Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Monday, January 1, 2018

Archpastoral Letter for the New Year of the Lord 2018

Beloved of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church, Friends, Benefactors, and Supporters:

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

We are coming to the end of another year. The media is filled with commentaries on the year that will soon be consigned to history, and speculative predictions on what lies ahead. For me, the end of the year is always a reflective time; a time for taking stock of what I am doing with the time allotted to me by God. This has been a particularly important exercise since my illness in 2016. I thank Almighty God, the Giver of Life, for granting me another year to serve you, and I pray that He will allow me to continue my ministry and service to you in 2018, the coming New Year of the Lord.

Human beings have always marked time by significant events. The real question is not whether we will mark time, but how we will do so. What events and what messages are we proclaiming in the calendaring of time?

For the Christian, time is not meant to become a tyrant ruling over us. Rather, it is intended to be a teacher, instructing and presenting us with opportunity and invitations to walk the way of love, in the way of Christ. Rather than being dreaded as a foe, it is to be cultivated as a friend. Its role and reach is a part of the redemptive loving plan of God. In the Incarnation, the Eternal Word became flesh; breaking into time to transform it from within.

The Lord who created time now gives us time as a gift. By entering into time, He removed the curse it held over all men and women by defeating death. In Him, time now becomes a field of choice wherein we can grow in holiness, experience true happiness, and find real freedom. We can begin to participate in God's loving plan to recreate the entire cosmos in and through Jesus Christ.

Time is the road along which this loving plan of redemption proceeds in our individual lives and in the history of this world. We who have been baptized into Christ are invited to participate in this loving plan by living our lives in the Church, the seed of the eternal kingdom. The Church is not some thing but Some-One into whom we were baptized. The Church is the Body of Jesus Christ. He is the Head of His Body and we are Its members. (1 Corinthians 12:27).

So, how do we view time? Is it a tyrant ruling over us? Or, is it a tutor, teaching us the way to live our lives in this world so that they open into eternity?

Christians proclaim a linear timeline in history. There are a beginning and an end, a fulfillment, which is a new beginning. Time is actually heading somewhere. That is as true of the history of the world as it is our own personal histories. Do we live this way?

Christians mark time by the great events of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are moving toward His loving return. We mark our Christian culture with events of importance from the ongoing family events, the history of the Church of which we are members.

The members of that family were birthed from the wounded side of the Savior on the Cross, at Calvary's hill. That family was sent on a mission when He breathed His Spirit into them at Pentecost. We remember them and walk with them so that we have models and companions for the journey of life. They are that "great cloud of witnesses" the author of the letter to the Hebrews discusses (Hebrews 12: 1-3). They will welcome us into eternity and help us now along the daily path.

For Orthodox Catholic Christians, the Church’s liturgical year follows a rhythmic cycle. It points us toward beginnings and ends and, in so doing, emphasizes an important truth that can only be grasped through faith: every end is a beginning.

In our liturgical life, no sooner than we have celebrated the last Sunday of the Year, the feast of Christ the King, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, and we prepare for the birth of Savior. Our Christian faith proclaims that Jesus Christ is the "Alpha", (the first letter of the Greek alphabet) and the "Omega" (the last letter), the beginning and the end. He is the Giver, the Governor, and the Fulfillment of all time.

So it is with each day of our lives. There really is a Divine design. Every morning invites us to begin again. The very structure of the 24-hour cycle of each day reveals the goodness of a God who always invites us, and empowers us, to begin again in hope and with joy. Hope is reborn with every sunrise.

Every evening invites our honest reflection, expressions of gratitude to the Lord who gave us life, repentance for where we fell short, new choices to amend our life, and gives us the healing, rejuvenating rest in the Lord which awaits all who live in Him. Then, the sun invites us to begin again by saying "YES" to the Lord's choice and invitation of love. Our time is to be filled with bearing the fruit that remains in the garden of grace called daily living.

These truths concerning time can have ever-increasing meaning for us as we grow in the life of Grace. They are meant to change us. They invite us into a deeper walk with the Lord and with one another. It is now up to us to respond to the lessons of time and the invitation of faith.

As we move from one year to the next, we also move along in the timeline of human life allotted to each one of us. We age. The certainty of our death is meant to illuminate our life and the certainty of the end of all time. The coming of the Lord is meant to illuminate time's very purpose and fulfillment in Christ.

Death can become a second birth for each one of us, through living faith. Francis of Assisi prayed these words in his most popular prayer "it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." He referred to death as a "sister" implying that he had a relationship with it. So too did all of the great heroes of our Church, the saints.

Do we view death in this way? Is death a catastrophe to be avoided, a source of fear? Or, as we age, is death becoming a friend, a companion who beckons us on to a more meaningful, redemptive life? Is death becoming a "sister" whom we will welcome in due time? Do we believe that it is simply a change of lodging, a passage to a new birth in the Lord?

The author of the Book of Wisdom reminds us that "God did not make death and He does not delight in the death of the living" (Wisdom 1:13). We recall the tender moment recorded for us in St. John's Gospel where Jesus, brokenhearted at the death of His friend Lazarus, comforts his sister Martha with these words "Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11: 25 and 26).

Do we truly believe this? Do we live in a way that such a belief becomes a reality? Jesus Christ abolished death and brought us eternal life by removing what St. Paul calls "it’s sting"; it's essential evil, separation from God and the eternal love which is communion with God. Christ robbed death of its power over us through His Resurrection. He made that tombstone a stepping stone, a portal to eternal life (1 Corinthians. 15:55-57).

As we begin the New Year 2018, let us remember that everything we desire, everything we hope for, can be found and fulfilled in Christ Jesus. In this New Year, let go of the old you and embrace your potential. Let go of the past failures. Let go of the past mistakes. Let go of the past and embrace your new beginning. God has great plans for you through Jesus Christ. Accept Christ not only in word but in deeds.

I am truly excited about what God is preparing to do in this 2018th Year of the Lord, and I am praying that His purpose will be revealed to you.

To all of you, I extend my archpastoral blessing and wishes for health, peace, length of days, happiness, and joy in 2018.

Paternally yours in Christ,

+ Archbishop Stephen
Most Rev. Archbishop Stephen J. Enea
Primate of the Italo-Greek (Italo-Byzantine)
    Orthodox Catholic Church      

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Homily for the Sunday after Christmas (12/31/17)

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

“Flee to Egypt.” With those words echoing in his ears Joseph got up, took Jesus and Mary by night and went to Egypt. Regardless of whether this story really happened the way Matthew tells it, it is not hard to know that it is true. The names and faces might change but it is a story that continues to be lived in lands throughout the world today. We have seen the pictures. We have read the news. We have heard and maybe even participated in the arguments over what to do about this situation. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not the first refugees and they are not the last.

What do you hear in today’s Gospel, the flight to Egypt? What feelings does it evoke? What images fill your mind’s eye? What prayers arise within you? What experiences does it recall from your life? What does it have to do with you and me?

I picture a little boy and his mom and dad. Violence, a tyrant ruler, an oppressive government, and the threat of death have them on the run. They have left behind more than what they have taken. I feel the parents’ fear and the knot in their stomachs. I am certain their one thought, their only priority is to protect the child and keep him safe. I see them feeling their way through the darkness of night hoping not to be noticed. With each passing moment, they are a bit further from the known and familiar, and bit closer to the unknown and unfamiliar. I hear their whispered questions. When will we get there? How much further is it? What will we find? What will it be like?

I am not talking about only Jesus and the Holy Family, I am also talking about the thousands upon thousands of people who have had to flee and are fleeing from their homelands because of persecution, tyrannical rulers, oppressive governments, and wars. One child arrived safely in Egypt. Other children, together with their parents, have drowned and washed up on beaches. Others were turned back from safety because nobody wanted them because they were different. All were refugees and they shared a common story.

I cannot explain why one child found refuge and the others do not. There are no good or acceptable reasons for that, but I can tell you what are not the reasons. It is not because Jesus’ life mattered more, was more important, or more valuable than other children. It is not because God loves Jesus more than His other sons and daughters. It is not because Jesus is God’s Eternal Son and the other children were just normal human beings. If we think it is any one of those things, we have missed the point of Christmas. We have denied that the Word became flesh; human flesh, flesh like yours, like mine, like your children’s. We have forgotten the prayer that reminds us that in Jesus, God shares our humanity so that we might share His divinity. If that prayer means anything at all it means that the depth and measure of God’s joy and thanksgiving that Jesus arrived in Egypt is equaled only by the depth and measure of God’s anger and sorrow that those children and families who sought and who seek safety did not reach their Egypt.

God’s heart is with the refugee. In the birth of Jesus, in the angel of the Lord who spoke to Joseph in a dream, and in the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, God has revealed Himself to be aligned with the refugees of this world, not only with those from oppressed and war-torn countries, but with you and me as well.

And if it sounds like I just named us as refugees you heard right. Jesus, that little boy who fled to Egypt with His mother and father, and all of those children, with their families, who have sought safety and peace are the faces of a refugee humanity, a humanity you and I share with them.

In today’s refugee faces we see a modern-day retelling of the flight to Egypt, and in Jesus’ face, we see the spark that ignites hope, kindles the fire of love and illumines the darkness for all refugees. Their stories confront us with our own refugee status and bring to mind the times we have fled to Egypt. Some of you may be on that road now.

If your life has ever been disrupted and you needed a safe place to get away to; if you have ever known it was no longer safe or good for you to stay where you were or to stay the way you were; if you have ever left the known and familiar and traveled in darkness to the unknown and unfamiliar; if you have ever realized your life was at risk and you had to make a change; if your survival depended on crossing borders into a new and foreign land; if you have ever experienced these or a thousand other things like them, then you know what it is like to be a refugee. And my guess is that we all know what that is like.

We may not have had the same experience as Jesus and the Holy Family or the thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq, or Iran, but we share a common story and a common status. Herod is not just a king in Israel some two thousand years ago. In every age, Herod is the power, circumstances, and abuses that disrupt and seek to destroy life. Herod is that one who creates refugees. For every refugee, there is a Herod, and there are all sorts of refugees and all kinds of Herods.

You see, being a refugee is not only about tyrant kings, oppressive governments, and threats of death. It is also about a deep longing and drive for a new life and a new place in life. It is hearing and responding to the nighttime calling of God. The refugee life is neither easy nor safe, but we never go alone. We go with the God of refugees, the God who “has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:19-20). We go with the promise that our Egypt has already been sanctified and prepared by the presence of “this Child who is our spark.” This child knows the way. And this Child is Jesus, the Christ, the Expected and Anointed One.

Some of us are refugees from a marriage or relationship that was unhealthy, destructive, or violent. Some are refugees from the land of addiction. Some are refugees wandering through the darkness of depression, emptiness, or a life seemingly void of meaning. Some are fleeing the countries of neglect or abuse. Many of us have recognized behaviors and choices that we had to flee or situations we just had to get away from. Most of us have probably been refugees from the land of grief and sorrow.

I do not know what your refugee story is, but I will bet you have one. I will bet you have had at least one time in your life when you had to get to Egypt. Your life depended on it. You left home for a better place, a different life, a new way; and you left not really knowing where you were going or what you would find when you got there. You trusted the Child to show you the way. You followed in the footsteps of the Holy Family and with each step of the way your life was the retelling of today’s gospel.

Every time I hear today’s gospel, every time I read about refugees in today’s news, every time I reflect on my own refugee status and my times in Egypt, I cannot help but wonder what if. What if Egypt had closed the borders of its heart? What if the Holy Family had arrived only to find a big wall and locked doors? What if the wannabe Pharaohs had unleashed on them the dogs of fear and prejudice? What if the Egyptian people had said, “There’s no room for you here?” What story would we be telling today? Would there be any good news for the refugees of the world? For you? For me? Would the spark have been extinguished?

But none of that happened. Perhaps Egypt remembered. Perhaps Egypt remembered another time, another Joseph, another refugee people. Perhaps God sent the Holy Family to a land that would remember. Perhaps God was hoping and counting on Egypt to remember it had once been a place of refuge for His people, and it could be again. Oh, that we too might remember; that we too might remember the Holy Family, the refugees in the news, and our own flights to Egypt. Oh, that we might remember it all.