this joyous occasion, as we celebrate the tenth anniversary of this parish’s reception into the Orthodox Faith. During the past decade, under the good stewardship and care of Father David, you all have set deep roots into the Faith. This is no small feat, as many converts to Orthodoxy change their outward appearances far sooner than they truly repent and embrace our deep spirituality and holy Tradition.
Rather than focusing on details, I have watched all of you struggle to live an Orthodox lifestyle. This requires humility, obedience and patience, but above all things, love. It is your love, as a united and compassionate family, which has saved you from the delusions and fantasies that drag down Christians who are less careful.
Obedience is not about force, but about harmony and synergy; working together in an organized fashion to accomplish as a group what cannot be done on one’s own.
We are not in a struggle against non-Orthodox people, our neighbors, or even those who hate and wrong us. Instead, we are in a struggle against the darkness that dwells within each of us, the fallen nature which seeks to condemn and hate, rather than love and embrace. It is intolerant and self-righteous, rather than compassionate and humble.
Above all things, I encourage you all to continue your gradual and steady growth. Be impatient for nothing, because true spiritual gifts are not acquired by the self will of humans. True spiritual gifts are gifts, given by God to those who yield to Him and receive the blessed virtues that lead to inner healing.
Rather than seeking to live out laws and rules, we are called to embrace our Lord Jesus Christ and be transformed by His love into loving people. We must renounce all thoughts, opinions and memories that keep us from God’s grace. This is the hardest things for many Christians to do, because they have only emotional religious experiences rather than spiritual awareness.
The awareness I speak of is not about seeing the sins of others, but beholding the ineffable, indescribable, immeasurable love of God that envelops all people. If we see how much God loves our neighbor, can we continue to hate and judge him? If we experience the mercy and compassion of God in spite of our sins and transgressions, can we continue to bear grudges and anger against anyone else?
This spiritual struggle to repent and convert on a daily basis has brought you to where you are today. Conversion is not a one-time act, but a daily necessity for those who love God. Each day we begin anew, dependent not on our past achievements, but the ever-flowing grace and power of God.
The gifts we received yesterday mean only as much as how we share them today. This is true of all the ministry groups within this parish. For example, you have one of the finest choirs in the Diocese, and it is so because the gift of music given the members individually you have shared with the community. The more you give, the more you shall receive.
Father David, you are one of my most dependable priests. I have full confidence in your commitment to the Church, and I congratulate you on ten years of honorable and noble service to our Lord Jesus Christ.
To all of you, never forget that you are always in my prayers. Please continue on this most blessed journey within the Kingdom of Heaven.