Most Reverend Hierarchs,
Beloved brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,
St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who was a disciple of St. Paul and was initiated into the mysteries of God, tells us that “hierarchy is a sacred order, a state of understanding, and an activity which as much as possible participates in the Divine Likeness. The goal of a hierarchy is to enable people to be like God as much as possible and to be united with Him” (The Celestial Hierarchies, 3:1-2).
In other words, the Church is organized into a hierarchy because this is the most effective means of bringing us unto union with God. The head of the Church is Christ, who is also the goal towards which all the members of the Church are striving. Below Him is the assembly of the hierarchs; that is, the Synod of bishops, who convene together under inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in the path of righteousness.
The Synod is comprised of the local bishops, hierarchs who have been appointed by the Church as a result of their holiness and wisdom to care for the souls of the faithful in their dioceses. The bishops are represented in the parishes by the priests, men who have knowledge of divine things and are able to pass on that knowledge and experience to the faithful through preaching and the holy Mysteries. The other ranks of the hierarchy follow. The deacons assist the priests in the services and in catechism. The monks spend their lives in obedience and asceticism in order to be cleansed of the passions. Finally, the layfolk struggle for their salvation in the world, confronting the temptations of life with the help of the clergy.
The lower members of the hierarchy (who are less initiated into the divine mysteries), imitate the higher members (who have received a greater share of God’s grace). By obeying their hierarch’s instructions which are unto salvation, each person comes closer to God. Each rank leads the rank below it upward. In this way, not only is each member of the hierarchy able to advance in virtue, but also the Church as a whole is able to function harmoniously, in a spirit of peace and love.
This is how the Church is designed to work. But sin creeps in, and the beginning of sin is disobedience. The first sin occurred when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Paradise and ate of the forbidden fruit before the time God had appointed. Thus they found themselves cast out of Paradise and banished from the presence of God.
The same thing results for those who are disobedient to the hierarchy of the Church: they fall into schism and heresy and find themselves outside Her saving bosom. How does this happen? People, often clergymen, become filled with vainglory, and begin to think that they themselves are the source of authority and teaching, rather than the assembly of bishops. Being filled with pride, they contradict the Church and leave Her. Such are the results of disobedience to the hierarchy of the Church. We have both read about such things in history books, and we have seen them occur in our own days. May God always preserve us in the bond of unity and obedience to the Church!
My brethren in Christ and children in the Spirit! It is precisely out of obedience that I have accepted to become Metropolitan of America. The task is one beyond my ability and strength. A thousand arguments come to mind as to why I should decline the position and continue as simply the bishop of Boston. But obedience to the Holy Synod overcomes all my objections and protests. If I am not obedient to my superiors, how can I ask it of my disciples? Or if am disobedient to the Church, how can claim to represent the Church? If I do not cut off my own will and follow the divine will, how can I expect divine aid in my ministry? All the years of my episcopate I have struggled for the unity of the Church, which is based on obedience to the hierarchy. Now I see the Church united, and brethren gathered together where before they were separated. As the Prophet-King David exclaims,
What is so good or so joyous as for brethren to dwell together in unity? It is like the oil of myrrh upon the head, which runneth down the beard, the beard of Aaron, which runneth down to the fringe of his rainment (Ps. 132:1-2).
Truly, there is nothing so beautiful as to see peace, unity, and love. For me, this day is especially a celebration of the unity of the Church. Standing with me and honoring me with their presence are Bishop Andronik of the Russian Church Abroad; and Bishop Auxentius of the Diocese of Etna in California, connected with the Monastery of St. Cyprian and Justina in Fili, Greece, and Bishops Iosif of Botoşani and Dionisie of Galaţi of the Romanian Church. Although for many years we were separated through the deceits of the evil one, now the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought us together. Our Synods now enjoy full communion, and concord reins where once there was strife and confusion.
Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift! (2Co. 9:15) Thanks are also due to my brothers in Christ, the hierarchs of the local Churches, who have labored so diligently for the triumph of Orthodoxy. I would like to express my gratitude first of all to our Holy Synod in Greece, represented by Metropolitans and Gerontios of Piraeus and Chrysostomos of Attica. The Church of Greece is our Mother Church. She gave birth to us in the Spirit by sending Bishop Petros of blessed memory to serve the True Orthodox in this country; moreover, She has provided us with Her blessing to function as an Eparchial Synod. I cannot express in words the thanks which I feel towards our brother hierarchs in Greece. They have been the greatest support both for me personally and for our local Church here in America in all of Her trials over the years.
Secondly, I want to recognize our debt to the Russian Church Abroad, which is represented here today by our brother and concelebrant Bishop Andronik. The Russian Church Abroad ordained bishops for our Church, including the founder of our Church in America, Bp. Petros of Astoria. The True Orthodox Church of Greece owes its apostolic succession to the Russian Church Abroad. Moreover, the Russian Church has blessed our entire country with a host of new saints: St Herman of Alaska, St Peter the Aleut, St Innocent of Alaska, St John of San Francisco, St Philaret of New York, and others. Some of these saints, such as St. John of San Francisco and St. Philaret of New York, even visited this holy Cathedral on many occasions.
I especially would like to thank my predecessor and the builder of this Cathedral, Metropolitan Pavlos. His unshaking support has provided me with the strength I need. I rely on his wisdom to guide me in the years ahead and on his pastoral experience to assist me in leading the local Church of America. His courage in the face of adversity is a constant inspiration not only for myself, but for the entire Church as well.
Finally, I ask for the prayers of all the pious Orthodox Christians who are gathered together today to celebrate our unity. It is only by your intercessions before God that I will be able to find the strength to govern the Church. Please pray for me, and know that my prayers, unworthy though they be, ever ascend upward to Christ for the help and salvation of your souls.
May God bless this Cathedral, our Eparchial Synod, the Clergy and all the faithful of our Holy Metropolis.
The blessing of the Lord be with you all.