Posted on Monday, July 21 @ 16:43:03 EDT by greek_news
Washington, D.C.- The official opening of the 39th Biennial Clergy-Laity Conference of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was held last Monday at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. The event began a full day of committee and organizational meetings and workshops. The highlight of the opening was the keynote address of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America who spoke on the progress of the Archdiocese over the past two years and on the needs, challenges and opportunities for ministry that are presented to Orthodox parishes and faithful.
Addressing the theme of the Congress, “Gather My People to My Home,” Archbishop Demetrios affirmed that the Greek Orthodox Church is called by God to “gather His people … to go out, to look for them, to start gathering the souls who are looking for a spiritual home, for a living community and ultimately for communion with God.
He said the Church is no longer an immigrant Church but, instead, is firmly rooted in American soil, and that its members are no longer concerned about basic survival, but have moved up the ladder to attain some of the highest levels of education and income in American society. He also said the Church is no longer homogenous, but contains a variety of members – fourth and fifth generation Greek Americans, and others who are converts, including through marriage.
The Archbishop said the “new reality of the Church” is the serious problem with the youth who have disconnected themselves from the Church. He noted that this phenomenon has occurred in all major religious communities. His Eminence also pointed to the existence of 60 million Americans considered being “unchurched” who, while they may not be atheists, for various reasons they have also become disconnected with any religious body. He said that, to pursue the intent of the theme, the Church cannot be “a self-centered” or “self-enclosed ecclesiastical body,” but that God is calling the members of the Church to reach out and seek out those who have been disconnected and to encourage those looking for a spiritual home to return to the Church.
These include Orthodox Christians who have lapsed from the faith, or who attend church only at Christmas and at Easter time.
“Looking for them should be a priority in each parish,” the Archbishop said. Another category of people the Church should encourage to return are members of interfaith marriages who have been away from church since after they married, or who did not have an Orthodox wedding. A third category of people that should be gathered to Godʼs home are the youth, the adolescents and young adults who have disconnected from the Church and a fourth group are the 60 million unchurched who the Archbishop termed “the spiritually homeless.”
Archbishop Demetrios offered some practical suggestions to applying the theme in the parishes, including the following:
A change in attitude from being self absorbed to becoming aware of people outside of the parish. Establishing permanent committees to deal exclusively with disconnected interfaith marriage families. Offer youth a means of connecting to the Church, including athletic and social events. In addition to inviting the unchurched, parishes should be ready to cordially welcome them, to share information, “but not in a propagandistic way.” Make available various resources such as books, DVDs, CDs and printed material, which various departments of the Archdiocese have prepared.
The Archbishop also said there has been “significant financial progress” over the past two years in the finances of our Archdiocese.
“There has been a dramatic reduction of debt...with almost no deficit,” he said. He credited this progress to the “continuous offerings of our parishes;” the progress made by the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund, the Faith Endowment and the “impressive increase in unrestricted donations.”
Another positive development has been in the field of education, with the writing of several new books for effectively teaching Greek as a second language.
At Holy Cross School of Theology, he noted the establishment of a new institute, the Mary Jaharis Institute and the endowment of a Chair for New Testament Studies, through the recent $5 million gift to the school by philanthropists Michael and Mary Jaharis.
The Faith Endowment has established financial rewards for students of the Greek American day schools and St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival winners.
Another development has been the increase of activities in support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate due to the efforts of the Archons, especially in the recent successful resolution in the European Court in France in favor of the Patriarchate over its ownership of an orphanage that had been seized by Turkey.
His Eminence also noted the increase in giving to a variety of philanthropic causes, especially by the Ladies Philoptochos Society under the leadership of President Georgia Skeadas, which has given about $8 million to charity.
The Archbishop also reported that some $4 million has been given to victims of the fires in Greece in 2007.
The Archbishop also noted the continued success of the Metropolitan Childrenʼs Choir of the Archdiocesan District and its successful recent concert appearances in Cyprus, Greece and Washington.
The opening ceremonies also included the message of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the participants of the Clergy-Laity Congress, read by His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, the Patriarchal Representative to the Congress, who also offered his own greetings. The message expressed the love, support, and hopes of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the ongoing work of the Church in America.
Following the recognition of the members of the dais by Congress Chairman Andrew Manatos, the opening ceremony began with a prayer service led by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America with music provided by members of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians.
In announcing the opening of the Congress, Mr. Michael Jaharis, Vice President of the Archdiocesan Council, stated that 1,468 participants had registered for the Congress, the National Philoptochos Convention, and the National Young Adult Convention which met over the weekend. Mr. Jaharis affirmed the importance of the Congress theme of gathering people into the Church stating that the important work of “preserving our faith, values, and legacy” complimented our calling to reach those “in need of spiritual enlightenment and guidance.”
Master of ceremonies for the event was Mr. George Tenet, former Director of the CIA, who introduced Mrs. Georgia Skeadas, President of the National Philoptochos Society, Ambassador of Cyprus Andreas Kakouris, U.S. Congressman John Sarbanes, and the Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece Theodore Kassimis, offered their greetings and encouragement for the vital work of the Church in America.
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