The following is the Acceptance Address delivered by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, upon his election as Bishop of Fort Worth, on October 31, 2008.
Your Eminence, beloved Vladyka Dmitri, Vladyka Tikhon, Maestro Don Alejo, Vladyka Benjamin, beloved friends and brethren in Christ,
I am profoundly humbled to be elected as a bishop, and by the confidence placed in me by you and the other holy hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in America. I am immensely grateful to God, and to you all, to be considered for such a ministry, and pray that I may faithfully fulfill the trust placed in me for the good of the whole Church, and that I might hope to hear the Lord’s word on the Last Day, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
It is hard to begin to express the gratitude that I have for all the people who have affected my life: first and foremost, my parents and family, who while often not understanding the path to which I have been called, showed their patience, unconditional love and support all along my spiritual pilgrimage.
My gratitude to God is also for the many spiritual guides, both living and departed, who have imparted to me their vision of Christ and the Church, of ministry and service. Among the those who have gone on before us are Protopresbyters Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff, of blessed memory, who shaped my intellectual formation in the Faith, and imparted their vision of the Church, albeit at a time when I was too immature to comprehend it; and the Monastic fathers, who inspired in me the desire for the “Way of Perfection,” Bishop Mark of Ladoga, and Archimandrite Dimitry of Santa Rosa, of blessed memory, monks of Valaam; Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) and Fr Anastassy. May their memory be eternal!
Among the living, many who have so deeply affected my life and ministry, gave me guidance, inspiration and encouragement, were patient and sometimes strict in discipline, are here today: Fr Ramon Merlos, Fr Alexander Federoff, Fr Basil Rhodes, Fr Ian MacKinnon, and many others with whom I worked in my life and service in the Diocese of the West. Especially, I am grateful for my spiritual father, Bishop Pankratiy, Abbot of the Valaam Monastery of the Transfiguration, and his spiritual father to whom he led me, the great Staretz Archimandrite Kyrill of the Trinity-St Sergius Lavra; as well as Elders Raphael, Nahum, Ephraim, Dionysios, and Dunstan, and others who guided me in the monastic life, and foretold to me this cross. In particular I give thanks to God for my brothers and co-strugglers from the Monastery of St John, who by their patient endurance as I grew into the ministry of abbot and spiritual father, supported me and our life together as we strove to build a monastic brotherhood for the Glory of God. Others who encouraged me so strongly in the monastic life are my brother in Christ Igumen Gerasim of St Herman Monastery, and Abbess Victoria of St Barbara’s, Mother Barbara, and Abbess Susanna and the sisters of the Skete of Our Lady of Kazan. I thank God for all the multitude of friends, spiritual children, and brothers and sisters in Christ, and rely on their prayers, as such a ministry as that to which I am being called can only be founded on the prayers of all the faithful united together in the bond of love by the Spirit of Peace.
“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise and God has chosen the weak things of this world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh might glory in his Presence” (1Cor 1:26-29).
In the words of my spiritual father, Bishop Pankratiy of Valaam, “the episcopate is the ultimate fulfillment not only of the priesthood but also of monasticism.” The episcopacy is certainly the fullness of the priesthood, and a bishop is a High Priest, archiereus, by definition. Thus his calling is to fulfill the image of the Great High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ, in his own life and ministry; to become transparent to Christ for the sake of the people; to actualize His Presence in the midst of the people sacramentally—the great mystery of God with us. Yet the episcopacy is also the fulfillment of monasticism, as the ultimate ascetic task of taking on the Cross of Christ. To be a monk means to completely cut off the thoughts and attachments that keep us in bondage to the world, so that we may live according to the will of God alone. It is the quest to acquire sobriety and humility, dispassion and discernment, patience and longsuffering, and most of all, unconditional love for our neighbor and for the whole world. As monasticism is the sacrament of obedience, the episcopacy is the ultimate obedience, which can only be accepted as an act of obedience. It demands complete surrender to God and the death of self-will. It demands true holiness, nothing other than synergy with the Divine Will—the very definition of obedience.
To fulfill what it means to be a bishop means nothing other than to “attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” How far I am from this! And yet, it is the Holy Spirit who fulfills what is lacking, and heals that which is infirm.
The episcopacy presents the ultimate ascetic and spiritual challenge: the challenge of complete conversion to Christ, the transformation of mind and heart by repentance, in order that I may say with St Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). To die to self, to empty oneself, to humble oneself even unto death—this is the calling of the bishop, because his calling is to manifest Christ wholly and completely, by identifying with Him and actualizing His Presence. Though there are many tasks and jobs associated with the episcopacy, administrative, pastoral and liturgical, it is not so much about the “job” as it is about the person; and that person is not me, but rather, Christ.
If the episcopacy is about me, manifesting my talents, abilities, and ego, then there is nothing sacramental about it; or rather, that which is sacramental and holy is defiled by my ego, my self-opinion and self-will. The Church does not need me; the Church only needs Christ. If by my self-emptying I can become a vessel of Christ, of His Will and His Grace, His Presence and His activity, so that we together as Church can fulfill His Will by His Grace, and glory in His Presence, then His ministry will be fulfilled in me.
The bishop is not only high priest, but hierarch: the source of sanctification, as all ministries are established by the ordination of the bishop. This defines the nature of Episcopal leadership. Leadership in the Orthodox Church is not about organizational ability, political acumen and all the interpersonal tools of communication. These are important; but they are not of the essence. Real leadership in the Church is first and foremost spiritual leadership: attaining, imparting and actualizing the Vision and experience of the Kingdom. Only by first attaining this vision ourselves, the divine theoria of the Kingdom of God, can we attain the discernment necessary to “rightly divide the word of Truth,” to rightly distribute the gifts of grace, and to discern those worthy to bear such ministries, and have the ability to fulfill them. Only by ascetic self-denial can we exercise true discernment—the vision of the will of God, and how to fulfill it—free from any selfish or self-serving agendas. Then our leadership will be true: we will able to lead people to Christ and the Kingdom, and to manifest the Kingdom in our midst, by constantly renewing that vision of the Kingdom, through our prayer and worship and through our works of charity and outreach.
Real Episcopal leadership must be manifest in action: the care for the clergy and faithful, most especially the poor and needy, those trapped in the poverty of loneliness and isolation. The bishop is called to establish churches and monasteries, not simply as liturgical centers, but as the means by which the Church reaches out to the world, to spread the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness, and thus to heal and reconcile those broken and fallen, lonely and despairing, to God. The bishop is called to preach and teach, to evangelize and bring Christ to the world, and to bring those outside the Church to Christ. The bishop is called to form men and women for the service of the Church, as clergy, monastics, lay leaders, and all as disciples. He must lead them in the spiritual quest for the virtues through self-denial, by his life first, and then by his teaching. He must discern the gifts God has given each person, and equip and bless each person to fulfill their ministry, thereby fulfilling their personhood in the communion of persons, which is the Body of Christ.
The bishop cannot do any of this in isolation; the episcopate exists only in relation to the whole community. The bishop’s ultimate ministry is to bring together the whole community of the Church, so that with a common vision and common activity the whole body works together in synergy with the will of God. Thus, the bishop recapitulates the whole church entrusted to him, not only in a mystical sacramental sense, but in common action, held together in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of Peace.
Archimandrite Jonah (Paffhausen), Bishop-Elect of Fort Worth