August in Antioch

August in Antioch December 15, 2004

I realize it’s cold outside. Snow’s coming, Christmas is not far behind. But it’s August in Antioch. This as a state of mind rather than simple chronology. August in Antioch may outlive 31 days, this year, or several years.

There’s a new day coming, “A new era,” said His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP at the summer convention. At the time it was like summer. Well, it was summer. The new era was just around the corner, but not yet. Now, it’s August in Antioch.

Everyone knows that August is pregnant with expectation. The Church, having survived the summer, eagerly anticipates the coming New Year with its programs and promise. Plans are made so as to make this transition smooth and peaceful. At the very latest, these plans are made in August. It’s, at least, August in Antioch.

Tonight I was fortunate enough – blessed – to be present for the Enthronement of His Grace, BASIL, Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America. I’m just getting back into the hotel room as I’m punching out these words. No time yet to process. But I do know it’s August in Antioch.

The images … St George Cathedral was dimly lighted for the Vespers service. The clergy – 50 of us? – lined the center aisle. As we looked back toward the door through which the Metropolitan would enter, two saints stared back at us from the western wall: Ignatius of Antioch and Raphael of Brooklyn. The bells. The arrival. The procession. Vespers. For such a huge building the service sounded and felt gentle and warm. A pregnant hush filled the air. In my heart, it felt like August in Antioch.

At service’s end, there stood Saidna PHILIP on the solea, Saidna JOSEPH to his right, and Saidna BASIL was ensconced on his throne to the left. His proclamation sounded much like the one delivered on the day of his Consecration to the episcopacy: full of love, humility, and power. He didn’t say it, but you could tell: It’s August in Antioch.

The reception that followed was grand without being pompous. (Arabs sure know how to fast.) Fr Constantine Nassr reminisced about his meeting Bishop BASIL 34 years ago at St Vladimir’s Seminary. It was a moving tribute – one which I could never have delivered without crying. George Farha was the first to accuse Metropolitan PHILIP of hallucinating. Then Fr Paul O’Callaghan joined in. They were referring to what they would have said 20 or 30 years ago if someone had told them that this day – Antiochian dioceses, self-rule, bishops of American Sees – would ever come. They would have told that someone that they were hallucinating.

When time finally came for Metropolitan PHILIP’s words, he admitted that he had, indeed, been hallucinating for years, and Fr Paul, Fr Constantine, George Farha, Bishop BASIL, etc, were all part of his hallucination. It was, per normal, a rousing speech by His Eminence. Suddenly we were there, really there, for the “Great Commission.” It’s August in Antioch.

His Eminence reminded us that the Lord said to “Go and make disciples of ALL nations,” not just Syrians, Jordanians, Palestinians, Russians, Greeks. He said he looked forward to the day when 50 bishops gathered to pray to the Triune God. “Why not?” he said. Why not?

He spoke of the great missionary work going on within Bishop BASIL’s diocese and throughout the Antiochian Archdiocese. He defended his reception – Welcome Home – of the Evangelicals in 1987. He said that sometimes we talk so much about “preserving” the Faith that we sound like a bunch of pickles! He said, “Our Lord did not tell us to preserve the Faith … but to spread it!”

The Antiochian Archdiocese, just in the past 6 months, has been granted Self-Rule status, elected and consecrated 3 new bishops, and seated 2 bishops. It’s August in Antioch.

Why do I keep saying it’s August in Antioch? Because something new is happening. It didn’t just happen overnight, mind you. It has taken years and decades to get to this point. Yet if you view that span of time like the months of a year, it’s August in Antioch.

Each year in September, as we begin the New Church Year, we pray:

Again we pray that the Lord God will be gracious to us, remembering not the transgressions which we have committed during the year which is past but that he will look upon us with loving-kindness, and have mercy on us.

Again we pray that the Lord God will make us worthy to pass the coming year with a seemly disposition and virtuous life, guiding us by his righteousness and providing for us the path of salvation.

Again we pray that the Lord God will make this coming year plentiful, giving rain in due season, temperate breezes, seasonable weather and fertile ground.

Again we pray that the Lord God will give peace to the whole world and that he will be mindful of our holy Church and strengthen and establish it, enlarge it and give it peace and preserve it unscathed by the gates of hades and impregnable against the assaults of enemies both visible and invisible.

Again we pray that he may keep this holy church and this city and every city and countryside from wrath, famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, the sword, foreign invasion, civil war and sudden death; that our good God, who loveth mankind, will be gracious, favorable and conciliatory and turn away and dispel all wrath stirred up against us and all sickness, and may deliver us from his righteous chastisement which impendeth against us, and have mercy on us.

Again we pray that the Lord our God may hearken unto the voice of supplication of us sinners, and have mercy on us.

It is these petitions that come to my mind as I witness history being made in the God-protected Antiochian Archdiocese.

At the summer’s convention, His Eminence said:

The Book of Acts recorded the trials and tribulations of Peter, John, Paul and the rest of the early Christian community as they preached the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Jesus. In Acts 4:31-32, we read: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God with boldness. Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and one soul.” I hope that after our prayers and accomplishments at this convention, the foundations of this fragmented Orthodoxy in North America will be shaken and all Orthodox will speak the Word of God with boldness and with one heart and one soul.

He went on, back in July, to speak of struggles …

Three years have elapsed since our first vote in Los Angeles. These three years have been marked by frustration, tension and disappointment. But our Church is a church of hope. In John 5:17, our Lord said: “My father is still working and I am working.” If you are in Christ, you do not despair, you do not give up, and you do not surrender. Christ is working with us and will continue to work with us until the end of time. He is the foundation and head of the Church. In I Corinthians 3:11-13, St. Paul said: “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”

The Orthodox Church of Twenty-first century America is destined to chart its own course and shape its own future, despite the obstacles. We in the Antiochian Archdiocese have reached the point of no return.

In II Corinthians 5:17, St. Paul said: “therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” Today, I am overwhelmed by a sense of newness. This is a new era and a new day.

In conclusion, I am reminded of the story of Marshall Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow to grow and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshall replied, “in this case, there is no time to waste, plant this morning.” Today, in a world of fragmented Orthodoxy on this continent and abroad, we have no time to waste, let us plant our trees this morning.

On the ocassion of his enthronement as Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America, may God grant His Grace, BASIL, many, many years! But I maintain, in this chronological image, it’s August in Antioch. Let us proceed, brother and sisters, into the new era – being not hearers only, but doers – in faith, hope, and love.

By anticipation: Happy New Era!

Glory to God for all things!

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