A Reflection on the 2012 ACRY Convention
By Very Rev. Protopresbyter Peter Paproski
The Feast day of the Dormition, or Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, which we recently celebrated, is an important and I dare say an essential feast day of the Church because it reminds you and I of the power of faith, and what is possible when one lives a holy life, like the Mother of God. In the mother of God we discover that that as we sing in the Kontakion for the feast, neither the tomb or death have power over those who commend themselves and their who lives unto Christ our God.
This feast day, falls at what one might describe as a transitional time of year, at the end of one liturgical year and just before the beginning of another. This feast day has a therapeutic effect on the Church as it lifts us up, and encourages us to begin a new grace-filled year of the Lord. It encourages us to not be afraid to surrender our lives willingly and totally to Christ our God. It encourages to be like the Most Holy Mother a bearer of God as her name in Greek Theotokos is derived from the words theos, which means God, and tokos which means carrier or bearer.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, do you realize that by being members of the Church, and receiving Holy Communion that we quite literally bearers of God? Every Sunday and feast day as we receive the King of Glory, His Body and Blood, in the words of the post communion prayer, physically enters into all "our members, my veins and our hearts." Just think about it my friends, Christ is in you and you and you and you and me. He is coursing through our veins and is resting in our hearts, nourishing us in both body and soul.
It is fitting then in the midst of this eight day celebration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God that the youth of this God-save Diocese have gathered together with their elders, in Johnstown for the 68th National Ssenior and 29 Junior ACRY Youth Convention.
Those who had an opportunity to attend the convention sessions know that I, as National Senior ACRY Spiritual advisor, asked us to keep in mind a Scripture verse, this weekend, which I explained would help put all that we were trying to accomplish this weekend into its proper context. It was taken from the last book of the New Testament, Revelations Chapter 21:5, "Behold, I make all things New"
I chose this verse of Scripture because we are in an exciting transitional period in the ACRY. Over the past few years we have spent an incredible amount of time and energy, examining the mission and vision of the ACRY in light of challenges it and many of our parishes have faced such as declining membership, and lack of participation in activities and programs which were at one time very well received. Through our self-study, we discovered that there is a great desire amongst our youth to talk less and do more. They desire a less organizational and institutional framework of governance and operation that would be more spiritually oriented. They would like more hands on opportunities to live the gospel, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick, and pray together. This coupled with changing demographics and needs require all of us to be willing to think out side of the box so to speak and do things differently. And this is where we find ourselves at a crossroads And it is exciting because, we are on the same page, we know that we need to grow in Christ who makes all things New.
It is interesting to note that Our Lord did not say "behold I make all new things" He did not come into the world to destroy the law but to fulfill it, to lift it up, to bring it to its fullness. Christ came to help us become who we are intended to be. He came to pull us out of the spiritual ruts we find ourselves in that makes us spiritually infirm. According to St Andrew of Caesarea in his commentary on the Book of Revelation "The renewal of what is grown old does not signify its obliteration and annihilation, but the putting away of its agedness and wrinkles." So you see, my friends, the key to breathing new life into the ACRY, Our Parishes and Our Diocese, is by each and everyone of us individually and collectively as members of the body of Christ, seeking spiritual renewal. As St. Paul tells us, in order for us to become more spiritually vital or youthful, we must unite ourselves more deeply with Christ. He says this clearly in the fifth chapter of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians .
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
On September 1, Orthodox Hierarchs from throughout the world gathered at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St George the Trophy Bearer at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to celebrate the beginning of the Ecclesiastical Year as reckoned by the revised Julian Calendar.
According to Holy Tradition, Christ entered the synagogue on September 1 to announce His mission to mankind (Luke 4:16-22). Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2), the Savior proclaimed, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to proclaim release to captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord..."
Isn't it wonderful as well, that we gathered , at or near the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, to pray together and discern the will of God for our ministry to the youth of the diocese? We came from throughout our diocese to pray and reflect on our mission as Orthodox Christians and as members of the ACRY.
While we have certain goals for programs and activities that we wish to accomplish during this year, ultimately, is not our mission the same as the Lord's, to preach the Gospel of Love to those in need, to help those who are in distress and to give light and hope to people who are sunk in the depth of despair?
Metropolitan Nicholas of Blessed Memory, once said in Orthodoxy, we need less professors and more confessors. What he meant by this was , the world needs us to show them the light of Christ, by how we live our lives. In the difficult day and age we live in, where faith and morality are weak, the Church needs our help. She needs us to be bearers of Christ, like Mary the Mother of God. She needs us to be on fire with zeal and enthusiasm for the Life in Christ. She needs us to be those who are committed to leading a "calm and peaceful life in all godliness and sanctity" as the Priest prays during the Hymn to the Virgin in Divine Liturgy.
This is all we need to do. While it is not complicated, it is far from easy. And if we try to do it alone, it is impossible.
As I have already pointed out, we are at an exciting cross roads in the History of the ACRY and our God-Saved Diocese. Our Lord in seeing our tears of sorrow at the passage of our beloved Father in Christ, Metropolitan Nicholas from this earthly life to the heavenly relm, has sent us a new Shepherd to take up His mantle and lead us along the path of holiness, in the person of Bishop Elect Grigorios. Once again, we will have a living icon of Christ, to lift us up and nourish us. Together as one Body in Christ, Bishop, Priests and faithful, we will strengthen one another in the faith. It is this spiritual strength and unity that we need to accomplish the mission of the Church in the spiritually challenging 21st Century. We need to find creative and innovative ways of presenting the changeless and timeless Gospel to the largely un-churched, so called Generation X. They need to see in you and I the spiritual fruits that come from leading a life dedicated to Christ centered around the liturgical life of the Church. This is where the ACRY comes in ... to be, as it always has been, at the forefront of every worthwhile activity and initiative in the diocese that supports and builds up the Church in general and the youth in particular. Each of us needs to spend more time in prayer and reflection this new Church Year discerning what God's will for our life is and how, we individually and collectively can using our unique talents and gifts, assist with the work of the Church saving the souls of those who are drowning in the stormy seas of life.
Having returned home from our time together in Johnstown, having been strengthened in our commitment to being bearers of God, let us continue to open our minds and hearts to the Grace of the Holy Spirit to help us stay forever young and open to the Will of God. May we like the Most Holy Mother of God, say yes to the Lord, when he asks to be invited into our hearts, so that illumined by His Love, we may be compelling witnesses to the world of the transfiguring power of Living the Life in Christ. Let us go forth and continue the never ending Mission of the Church, being living tablernacles of Christ and beacons of light and truth .