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Κυριακή, 18 Δεκεμβρίου 2016

OUR CHURCH TODAY IN AMERICA






OUR CHURCH TODAY IN AMERICA



Dear People,

            The following are some notes that I used in my last sermon before the academic break at the University of Connecticut Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Three Hierarchs on Dec. 11, 2016. It is based on some of the statistics that have been compiled that last eight years about the life of the Orthodox Church in America.  These facts have been collected from research groups and from our observations of what is happening on the local level.  

            Since a good number of my small congregation is made up of Greek Orthodox students from the University of Connecticut, I attempt to convey to them the living, breathing reality of Orthodox Christian spirituality.  You must know that Elias and Maria Tomazos over twenty five years ago had a dream of creating a living, breathing bastion of Holy Orthodoxy and Hellenic culture and civilization.  In their attempt to fulfill this dream they established the Hellenic Society Paideia at the University of Connecticut.  By the Grace of God, the University gifted to Paideia four acres of land on the University campus.  On this land, Paideia has built the beautiful Chapel of the Three Hierarchs, a large cultural center, a replica of an ancient Greek Amphitheater and is now building a museum funded by the Pan Laconian Society of North America.  Paideia teaches New Testament Greek and Modern Greek to the students of the University.  Paideia also has coupled up with colleges and universities in Greece and offers scholarships for American students to study abroad receiving college credits. 

            During the Divine Liturgy that we perform at the beautiful Chapel of the Three Hierarchs, we have added the following petitions that express the spirit of Holy Orthodoxy in the world today.  These petitions are as follows:

Again we pray for the protection of all Orthodox Christians throughout the world and especially for those that are violently being persecuted in Egypt, Africa, Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, Europe, and America and throughout the world.  We ask you Lord to protect all Christians in the world from wrath, famine, pestilence, earthquake, flood, fire, sword, foreign invasion, civil strife, and accidental death, let us pray to the Lord.

Again we pray for the Hellenic Society Paideia, for its president, its trustees, the faculty, its students, donors, volunteers, and benefactors of this society and all its programs, let us pray to the Lord. 

Again we pray for the UCONN, its faculty and student body that they will come to know the truth of Jesus Christ and the salvation that He offers to all humanity, let us pray to the Lord.

MY SERMON ON DEC, 11, 2016

            America’s religious landscape indicates people are leaving the Greek Orthodox Church in America.  The number of those who consider themselves unaffiliated has risen from 6% in 1991 to 25% as of September 2016.  The number amongst young adults (18-29) is 39% reported to be unaffiliated with any religion. 

            People leave the Church for many reasons.  These are: 1) People stopped believing in the Church’s teachings.  2) The family was never religious when they were growing up, 3) Scandals of the clergy and mistreatment of the faithful by the clergy, 4) A traumatic event happened in their lives, 5) There is too much politics in Church life.  6) Some maintain their religious affiliation merely because of their ethnic or cultural ties and not necessarily because they believe in the Church’s teachings.  7) I would add that there is too much emphasis on money and secular programs that pass for spirituality.  We do not emphasis the spiritual life in our parishes.  If we get people to truly commit their lives to Jesus Christ, the financial support will freely flow into the Church.

            In 2008, a reputable report found that the average age of active parishioners in our Church was 54 years old.  That number suggests to us that such membership is not sustainable.   A leading layman of the Orthodox Church wrote the following about those leaving the Church.  He wrote: “In a startling find, statistics disclose that over 60% of Greek Orthodox families of the last generation and 90% of Americans with Greek Orthodox roots are no longer in communion with the Orthodox Church.”   It was also recently stated about the Orthodox Church in America is in an advanced stage of crisis that should worry the Church leadership.  The Pew Research group found that nearly half of all Orthodox Christians leave the Church once they become adults.  This report also states that financial support of the Church has fallen 38% from 2010 to 21015. (These statistics were gleaned from The National Herald).

            This report also states that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese helps this exodus of people leaving the life of the Church.  One of the issues that are frightening people is the teaching of some fanatical right wing Orthodox theologians.  The heresy of the Toll Houses or rather a misinterpretation of this teaching about the Toll Houses that I spoke about last week is frightening people away from the life of the Church.  In fact, this teaching is a huge insult to the Grace of Jesus Christ who sacrificed His life for the sins of the world on the Cross of Golgotha. 

            Another issue that impacts the faith of our people is the lifestyle of our Bishops.  Bishops are supposed to live a life as tonsured monastic monks, yet many of them live lavish lives and often drive luxury cars.  The sin is not in driving a luxury car; the sin is in the image that owning a luxury car impacts upon the faith of our people. In talking about this issue I will never forget the story of St. John Chrysostom after he was elevated to the position of Patriarch of Constantinople.  Once he became the chief shepherd of the Church of Constantinople he discovered that the Patriarchal residence was furnished with lavish furniture and expensive Persian carpets.  He immediately ordered that the expensive furnishings of the Patriarchal residence be sold and the money given to the poor of Constantinople.  He also discovered after becoming Patriarch that the clergy of the city, both monastic and secular, were fond of wearing expensive silk cassocks and robes.  He ordered all the clergy of the city to stop wearing these silk robes because it was scandalizing the faith of the people.  Never forget that this great Saint was exiled three times from his position of Patriarch of Constantinople because he was not afraid of being politically correct.
           
            Having said these things about humbleness, penance, compassion and pastoral concern, we must look at Jesus Christ the way the Saints related to Him.   We should never look upon Jesus as a wrathful and judgmental God who is looking for ways to punish us.  He is a God of love that surpasses all human understanding. I would like to share with you how one of our great contemporary Saints looked upon Jesus Christ.  Saint Porphyrios said: “Well then, really this is the way we should see Christ.  He is our friend, our brother; he is whatever is good and beautiful.  He is everything.  Yet, He is still a friend, and He shouts it out, “You’re my friends, don’t you understand that?  We’re brothers.  I’m not…I don’t hold hell in my hand.  I’m not threatening you.  I love you.  I want you to enjoy life together with me.” 

                “Christ is everything.  He is joy, He is life, He is light.  He is the true light who makes man joyful, makes him soar with happiness; makes him see everything, everybody; makes him feel for everyone, to want everyone with Him, everyone with Christ.  Love Christ and put nothing before His Love. Christ is everything.  He is the source of life, the ultimate desire, he is everything.  Everything beautiful is in Christ.  Somebody who is Christ’s must love Christ, and when he loves Christ he is delivered from the devil, from hell and from death.”

(This quote is from the book “Elder Porphyrios, Testimonies and Experiences” translated by Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones in 1997.  The book may be purchased from Amazon.  The most recent printing of the English
edition was in 2013).

ST. PORPHRIOS






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