May 24, 2020
Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist Cathedral of the Slavic Vicariate
Brooklyn, New York
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is Risen!
What a joy that today, for the first time, as Archbishop of America and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I am able to visit this Cathedral of Saint John the Forerunner and Baptist — the spiritual center of our newly established Vicariate for the Orthodox Christian Communities of the Slavic Tradition.
I am especially pleased that this visit is happening during the Paschal Season, on this last Sunday of the Holy Forty Days, when we commemorate the time that our Risen Lord walked among us after His Glorious Resurrection. We all struggled together through an extraordinary Lent and Holy Week, but here, in the closing days of the Pentecostarion, we are taking careful steps back to our traditional worship, in accordance with the best public health practices. It may be a long journey, but it is certainly one that we are happy to have now embarked on.
Worshipping with you today reminds me of my many visits to Ukraine and other Slavic countries. I have always been struck by the devotion of the Slavic Peoples to our Orthodox Faith — a devotion that has endured so much through the ages, and particularly in the Twentieth Century.
Part of the motivation for establishing this Vicariate was to ensure the inclusion of a community that felt excluded — much as our Ecumenical Patriarchate did when it granted Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
In our ecclesiastical relations, there are often opposing positions and misunderstandings, but the issue is not about assigning fault or blame. The solutions that we seek should always be oriented in the direction of inclusion and reconciliation.
This is why today’s Gospel —the healing of the Man Born Blind — is such a perfect example for us. In the reading, it is Jesus who notices the man, but it is the Disciples who raise his condition, when they say to the Lord:
“Rabbi, who sinned, that he was born blind? The man himself? Or his parents?”
This is a lesson all by itself! The Lord sees every condition of every person, and He sees the condition of His Church at all times. He sees, but does not judge, although He is the only Righteous Judge. He has no anxiety about us, no worry. For He did not see the Man Born Blind as a problem. He saw him as a solution.
But the Disciples were troubled by the appearance of the Man Born Blind, who was at a distinct disadvantage, for he could see neither them nor the Lord. His blindness — a blindness from birth — did not fit into the Disciple’s view of a Loving Creator. They asked their questions because somebody had to be blamed. All they wanted to know was: whose fault was it?
And so it is with us in the life of the Church. We don’t understand a particular situation, so we point the finger. We seek to place responsibility somewhere — usually on anybody but ourselves. It is as if the question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” has become a refrain of despair and disinterest — an excuse for not facing the simple yet profound fact that we are responsible for one another.
And if this is true in the life of the Church, then it is just as true in the greater community. In the crisis of this pandemic, we, who bear the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, are responsible for our neighbors — all our neighbors. That is why we have taken so many precautions in our churches. That is why we wear the protective masks — not just to protect ourselves, but to protect others as well! We may hear the occasional loud voice within the Church that makes demands — and I would say selfish demands — but where is the sense of responsibility?
When the Disciples asked Jesus, “who sinned, that this man was born blind?,” the Lord did not answer them as they probably expected. The Disciples offered only two choices: the man himself, or his parents. But the Lord answered them:
“No one sinned; neither the man nor his parents. He was born blind so that God’s deeds might be manifest in him.”
Suddenly, the Disciples’ question did not matter. It wasn’t about sin, guilt, fault, blame or anything else. The Lord looked beyond into the eternal purposes of the Divine Will, and saw what could be manifest in this Man who was born blind.
My beloved brethren, this is why we are here together today. We have embraced the call of God to be responsible for one another. You were embraced by the Mother Church of Constantinople as an act of inclusion. And this mutual responsibility binds us together by faith to be ‘keepers’ of all our brothers and sisters.
May we always be such keepers of one another, and glorify our God Who is Risen from the dead to grant eternal life to every soul. Amen.