Enthronement homily of Bishop Irinej of Eastern America
01 October 2016, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh
In the name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit!
Your Eminences, Your Graces - most esteemed brother Hierarchs and Archpastors, representatives of our Holy and exceedingly beloved sister Orthodox Churches and of our own Holy Serbian Orthodox Church, Your Royal Highnesses - Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine, Your Excellency Ambassador and Mrs Djerdj Matkovic of The Republic of Serbia to The United States of America, distinguished members of the diplomatic corps, Most Venerable, Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Most Venerable Mother Abbess and sisterhood in Christ, most beloved brothers and sisters and cherished children in Christ our Lord,
Now when forty years had passed [i.e., in the fullness of time],
an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.
When Moses saw it he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to look,
the voice of the Lord came, ‘I am the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’
And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.
And the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the shoes from your feet,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground’ (Acts 7:30-33).
Standing here today in your august presence and having acceded to the eminent Throne of the Bishops of Eastern America of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in this resplendent Cathedral dedicated to the All Holy and Life-giving Trinity, I am reminded by this passage that the ground beneath us is in verity holy, having been dedicated to the glory of the Triune God in this fair City of Pittsburgh, itself blessed of God by the triadic confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. Glory be to Him who has created all and to Whom I am summoned once again to offer the entirety of my being, now as a faithful steward of this Vineyard, promising to toil together with all of you, on behalf of all and for all.
I herein proclaim my steadfast loyalty and offer my deepest appreciation to His Holiness the Archbishop of Pech, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch Irinej, the Episcopal Council of North and South America, and the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church for their confidence voiced on my behalf, having acclaimed my unworthiness worth of this exalted calling as Bishop of Eastern America.
In like manner, I would be entirely remiss as immediate past Bishop of the Metropolitanate of Australia and New Zealand, if I did not presently offer my exceeding and heartfelt gratitude to those dedicated clergy, monastics and devoted faithful, as well as my brother Hierarchs, clergy and laity of the pan-Orthodox community and wider Christian fellowship with whom I have labored over the past decade and whom I shall continue to carry unabated in my heart and prayers!
Daring to pause and to reflect at this auspicious moment, I call to remembrance a timeless sentiment of the ever-memorable First Hierarch of the then Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos. With whom I share in common the glorious day of his consecration to the Holy Episcopate and the humble day of my birth. Having arrived for the first time on American soil, he stated aptly: “I stand firmly with trembling knees!”
Following in the footsteps of my distinguished predecessors on the Throne of the Bishops of Eastern America: Their Graces Bishops Stefan and Sava, and His Eminence Metropolitan Christopher, all of blessed memory, and His Grace Bishop Mitrophan, presently Bishop of Canada; I, too, stand firmly with trembling knees in this sacred place. However, having been summoned by our Lord, the Great High Priest, I am emboldened by the prayerful presence and fervent support of you who have ushered me into this Throne on this day: my brother Hierarchs, Royalty, clergy, monastics and faithful laity of our Holy Church.
Albeit that this path has been firmly trodden, the knees of my heart and soul tremble as did the very foundations of the earth on that great and holy day of Pentecost. Yet I am comforted knowing that the episcopal authority bestowed in the Holy Spirit upon my uncertain hands and the pastoral staff which I now hold rest firmly on the most certain of foundation stones: Christ, the rock of the Petrine Confession (cf. Mat. 16:18) upon which He built His Church. Accordingly, preaching in the Cathedral of St John the Divine on the Sunday following Ascension in 1921, the Holy Bishop Nicholai delivered one of his most inspiring homilies, titled “The Stone the Builders Rejected”, stating:
I am told that the builders of skyscrapers in America dig the ground very deep until they find a solid stone under the earth. Then, and only then, they start to build in the heights up to the clouds. Dig deep, o brethren, dig deep into the earth of your body, till you find something more steady than your body. That is your soul. But don’t be deceived, for even the soul is not the steadiest stone in you. Dig still deeper into your soul, till you find in it the lamp of eternity, the nucleus of God, the eternal Christ, God’s wisdom and life, clothed with your soul, as your soul is clothed with your body. Rejoice then as the man rejoiced having found gold under [the] earth in his field, and make that nucleus the very corner stone of your soul building and of every building in your life, inward and outward.
In order to so endeavor in our building, we must “be of good courage”, as Joab admonished his brother in the days of Old, “let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the Lord do what is good in His sight” (II Sam. 10:12). I am, thereby, in the words of the same St. Nicholai of Zhicha, “grateful to God, to the people thankful and without the seal of shame, bravely looking toward the future.” Thus as the great prophet Isaiah, responding to the summons of the Lord, while walking through the valley and seeing about him the people of God, joyously and with fullness of heart exclaimed, as I today reiterate, “Behold I and the children whom the Lord has given me!” (Is. 8:18).
Beloved! We must consciously strive together for a life in Christ. For He first loved us, creating us as an extension of Himself – His Love – in this world and in this age. But this world, the holy ground on which we stand, which the Lord has created and sealed with His love and beauty (cf. Gen. 1:31), requires us to cooperate fully with the Triumphant God-Man so that we can joyfully enter the abode of God and be His people and that He would be with us and we would live according to the will of our Heavenly Father.
However, in this very world there continue to be numerous difficulties and travails as many do not desire to accept God's love! They prefer to live in their own right without the Lord. The laws and order of the Creator have been forgotten in our contemporary societies. Many are those who unwittingly live in the world as people of the world, and not as laity according to God's salvific will. Prayer, which is more and more banned in public space, is understood as the exhausting pursuit of vain religions, rather than an unlimited time and space in which to stop and fill our lungs with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; in which we breathe freely with the true faith; and responsibly contemplate and fulfill ourselves in His love.
The sense of humanity and thus community, marriage, parenthood and family, which are the unshakeable foundations of every healthy, wholesome society originate from our Heavenly Father and find their perfection in the iconic likeness of the intercommunion of the Holy and Life-creating Trinity. Today, the meaning of life itself is quickly removed and replaced by distorted societal shadows in which our children are taught about self-seclusion and in which a mother and father are no longer required; in which marriage that is according to God's will is no longer essential; in which brother and sister are no longer an integral part of our existence. A person in this world is reduced to an individual, one which lives as a self-sufficient and lonely being, without the mutual sharing of God-given talents and life, completely devoid of the sanctity of community.
Standing here today in your midst, myself being a son of the Serbian American Diaspora, I behold you, my faithful pastors and flock of Christ’s Holy Church, gathered liturgically around your hierarch in a common unity of faith. For according to the teaching of St. Ignatius the God-bearer: “The Church gathers as a community of faithful around its bishop!” And as I hear echoed the words of the Great Prophet, at the same time I see visibly opening before the eye of my heart that moving icon wherein St. Sava, our first archbishop, welcomes his father, the Venerable Simeon, father of our nation, before Vatopaidi Monastery on Mt. Athos, while receiving him in a tender embrace. In that eternal moment, as time stood still, a son became a father to his father; and a father became a son to his son.
Most beloved children, rejoice with me, for I have wholeheartedly accepted you in my paternal embrace as your father in Christ, and pray the Lord that you have also accepted me, your son and now first among you, in the warmth and joy of your familial embrace!
Brother Hierarchs, Your Royal Highnesses, reverend brethren, venerable monastics and faithful people of God, Christ-loving assemblage!
His Holiness our saintly Patriarch Pavle has taught us that it is not up to us to determine the time in which we will be born, neither the people into which we will be born. However, how we shall choose to live that is, indeed, for us to determine. As all peoples are blessed of the Lord, I truly rejoice and am grateful to God for the devout and good people of God into which I was born and by whom I was brought up and in whose Holy Orthodox Faith I was baptized. For the fullness of the Way of Saint Sava is understood precisely as our common and living Orthodox Christian inheritance, and in no way a sealed and isolated, lifeless path.
It is historically accorded to St. Sava, through one of his bishops named Irinej, that “we are considered to be East by the West and West by the East, while we belong neither to the East nor the West, but only to the Heavenly Jerusalem”. This is our particular Serbian and common Orthodox ethos, our creative might of communion with the world and our unique contribution to contemporary society, which is neither East nor West. The same must become in unity, “a harmony of elevated emotion, intellect and will power”, according to the holy Bishop Nicholai, whose blessing I received while in the womb of my mother, and whose holy presence I feel constantly beside me. For precisely in describing America, he noted:
The light of the East and the light of the West will rest at their noon on the continent, which lies between East and West. . .
In that light make us worthy Lord, to behold Your Light, in order to fulfil the admonishment of Your Saint who continued by advising American church leaders to “make plans as large as the world and efforts as hard as those of the apostles”; “to prepare for a sacrifice as holy and as universal as Yours”. For in these troubled times, only such efforts issuing forth from a strong faith will be able to sustain those fainting from fear.
I beseech You, Lord, Who entrusted my humility with the care of this Vineyard, the holy Diocese of Eastern America, which You have planted with Your own Right Hand on this holy ground: let Your everlasting light guide me in prayerfully and diligently laboring, always together with those entrusted to my care. May we in our furrowing, planting and watering, reap the harvest of Your bountiful blessings. May Your Holy Right Hand always hold firmly our impoverished, outstretched hands and complete all that is wanting in us for the sake of Your holy ones. For You, Christ, are truly among us who have gathered in Your Name and You will be and remain with us, now and forever and unto the ages! Amen!