Last Sunday We Were Blessed And Honored To Host His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros Of America In His First Historic Visit To Our Beloved Parish.

Την Περασμενη Κυριακη Ειχαμε Την Μεγαλη Ευλογια Και Τιμη Να Υποδεχθουμε Στην Ενορια Μας Τον Σεβασμιωτατο Αρχιεπισκοπο Αμερικης Κ. Ελπιδοφορο

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America Homily at the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers

December 13, 2020

Saint Thomas Greek Orthodox Church

Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am very glad to be with you this morning for the Divine Service, especially because it was unanticipated. Because of pastoral responsibilities yesterday, I found myself close to Cherry Hill, and I am happy to be with this wonderful community of Saint Thomas so close to the Feast of Christmas. As the Patriarchal Vicar of the Metropolis of New Jersey, it is a great joy to experience the life of this vibrant Metropolis in person.

In fact, today is the Sunday of the Forefathers, which falls on the nearest Sunday between December 11th and the 17th. It is the day on which we remember all the righteous figures from the Old Testament, whose lives and character revealed, in a prophetic manner, something of the mystery of the Coming of the Christ.

The hymns today sing of the honored fathers of all ages past: Adam, Abel, Seth, Noah, Enoch and Abraham, Melchizedek and Job, Isaac and the faithful Jacob; as well as the daughters of old: Hannah, Judith, Deborah, Huldah, Jaël and Esther, Sarah, Miriam the sister of Moses, Rachel, Rebecca and Ruth the exceedingly wise.

 In every case, the lives of these righteous men and women are a manifestation of the plan of God to save the world – His Divine Oikonomia. It is a story of God’s outreach to the human family, and His desire to include everyone in His Household and in His Kingdom.

That’s why today’s Gospel reading is so important. There is something so very forceful about the command of the Οἰκοδεσπότης, the Master of the Estate, when he learns from his servant that the summons to his Banquet has been declined by those invited guests. He commands:

Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame. [*]

And when his servant replies, “My Lord, what you commanded has been done, but there is still room,” the Householder becomes more urgent and commands:

Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. [†]

This insistence and real pressure is not a negative emotion for God; rather, it is a sign of His love for every single human being in this world of ours. Everyone – the billions of souls whom we will never know, God wants them all at His Table in the Kingdom. When we hear of “the poor and maimed and blind and lame,” we should understand these conditions as being those of the soul and heart.

There are people with a great deal of money in their pockets, but who are paupers in their souls. There are people who have been so hurt by the world and the others in their lives, that they cannot make their way to be loving, decent, and good. There are those who are blind to the truth about themselves, and therefore they cannot see the needs of others. And there are still others who have self-inflicted wounds of selfishness and greed that make it hard for them to reach out to others.

But these are the very people that God wants, because He wants us all.

My beloved Christians:

This Christmas, let us be like the Holy Forefathers and Foremothers whom we celebrate this day. They sought to bring others to God, and we can do the same. With a simple loving word, with a phone call to someone we have ignored, with an invitation that is overdue. Even as we continue to protect ourselves and others in this time of pandemic, we can still reach out and spread the message of God’s inclusive and embracing love in the world, in the little world that each of us inhabits daily.

May the Lord Who is Coming to be Born in Bethlehem of Judea grant unto us a blessed Feast of His Holy Nativity, and grant unto us a safe, prosperous and healthy New Year. Amen.

[*] Luke 14:21.

[†] Luke 14:23.

Message from Father Christoforos,

Σεβασμιώτατε Αρχιεπίσκοπε Αμερικής κ. Ελπιδοφόρε,

Με αισθήματα σεβασμού, χαράς, αλλά και ιεράς συγκινήσεως Σας υποδεχόμαστε σήμερα στην Ενορία μας και Σας ευχαριστούμε που μας τιμήσατε με την σεπτή Σας παρουσία και τελέσατε το Μυστήριο της Θείας Ευχαριστίας. 

Η Ενορία του Αγίου Θωμά Σας καλωσορίζει και όλοι ταπεινά Σας υποδεχόμαστε σήμερα ως τον πνευματικό μας πατέρα και Ποιμενάρχη, ως τον πράο, ευγενή και ελπιδοφόρο Αρχιεπίσκοπο, που ήλθε να δώσει δύναμη και κουράγιο σε ένα ευσεβές και φιλόχρηστο ποίμνιο, που είναι όμως πληγωμένο βαθιά λόγω της πανδημίας που αντιμετωπίζει ολόκληρη η ανθρωπότητα, χωρίς διακρίσεις. Η παρουσία Σας σήμερα Σεβασμιώτατε, μας ενισχύει στον αγώνα μας να κρατηθούμε ενωμένοι ως Εκκλησία, ως ελληνορθόδοξο ποίμνιο, αλλά και ως άνθρωποι που νιώθουμε να έχει αλλάξει η ζωή μας και να ζούμε συνεχώς υπό το κράτος του φόβου και της ανησυχίας. Παρά την άσχημη όμως κατάσταση που επικρατεί γύρω μας, Εσείς, χωρίς να φοβάστε, επισκέπτεστε τις Ενορίες μας, και μας δίνετε θάρρος να συνεχίσουμε.  

Έχει περάσει ένας χρόνος και έξι μήνες από την Ενθρόνισή Σας στην καθέδρα της Ιεράς μας Αρχιεπισκοπής. Όλο αυτό το διάστημα, ήταν αρκετό να δείξετε και να αποδείξετε τις ικανότητές Σας αλλά και την πορεία που θα ακολουθήσετε ως προς την διαποίμανση της Ιεράς Αρχιεπισκοπής Αμερικής. Χωρίς πολλά λόγια, αλλά με δραστικά μέτρα, προχωράτε σε μεταρρυθμίσεις και πράξεις που θα αναβαθμίσουν την κατάσταση και θα επουλώσουν πληγές. Πάντα έχοντας ως μέτρο την αγάπη του Χριστού. Και αυτό είναι εκείνο που ζητά και για το οποίο διψά ο λαός μας. 

Η Ενορία του Αγίου Θωμά, όλοι μας, μικροί και μεγάλοι, Σας υποσχόμαστε ότι θα είμαστε δίπλα Σας, υποστηρικτές του ιερού αγώνα Σας και των προσπαθειών Σας για την πλήρη ανακαίνιση της Εκκλησίας μας, που θα μας φέρει όχι απλά ελπιδοφόρους αλλά και νικηφόρους στην νέα φάση που εισέρχεται η Ιερά μας Αρχιεπισκοπή, στα επόμενα εκατό χρόνια ζωής και προσφοράς στην πανέμορφη και ευλογημένη αυτή Χώρα της Αμερικής.  

Στο σημείο αυτό, θα ήθελα να αναφέρω το όνομα του αγαπητού μας γέροντος πατρός Δημητρίου Κατερλή, ο οποίος σήμερα βρίσκεται ανάμεσά μας και χαίρει με την σεπτή Σας παρουσία Σεβασμιώτατε. Ο π. Δημήτριος έζησε στο Τσέρρυ Χιλλ για περισσότερα από 40 χρόνια, με την καλή του πρεσβυτέρα Αντωνία και την ευλογημένη οικογένειά του, και τα τελευταία χρόνια της ζωής του ήταν εδώ, δίπλα μου, συμπαραστάτης, πατέρας και αδελφός, πνευματικός και καθοδηγητής, θησαυρός ανεκτίμητος και αναντικατάστατος. Γνωρίζω καλά πόσο πολύ Σας αγαπούσε και Σας σεβόταν, πάντοτε μας μιλούσε με τα καλύτερα λόγια για το πρόσωπό Σας και σήμερα αγάλλεται και ευφραίνεται. Ας είναι αιωνία η μνήμη Του.  

Με την ευκαιρία λοιπόν αυτής της πρώτης και ιστορικής ποιμαντικής Σας επισκέψεως στην Ενορία του Αγίου Θωμά, που ελπίζουμε ότι είναι η πρώτη από τις πολλές που θα ακολουθήσουν, δεχθείτε τις ευχαριστίες μας, την εκτίμησή μας προς το Σεπτό πρόσωπό Σας και την υπόσχεση ότι εδώ, στη Νότια Νέα Ιερσέη, υπάρχει το σπίτι Σας, ο Άγιος Θωμάς του Τσέρρυ Χιλλ, και τα πνευματικά Σας παιδιά Σας σέβονται και Σας αγαπούν και θα είναι πάντοτε έτοιμα και πρόθυμα να Σας συμπαρασταθούν στο έργο Σας.

Your Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America,

It is with tremendous joy that we welcome You today to Saint Thomas, in this first historic visit of Your Eminence to our Parish. We all feel blessed and honored with Your presence, especially during these days of the pandemic, when we all feel distressed and anxious, not only because of the disease but mostly of the various effects that this brings to our lives.

Our Parish, Your Eminence, has a life of 91 years, although the actual Church was built 53 years ago, it is comprised of hundreds of people, very devout people, that love and respect God, their Church, and their Clergy. We have 1st to 5th generation Greeks, converts and Orthodox faithful from other areas of this world. We are a strong and vibrant Greek Orthodox Community in South Jersey, that serves God and His people day and night. 

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, not all our faithful were able to come and be with us today. Therefore, I submit to You Your Eminence, everyone’s respect and humble wishes for a blessed, healthy and productive ministry as our Spiritual Father and leader of countless Orthodox faithful across the United States of America. Moreover, I relay to You the love and prayers of the Archons of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, all the 17 members of our Parish Council, the President and the members of the St. Irene Philoptochos Society, the office staff, the chantors and the members of our Church choir, our Seniors, the Kali Parea and the St. Thomas Maturity Club, the staff and the families of our Hellenic Afternoon School, the members of our Hellenic Heritage Dance Group, the devoted Youth workers of our Parish along with the hundreds of young people, babies, children, young adults that make up the Youth of Saint Thomas, our Sunday School, and our GOYA, JOY, HOPE and Summer Camp, the members of our local chapters of the Ahepa, the DOP, the Maids of Athena and the Sons of Pericles, and of course all our parishioners.

The last time that the Archbishop of America visited our Parish, was in 2001, when Archbishop Demitrios came to pray at the funeral of our beloved Danielle Kousoulis, one of the 3000 victims of the terrorist attacks in NY on September 11. Danielle’s name is written in the books of heaven, in the heroic history pages of the United States and in the memory of our community. We are very proud of our Danielle. 

As I previously mentioned, St. Thomas has been and always will be a dedicated Parish to our Holy Archdiocese, to our Archbishop, and to the mission of our Orthodox faith.

Your presence and visit today, Your Eminence, renews our mission and hard work, as you are giving us strength, power and courage, not only to continue, but also to become even stronger, especially after this pandemic. 

Please accept our gratitude for being with us, just a few days before Christmas, and may the Lord keep You safe, honorable and healthy for many years! Before I conclude my thoughts, please allow me to say that Your historic visit today, is the first of many to come. Therefore, we, the people of St. Thomas, are humbly asking Your Eminence to honor us with Your presence on St. Thomas weekend, May 8th & 9th, 2021.