NEWS AND EVENTS - Saturday, August 9, 2014
of the 21st Church Assembly-Sabor
of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America
August 5-7, 2014
We, the hierarchs, clergy and delegates of the 21st Church Assembly-Sabor of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, meeting at St. Steven's Cathedral in Alhambra, California August 5-7, 2014, have spent three blessed days led by the Holy Spirit in prayer, fellowship and work for the upbuilding and welfare of God's Holy Church. We have experienced the fulness of the Church as the clergy and people of God united in prayer and the Eucharist around our Hierarchs and Shepherds of the rational flock of Christ. During this time, we have been blessed with the presence and wisdom of His Eminence Archbishop DEMETRIOS, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States of America. His Eminence set the tone for our work as he meditated on the theme of our Assembly, Servant Leadership.
His Eminence reminded us of the words of our Lord, who said, “Whoever desires to be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Our Lord not only said this, but He became Himself the most perfect example of this as He became the Suffering Servant. In His self-emptying (kenosis) in becoming one of us, one of His creatures; in His voluntary passion and death on the Cross, He makes for all of us a path to the Resurrection and eternal life in His presence. He reigns as King from the Cross as He lays down His life for us, His friends. His Kingship is truly not of this world because it is divine, and it transcends the categories of this world, uniting Servanthood and Leadership into a perfect oneness through the power of self-sacrificial love.
Jesus Christ brought a revolutionary form of leadership into this fallen world. He led not as a rich man, but as the poorest of men. He led not as a mighty warrior, but as the meekest of men, turning his cheek to receive blows. He led not with dazzling oratory, scholarship or fancy philosophy, but with simple words and images understandable to all men. He led not as a celebrity or as a political insider, but as an unknown outsider. He led not to make Himself master over men, but to serve with all His life, even unto death on a cross.
He made it clear, by washing His disciples' feet at the Last Supper, that He wanted them, and He wants us who are leaders in His Church, to follow His example.
We all know that the vocation given to us at baptism, which we retain into all eternity, is that of being “servant of God.” Following the example of Jesus Christ, and of every one of His saints, we see what it means to be a servant leader. It means to serve every single person in our lives, in our families, in our church communities, in the workplace, in the schools and on the street; to serve them not necessarily in the way that they want to be served, but the way God wants them to be served, or more precisely, the way that God is serving them through us. God wants every person to come to know the love of God, to come to the fulness of life in Jesus Christ, in His Kingdom. This then is what we desire, above all, for every person we touch. And because we each know the love of God, we are ready to accept any suffering, derision, abuse or pain that comes our way as we follow our Lord. This is love for Christ; this is love for others in Christ. This is servant leadership.
Moved by this understanding of Servant Leadership, we wish to address some thoughts to all our faithful people:
Greeting to our Hierarchs
First, we greet His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej and all the hierarchs of our Holy Serbian Orthodox Church as they exercise their service of leadership in Christ's Church, with prayers that God will continue to grant them the great graceF of the Holy Spirit to powerfully proclaim the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, to lead us into doing His will in this world, and to guide us all to the safe harbor of God’s heavenly Kingdom.
On Persecution of Serbs in Kosovo and of Christians in the world
We remain mindful of the situation in the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija, and the difficult circumstances which our Serbian Orthodox brothers and sisters endure there. We continue to support the stand of the Holy Assembly of Bishops and of the Serbian government that the declaration of an independent, Albanian-ruled Kosovo is an illegal action both in international law and contrary to United Nations treaties and resolutions. As servants of God motivated by love, we pledge our continuing aid and support to all of our suffering brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija, and to all those who still remain as refugees from their hearths and homes throughout the former Yugoslavia.
At the same time, we note with great pain the persecution of Orthodox and other Christian populations in many majority Islamic countries, particularly in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity. In many of these countries Christians are at best second-class citizens, and are sometimes even treated as aliens in their own countries, denied basic civil rights and the protection of law.
We pray for peace and justice in Syria and Iraq, wracked by civil war and religious extremism, where Christians have become enemies to be forcibly converted to Islam, exiled, cowed into total submission, or killed. Christian towns and holy places have been destroyed, Christians murdered, intimidated and forced into exile, Christian bishops kidnapped and held without word of their welfare, and Christian nuns kidnapped and held for ransom. In parts of Africa Muslim militants have attacked, killed, kidnapped, brutalized and forcibly converted Christians, particularly young and defenseless girls. Yet so many instances of persecution against Christians have gone unnoticed and unreported by our media.
We express our pain at the recent events in Ukraine, particularly the fighting among Orthodox brothers in that area, resulting in the loss of many innocent lives. At the same time we sorrow over the destruction of Orthodox places of worship in eastern Ukraine.
We stand in support of all innocent victims of religious hatred and persecution, and call on the governments of our respective countries to speak and act in their defense, holding those responsible to the same standard of tolerance, justice and official protection that they rightly expect for Muslims living in historically Christian countries.
On the Persecution of Archbishop JOVAN of Ochrid and Skoplje
For several years we have followed with grave concern the fate of His Eminence JOVAN, Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje. He remains in prison on scurrilous manufactured charges, and the clergy and faithful of his Autonomous Archdiocese of Ochrid continue to be harassed by the civil authorities of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, simply because they have chosen to remain in canonical unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church and with world Orthodoxy. Archbishop JOVAN is an example of a servant leader, humbly accepting persecution for his faithfulness to Christ. For exercising this role he has become a prisoner of conscience in violation of his basic human rights, particularly the right of religious freedom—the only such religious leader imprisoned for his faith in all of Europe—as numerous international humanitarian organizations have affirmed in calling for his release. We too add our voices in support of His Eminence JOVAN and his flock. We call upon the FYROM authorities to respect his human rights, and those of all the clergy and faithful of the canonical Autonomous Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid, as befits a modern state, and ask all Orthodox and Christian Churches and international organizations to use their influence to obtain his release and allow him to resume his work for Christ and the Gospel.
On the Importance of Family and Moral Life Today
We view with great concern the increasing moral decline and spiritual confusion infecting today's world. No civilization can long endure if it loses its God-given moral values, or its relationship with God our Creator.
We are particularly concerned about the culture of death, which is becoming more prevalent among us. Lack of respect for human life in the womb through abortion, and the increasing acceptance of the idea of euthanasia, cannot but lead to lack of respect for human life in all other aspects of our life and culture. We emphatically follow our Holy Orthodox Faith and Tradition in condemning these sins against the Author of Life, and call on our faithful not only to refuse to participate in these sins themselves, but to work to return our nations to their historic understanding of the sanctity of all life.
We also voice our great concern over the state of marriage and the family in our nations. Stable, monogamous and committed marriages—and here we must add that according to the express will of God and from a Christian viewpoint true marriage can only take place between one man and one woman—are of utmost importance for healthy family life, for the upbringing of children, and for a healthy and stable society. It is for this reason that God has ordained marriage as the only proper venue for sexual activity and for conceiving and rearing children.
Children need a father and a mother, and a stable and loving environment to flourish and grow. Such a family situation is quickly becoming more the exception than the rule, to our spiritual and societal peril. We call all to redouble our efforts to instill the God-ordained values of chastity and faithfulness into our lives. At the same time, we reach out to all those who have fallen short of this ideal, and offer our pastoral concern, support, love and prayers to help them return to a healthy relationship with God in His Church.
On Floods in Serbia and Bosnia
As we were meeting in Assembly we received with great sadness and distress word of additional flooding with loss of life and property in Serbia and Bosnia, adding to the toll taken by the catastrophic floods in those areas in May. As we helped our stricken brothers and sisters at that time, we again call on our faithful to continue to provide flood relief to those in need through our Serbian Orthodox Church.
On the Centennial of World War I
Our Assembly coincides with the centennial of the beginning of World War I. We remembered this tragic event which had such a horrific effect on all of Europe and the United States, but particularly in many ways on Serbia, with a special program and tribute at our Assembly banquet. For Serbia, that war was one not of conquest but of pure self-defense, a war which brought unprecedented suffering and loss of life and property to Serbia, to both civilians and the military, as they fought for “the honorable Cross and precious Freedom.” During that war Serbia lost 1,247,000 people, or 28 percent of its total population and 58 percent of its male population. On July 28, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson ordered all government buildings to fly the flag of Serbia, the heroic ally of the United States in that war—the only time a foreign flag has flown over the White House. We call on the world to learn from the horrors of that war and of all war, and to embrace the way of the Prince of Peace.
On Faithful Witness to Christ in the World Finally, in embracing our Christian vocation of servant leadership, we pledge to remain engaged with our world and society, in ecclesial unity on this Continent, and not to abandon it, just as God never abandoned His creation, but came to save it. A world which is becoming ever-more indifferent to God and ignorant of His will for our good is even more deeply in need of our witness and mission. This witness and mission will often be mocked and rejected, just as our Lord and His message was as He exercised His perfect Servant-Leadership. But we are called to be faithful to Him and to His Good News, to refuse to be co-opted by the fallen logic and seductive allurements of a fallen world, and to show the world Christ's better way of selfless love, forgiveness, compassion and mercy, the way of holiness which leads to everlasting Life in Him.
A Message of the 21st Church Assembly-Sabor
of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America
concerning those engaged in a lawsuit against
His Grace Bishop Longin
We, the hierarchs, clergy and delegates of the 21st Church Assembly-Sabor of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, meeting at St. Steven's Cathedral in Alhambra, California August 5-7, 2014 and enjoying the brotherly unity we now share, as it was at our first Church Assembly-Sabor in 1927, have learned with great pain and concern of a lawsuit brought against His Grace Bishop Longin of New Gracanica-Midwest America by a small group of people associated with the St. Sava Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio.
Already in the early Church there were those who had disagreements with other members of the Church. St Paul told the Corinthians “When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints [the members of the church]? … To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you.”
We are saddened by the thought of the canonical consequences such actions bring. Therefore, in the spirit of the New Testament and in accordance with the pastoral tradition of the Church, the fulness of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America invites these persons to withdraw their complaint against His Grace Bishop Longin, and to enter once again into unity with the entire Serbian Orthodox Church, with its Patriarch and hierarchs, and through them with the entire Orthodox Church throughout the world.