Address of Bishop Longin to the Diocesan Assembly 13th and 14th of June 2014
Dear brother clergy,
honorable delegates of the church-school congregations, parishes and monasteries,
representatives of the Kolos of Serbian Sisters,
our dear youth.
In speaking to the faithful in Corinth, Apostle Paul said, “Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Cor. 7: 4-5). If we think about it for a bit, our time, which appears very different from the time of the above quoted verse, is actually very similar to it and to its conditions.
I also have great faith in you and am proud of you, my honorable spiritual children. I know of your great love for our Holy Church. I am a witness of your care for her good. I am aware of the challenges and obstacles which you face in your work in the Church. But, thank God, you do not waver. You have worked tirelessly for years for the good of our spiritual being. This is what I constantly see before my spiritual eyes. I realize that every one of us who strives to remain on Christ's path has certain flaws and shortcomings. But if we “bear each other's burdens” as Saint Paul says, if we see each other's strengths and overlook the flaws, then we will build our common house on solid foundation.
Our time, just like the time of Apostle Paul, abounds in “fightings without” and “fears within”. Such trials never end. But we, strengthened by the optimism of our faith as well as by the fact that God does not expect us to do what is beyond our capabilities but seeks our sacrifice and determination to live in communion with Him, shall resist all challenges and walk upright through life.
Multicultural surroundings in North America are the “danger without” for our persistence along the Orthodox path. A secular society has its own standards, its own understanding of relations between people, its own justice and its own truth. Very little of this can fit within the framework of Christ's Faith and His Gospel. Our everyday life forces us to adapt in a certain sense. Some worldly laws are in direct conflict with the Orthodox understanding of the Church and her mission in this world. Because of these things we need wisdom and spiritual strength to withstand the challenges of the times. I will give an example of the watering-down of our teachings. It happens often in mixed marriages that our people, for the sake of compromise, are willing to make concessions in regards to the choice of the godparents. And they don't understand why the Church does not allow a non-Orthodox person to be a godparent. Only a member of the Church can confess the faith in the name of the newly-baptized. Even though this is logical, it is difficult for some to accept. We are not in position to choose spouses for our members, nor are we xenophobic, but it is a fact that it is difficult to raise children in the Orthodox Faith in a family which is balancing two faiths.
Secular society is slowly driving God out of its midst and in exchange is offering its own standard of living, its own standards, justice and truth. How can one survive in a society like this without acting detrimentally against oneself, against one's religious principles? A good way is to try to protect ourselves against the media, to not receive as the truth that which comes through the tv screens, but to determine the truth on our own by consulting our reason and senses, as well as our Faith. Whatever is offered to us needs to be placed in the context of the Gospel. We have to ask, “What would the Lord say to this? How would He react?” When we answer that question, we will know if the information offered is correct or not. But without this check of critical thinking, we will become an easy prey of those who are building a society of faceless individuals. Right now we don't have the time or the chance to speak of all the aspects of the danger that lurks at the hands of the modern – secular society. We do know that the only truth is in Him who said, “I am the truth, the way and the life”. This is why the Gospel is the unmistakeable measure by which we can check every dilemma, shine the light on what is unclear, explain the unexplained.
Battle for one's health in the modern society does not come down to just church attendance on Sunday morning. One has to live in communion with God on a daily basis. This is achieved through daily prayer, any time and any place. One has to keep company with God. When we rejoice, we ought to praise Him, when we sorrow we ought to call on Him, when we are in doubt, we ought to consult Him. Our presence in the church on Sunday is the reflection of our desire to participate, with the rest of the Church, in “the Lord's supper”. It is true that God is accessible anywhere and that we can pray to Him anywhere. But without participation in the Divine Liturgy which is served only in the church, which is offered “in behalf of all and for all,” there is no salvation. Without participation in the service in which God Himself is present, in which the consecrated gifts are changed into Body and Blood of Christ, without being united to God through Communion, there is no salvation. “This is my body and this is my blood of the new covenant,” says the Lord. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”
Aside from physical work at the church, we also need to take care of the spiritual health of God's Church. Unfortunately, we are sometimes not aware that this is an important aspect of life. Just think how much evil we did against each other in this land during our schism. It is very difficult to measure the damage that we inflicted against ourselves. Being preoccupied with our own conflict, caught in the battle of our egotistic ideas, we failed to see that our children were watching us and consequently were distancing themselves from the Church. They did not understand our conflicts then and so they stand by the wayside now. Let us ask ourselves, what is the percentage of Serbs today who attend church on Sunday. Very small, no doubt. What is going on with our people who stand by the wayside, who have become members of this secular society to which Christ is no standard of anything. Then we ask the question – How can the Church perform its mission in these conditions? How do we do missionary work among those who are not present? How do we make the Church relevant in their lives? We need to provide answers to these questions. We, members of the clergy first, and then all of our members and representatives of our parish lives. The Church has to be open for all. Her mission does not stop with the Serbs. According to the Lord Himself, the Gospel has to be preached to all men, all over the world. This puts a great responsibility on the backs of all of us. It seems that the harvest is always great and laborers are always few. The few of us who are here have to very often deal with unnecessary problems. We lose our strength and energy on these things, and often material resources too.
Floods which happened recently in the Serbian lands remind us of the transience of this world and of everything materialistic. Without a doubt, they served as a warning. But we are under the impression that God will use this for some greater good. Let us hope that many people will come to and start thinking about the essential issues of life and death. If this happens, then the calamity which took place will have sense. In any case, something positive can be seen already – the readiness of the people to work together on getting out of this problem. But, as one could expect, these sort of situations also reveal certain negative things. We have learned that there are people in our midst who are propagating a mistrust for the Church. They are using this moment to sow the seed of mistrust for the Church while exalting themselves. This is nothing new. This is a primaeval problem of a man who wishes to be at the forefront. The very theory of the secular society actually based on the same foundation. If there is a God then we have obey Him, but if we drive Him out of our midst then we are gods. Likewise, if the Church is at the forefront then individuals cannot be, but if we overshadow the Church then we become the significant ones, the trustworthy people. Sadly, these things are leaving further scars on the already weakened body of the Church. In any case, while on this topic, let us mention that all parishes should deliver their collected donations as soon as possible so we can transfer them to the fund which the Serbian Orthodox Church has established for this purpose. And let us not forget that the recover from the floods will take some time and that our help will be most welcome during the process.
Over this past year we have served in many of our parishes, participated in several important anniversaries, held meetings of the diocesan bodies, worked with priests on overcoming problems in some parishes, participated in the meetings of the Diocesan Council and the Central Church Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America, the annual Assembly of the Serbian Orthodoc Church in Beograd, Episcopal conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North America as well as in many other meetings and receptions relating to the life of our Diocese and our Church in these parts. The bishop's residence has moved to the Saint Sava Monastery in Libertyville after being significantly renovated by the donations from many of you, especially from the Diocesan Kolo.
Last year we informed you that the Holy Assembly of Bishops had, in May of 2012, placed the Saint Sava Monastery under the administration of our diocese, on the legal level. Today I can report to you that at this year's assembly, at the request of the Episcopal Council, it was decided that the stavropegial status of the monastery be revoked and that the monastery be placed entirely under our jurisdiction. Episcopal Council had decided that the stavropegial status of our monastery was not practical and that it would be much better if the local bishop was in charge of it. His Holiness Patriarch Irinej, along with other brother hierarchs, understood our position and made the decision accoridngly. It is now up to us to improve the spiritual and meterial life at the monastery, unto the good of our whole diocese. We have already started making certain plans in that respect and after further consultations with the Diocesan Council in the near future, we will be able to inform you further on the progress. We are grateful to the highest body of our Church and to the fellow hierarchs with Patriarch Irinej at the head, for their understanding of our needs in our diocese.
One thing that especially saddens us is that the lawsuit filed against us by our brethren in Ohio has not concluded yet. We tried to reason with them, to make concessions, but with no results thus far. As you know, the legal system in America is such that one must spend much time and money in order to reach some conclusion or learn some truth. I will not speak further on this. Our legal committee will make a full report on this issue.
A joyful news which we can share is that our seminary graduate Aleksandar Vujkovic has been ordained into the rank of deaconate and then priesthood, as well as that two of our deacons, Nikolaj Kostur who has been working at our offices here, and Predrag Samardzic who has been serving at the Saint Sava church in Milwaukee and teaching at the Saint Sava Seminary in Libertyville, were ordained into the rank of priesthood. Soon, we will ordain Deacon Aleksandar Petrovic, serving at the Saint Stevan Decanski parish, into the rank of priesthood.
At times we get the impression that some of our faithful people do not understand the role of the diocese. In other words, they see the diocese as a burden or as a foreign body. So we feel the need to briefly address this. It is important to know that the diocese cannot exist for itself. The Church is organized so that a certain number of parishes makes up a diocese, and a certain number of dioceses make up a patriarchate, metropolia or archdiocese. Thus, we cannot speak of a parish as an independent unit. Such is the order of the Church. Consequently, a parish and a diocese are one body, and those who care for a parish ought to also care for the diocese. This is why you are all here. I greet you all, thanking you sincerely for your coming to our holy New Gracanica Monastery, the seat of our Diocese, so we can agree in the Christian spirit of brotherly love how to work together for the benefit of the Diocese of New Gracanica – Midwestern America, and the whole Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America.
May the grace of the Holy Spirit be with you all!
+ L O N G I N
Bishop on New Gracanica – Midwestern America