Friday, December 22, 2006

My Ordination Speech

Your Eminence, Your Grace, Reverend Fathers, family and friends.

I thank the almighty God for blessing me to stand before all of you today, humbly beseeching you to acknowledge me as a servant in Christ’s Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Although there are many things that may be said on such an occasion, many truths and lessons one can learn and take away from such an experience, I believe that the most important of these is to understand the significance of the deacon within the context of church life.

Living in the Canadian Diaspora, we seldom encounter the office of the deacon and it may be that we understand his role even less. Yet, the deacon is an integral part of our understanding of Orthodox Communion. We often hear that the Church is a living organism; the mystical body of Christ. In this body, we tend to think of the priest as the head, the leader, and the shepherd. We accept him in the place of Christ and learn from his example how to lead others in the faith. It is through the priestly office that we learn how to preach the Christian faith and how to inspire Christ in our fellow man. The priest inspires all of us to fulfill the priestly vocation that all Orthodox faithful possess through baptism.

However, it is possible that sometimes we may be so eager to lead that we forget that there always must be those who follow. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 20:26-27, Jesus reminds us, “but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” It is these words of Christ that I turn to today; words exhorting us all to be servants to one another; to put our neighbor before ourselves. In our Orthodox family every one of us plays a specific role, fulfills a specific function. Not one is greater than the other. We are reminded of this truth through the office and example of the deacon, whose life should not be one of honour, distinction, or renown, but humility, servitude, and obedience. The first deacons served tables and fed widows, distributed alms and helped with daily tasks. Where the apostles inspired leadership, the deacons inspired obedience to that leadership. Where the apostles inspired power through the Word, they inspired strength through weakness. Where the apostles inspired faith through preaching and signs, they inspired it through good works. So it must be for the deacons of today.

I say these things to remind myself and all of us that ordination to the deaconate is not a simple honour bestowed as a reward upon those who have lived a just and moral life. If that were the case, I would be the last to be recommended for such a position. The role is not one of honour but one of servitude. Understood in this way, the deacon’s office is not one that many should aspire to, but one undertaken by the few who feel called to do so. It is not an affirmation of holiness, nor a song of praise. It is not a prize to be won through any efforts of our own. Like the Holy Eucharist, it is a gift which we are called to participate in, unworthy as we are. It is a grave commitment made by those who are called despite their mountains of imperfections.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard this call within my heart. Despite my sinfulness and multiple shortcomings, the call remains. I have answered it throughout my youth and young adult life. Today I pledge to continue answering this call to the best of my ability, knowing that nothing is possible without God who makes the priest, the deacon, the teacher, and the doctor. Not all can be priests, not all deacons, not all teachers, or doctors. Yet we are all children of God struggling to do His will in the role we have been given. We are all created with a purpose and to know one’s self is to understand and come to terms with our individual calling. Once discovered, we must have the humility to accept this calling and fulfill that which is required of us. The deacon reminds us of this ultimate truth and he must be the embodiment of this humility so that the Body of Christ is never deprived of any of its members. As for myself, there are many in my life who have helped me realize my place in the Holy Body of the Church; those who have guided me by their words, deeds, and examples. It is to them that I owe who I have become and they deserve my everlasting gratitude.

First and foremost are my parents, George and Akrivi. If I were to speak of love, I must think immediately of them; for there is no greater example of selflessness that I have witnessed in this world than that of my parents. They have inspired me to give as they give; to sacrifice as they sacrifice; to devote myself as they devote themselves to all that is good. I thank them for teaching me the art of self-giving and may God Bless them always.

Along with my parents, I would also like to thank my two sisters. Throughout my youth Stamatia and Maria have always been by my side to support me, encourage me, laugh with me, and love me. It is their love that sustains me and unites our family. They are my examples of how we are to love one another as brothers and sisters. One could not ask for better siblings. I thank them for teaching me through their devotion.

I also would like to thank my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and extended family for the love they have shown me through the years. Each in their own way, with their own strengths, experiences and advice, have taught me about life, sacrifice, commitment and responsibility. I thank them for their role in my upbringing.

Still, I cannot forget those who nurtured my spiritual thirst and were responsible for my theological education. These are the clergy, professors, and fellow seminarians who accompanied me and were my guides throughout my religious education. To my professors at the Toronto Orthodox Theological Academy I thank you all for being my first guides in my exploration of Orthodoxy. You gave freely of yourselves to instill in us, the seminarians, the Word of God as it is found in the multi-faceted life of the Church; a special thank you to His Grace Bishop Christoforos of Andidon, who was truly a father to us all at the academy. He taught us how to live the faith instead of just talking about it. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for his living example. I would also like to thank my professors at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York for the excellence of their instruction and their example of how to truly live within a Christian community. I would like to especially thank Professor Richard Schneider for his mentorship, his guidance, his instruction, and his faith in me. He is an inspiration to all who pursue theology and is truly one of the shining stars of the Orthodox Church today.

To my fellow seminarians, both here in Toronto, and in New York: you will never know your importance in my life. We are truly a brotherhood of the few who are willing to follow this great and holy vocation. It is a hard path, especially in this secular and cynical world. At times when I have felt the weight too great to bear, our brotherhood has always been there to remind me that I am not alone. Thank you all for standing by me whenever I needed you and thank you even more for your friendship and love.

Of course, my spiritual education would have never happened if I did not have excellent spiritual guides to keep me on a straight and level path. Here I would like to thank three individuals: Firstly, Fr. Odysseus Drossos and Fr. Panagiotis Avgeropoulos, for their spiritual guidance over the years and for their faith in me as a person and as a future clergyman of Christ’s Holy Church, and secondly my brother-in-law Fr. Constantine Hatzis, who has been a brother to me in every way and whose character has always been an example for me to emulate; a special thank you to Fr. Constantine and Fr. Panagiotis for their help in my liturgical preparation for my ordination today.

Last, but not least, I would like to thank my beloved wife Joanna. Having known me before I entered seminary, she has been by my side throughout the last 7 years of my life. She has been devoted to the Church all her life she has shown me this same devotion throughout our time together. She embodies love and sacrifice, tolerance and patience. She is my co-worker in the vineyard of our Lord and I could not have asked for a better counterpart for this great task. With her I would also like to thank her parents George and Angeliki, as well as her brother and sister, Nick and Christina, for all they have done for me. They have all loved me like a son and brother and have supported me in my vocation from the moment I met them.

In closing I would like to thank His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Sotirios. Your eminence: you have always believed in me and guided me; respected my opinions and ideas; nurtured my strengths and steered me away from my weaknesses. I thank you for all you have done, not just for me, but for all of us; for your unceasing efforts to better the Church in Canada. I offer myself as a servant in this, Christ’s vineyard that has been entrusted to you. May he continue to bless and guide you, as you continue to guide us. May God give me strength to lift the cross which He is has given me. With your blessing, I approach His Holy altar with faith and reverence.