His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Synaxis and Clergy Dinner – 45th Annual Folk and Choral Dance Festival
February 18, 2022
Sheraton Phoenix Downtown – Phoenix, Arizona
Beloved Brother, Your Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos,
I am delighted to be with you again at FDF, but my experience today of visiting monasteries has highlighted something that I would like to share with you – my brethren in the priesthood of Melchizedek.
In our Archdiocese, in this Metropolis and in each Metropolis, in the local parishes and in each parish, there is a tension – sometimes misrepresented – between the spiritual life and the secular life. Between this age and the age to come. Between the present moment and eternity.
I say there is a tension between them, because there is a good tension that creates energy and, if I may say so, spiritual propulsion. The so-called tension that is wrong is when someone pits one against the other. The Lord did not take us out of this world, but He gave us the spiritual gifts to transform it and not be part of it. *
So here on my first full day in Arizona I’m at two monasteries and tomorrow the folk dance festival. And they are by no means diametrically opposed. These are two aspects of the fullness of God’s gifts.
It is when one is opposed to the other, in such a way as to create an imbalance in the Body of Christ (much like the Pharisee with the publican last Sunday), then sickness arises in the Church. Tension is good, as long as it is kept in balance. Coming back from the monastery of Saint Anthony, I remember this story of the Great Saint, which you may remember:
A hunter, wandering in the desert, came across Abba Antony while he was joking with the brothers; and he was shocked. Wanting to teach the hunter that it is sometimes necessary to relax with the brothers, the old man tells him: “Put an arrow in your bow and draw it. The hunter did. “Bend it a little more,” Anthony said. The hunter obeys. “And more,” Anthony told him. “But if I pull the string too hard,” said the hunter, “the bow will break.” And the old man said to him, “It is the same in the work of God. If, in the case of the brothers, we tighten the string too much, they will break under the tension. So sometimes you have to relax with them. When the hunter heard this, he was filled with compunction, and taking great advantage of what the elder had said, he went away. And the brothers, very strong, went home. †
Here the Saint of God teaches a most precious lesson. The bow can only shoot the arrow effectively if the tension is right, if it is in balance. Too tight, and the bow itself will break. Too loose, and it won’t fly at all. It must be so with us who are the clergy. If we impose too much severity on them, we will break their spirit rather than refresh them.
That is why I congratulate you all, starting with Metropolitan Gerasimos and all those who make the Folk Dance Festival possible. Because you bring just the right tension to the bowstring, with just the right culture and ministry elements. And in doing so, you can propel the arrow of their faith even further, as St. Paul says:
… Δὲ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω ἐπὶ ὸ βραβεῖον τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως τεοῦ ἐν χρτῷ ̓̓̓̓̓̓.
… always reaching the final goal which is in front of me, I run towards the price of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. ‡
Those of you familiar with the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa are familiar with this spiritual theme of epekstasis – the ever greater and deeper pressure of the Created towards the Creator. The chasm between the two is infinite, and therefore the journey is infinite. And it is on this journey that we launch our children into life, who are “like arrows in the hand of a mighty man”, as the psalmist says. §
We aim for them in righteousness, but launch them through positive and wholesome tension, offering them both the solemnities of our tradition and adherence to our civilizational values.
My thanks to all of you for making this possible at the FDF, and congratulations and blessings to all of you.
* Cf. John 17:15-16.
† The Alphabetical Collection.
‡ Philippians 3:14.
§ Psalm 126:5 (LXX).