Phoenix, July 31, 2023
The newly enthroned Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America offered a theological and practical address to the 56th Biennial Archdiocesan Convention held in Phoenix July 23-30.
His Eminence Metropolitan Saba (Isper) opened his speech with a discussion of the Church’s theology of the image and likeness of God, which was the theme for the convention, then discussed challenges facing the Archdiocese, and set a number of serious goals, such as deepening the prayer life at every parish and enriching the Archdiocese with healthy monasteries.
The Metropolitan explains what it means to be truly human:
Our belief is that man is created to be in communion and union with God, and that if he rejects this communion, he will not become a human being in the authentic understanding. Apart from God a “normal man” cannot exist. The state of the man who has cut himself off from God is abnormal. Thus, the meaning of our belief in the “Image” is that God is the center of man’s existence. In other words, the divine element is what defines our humanity.
Simply, we understand the “Image” to mean that something of God exists in man. While man is called, in cooperation with his Creator, to cultivate this “Image” until it reaches its divine “Likeness.”
Having discussed the image and likeness of God, the Metropolitan asks how the Archdiocese can reflect the image and likeness of God now and in the future. He answers:
Everything in the Church should be based on theology. The short answer is that the “Image” is her message and that the “Likeness” is her vision. More clearly, we should state that those blessings we have been given in this Archdiocese such as: man power and organizational capabilities as well as the blessings of material and spiritual wealth that have been granted to us by God are the “Image.” On the other hand, the “Likeness” is the sanctifying of these blessings through the good deeds of our witness to, and the services for, those around us and the society as a whole.
His Eminence gives thanks to God for the many blessings the Archdiocese already enjoys, including numerous church buildings, God-loving people, zealous clergy, volunteers, active organizations and fellowships, the Antiochian Village, and more.
“This great legacy needs to be preserved, sustained, and made permanent… The most important and pressing question for us, if we want to be honest witnesses of the Lord here and now, is, how does this image, we have, become the likeness we desire?”
First, His Eminence discusses various challenges that the Church faces today, including secularism, relativity, the separation of theology and life, a shortage of eligible candidates for the priesthood coupled with an average priestly age of 60, poor coordination and communication, and a misconception of Church membership that “is dominated by the spirit of membership that exists in clubs and non-Church associations.”
Considering all the above, Met. Saba sets a number of goals for the Archdiocese moving forward:
“We need to develop and build ecclesiastical institutions based on the theology of Christian witness. To identify and prioritize these entities will require prayer, reflection, discussion, and expert advice. The Archdiocese can no longer bear the failure of insufficiently studied ill planned projects and initiatives. “
Stabilize and strengthen the Archdiocese’s financial resources. “We need to pay serious attention to the education of our young and the care of our elderly.”
“In such a multicultural Archdiocese, we should respect every culture. We need to learn how the Church unifies all the diversities and heals all divisions through the life in Christ.”
Renew the Archdiocese’s pastoral ministries, “seeking out those that have been absent from the Church lest they fall away.” Pastoral ministries can no longer depend solely on the priest.
Develop a “culture of joyful integration.” This includes interacting more with other Archdioceses of the Antiochian Patriarchate and other Orthodox jurisdictions.
Pray fervently for God to send monastics “so that the Archdiocese will be revived by their prayer and ascetic struggles. Monasteries will be an oasis of comfort, peace, and healing.”
“The Church itself, as an oasis, requires more effort in raising up priests according to the heart of our Lord – priests who as living images of Christ in front of our young people who can see in them what the love of Christ does to man and how God alone is really enough for man. We can do this by beginning a campaign to instill a love of the priesthood in our youth. The testimony of a faithful and dedicated priest in the service of his parish influences the hearts of young people and endears them to the high mission of the priesthood.”
Establish prayer groups in every parish, “beginning with the encouragement of a family life filled with prayer and piety in the home, drawing from the fountains of traditional and living spiritual life in the Orthodox Church here and everywhere.”
Do all of these works not only with our hands, but with our hearts, as all Orthodox Christians enjoy the grace of Baptism and Chrismation.
His Eminence concludes:
Finally, I would like to express my great joy in meeting your beloved faces. I hope that our convention today will mark the beginning of a phase of planning, cooperation, and diligent work, aimed at making this Archdiocese a place in which Christ takes pride, His beloved find solace, and holiness shines forth. These are the qualities that were embodied by St. Raphael of Brooklyn, the founder of this archdiocese, who calls us to follow this example as we work together to build a beautiful future, guided by God’s grace.
May God bless our efforts and make us a shining example and testament to His love for the world.
OrthoChristian previously reported that His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and All East, who is currently visiting America and attended the Archdiocesan Convention, visited St. Anthony’s Monastery in nearby Florence, Arizona. The Convention was also blessed with a visit from the myrrh-streaming Hawaiian Iveron Icon of the Mother of God.