Syosset, New York
September 1, 2005
To the Reverend Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of The Orthodox Church in America
Dearly Beloved in Christ:
For most of us, September is associated with “new beginnings.” The vacation season has come to an end. Children return to their classrooms. And in the workplace, the pace intensifies after the summer slowdown. As the days grow shorter, life returns to “normal.”
For the Church, the first day of September, the initiation of a new ecclesiastical year, also marks “new beginnings.” The annual cycle of feasts and fasts begins anew. Church school classes and other opportunities for spiritual formation are offered. Parish ministries and activities are intensified. Parish life also returns to “normal.”
Exciting as we find new beginnings to be, we should never be content with a mere return to “normal.” During the 14th All-American Council, it was made clear that when the Church limits itself merely to maintaining the status quo—the “norm”—it cannot and will not grow spiritually, numerically, or in any other way. The essence of the Gospel challenges us to “repent,” to “begin anew,” to “change” our minds and our hearts, our attitudes and our direction in pursuit of things that transcend the “norm” and enable us to experience that which the world sees as anything but “normal”—the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.
There was nothing “normal” about Our Savior’s ministry. “No man has ever spoken as this man speaks,” we read in Scripture. In His words and actions, in His teaching and preaching and healing, Jesus Christ revealed that mankind’s “norm” is not found in this world, but in the life of the world to come—that while we live “in the world,” we are not “of the world.” Pursuing that which the world considers “abnormal”—virtue, wisdom, vision, repentance, and a life lived in an intimate union with God and His People—is at the very center of His ministry, and that of His Body, the Church. It is a “new beginning” that beckons to us, not only at the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, but every day of our lives.
However, without vision, without faith, without a commitment to proclaim the wonderful things God indeed does for us, it is impossible to transcend the “norm,” to approach the new ecclesiastical year renewed and refreshed by the very Spirit Who makes all things new, or to grow “from glory to glory.” Pursuing the familiar may bring with it comfort, control, and predictability, but the Gospel is not about these things. Rather, it challenges us continually to take a leap of faith and to pursue those things built upon a vision of the Church that focuses on how things could be, rather than how things always have been.
As we begin this new ecclesiastical year, let us together take the leap of faith into the future, approaching our personal lives and the vision of our parish communities with renewed zeal. Let us intensify our pursuit of the Kingdom of God which, while yet to be fully revealed, is already fully present in the life of the Church. At the Divine Liturgy we sing, “We have seen the true light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us.” What better time than now to transform these words into action—action that is hardly “normal” in the world’s eyes, yet fully expected in the Lord’s.
Invoking God’s blessing upon you and assuring you of my prayers, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Archbishop of Washington and New York
Metropolitan of All America and Canada