The following words were delivered by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to the graduates of Hellenic College Holy Cross on Saturday, May 21st, 2016.
You heard quite a number of important things today. So I would just like to repeat and emphasize something. You are leaving and think that you are in a mission–the theologians, but also the rest of the people. You know, we are in need of a very special kind of mission. This could be called “internal mission.”
I’ll give you an example. If you noticed what happened during Holy Week–especially Palm Sunday–you would see on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, the night of the Resurrection, you would see a big crowd. There are churches on Palm Sunday that they have to have two liturgies to accommodate the people. In New York, in two parishes, we had four liturgies on Palm Sunday, one in the main church and one in the community center next to the church simultaneously. 8 to 10, out. Then 11 to 1, the second group. On one occasion there was a fifth liturgy needed. I said, “Where are these people the rest of the year?”
Mission starts at home, my beloved people. It’s good to work in Africa and in the Far East, but we have to start here. This is internal mission. We have to connect, to bring all these people to the church.
There is a statistic–a very interesting statistic–what is the percentage of the population that goes at least once a week to church? It’s not for Orthodox only–it’s for all denominations and all religions. In the geographical zone that includes Maryland, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, the percentage of the population that goes once a week to the church is 37%. In other words, one third of the population goes once a week to the church. In the MidWest and the South, the percentage is 65%. Two thirds of the population goes to church at least once a week. Think about that. Where are we in this type of statistic? So, the young generation of graduates and prospective priests and clergy and graduates of Hellenic College–because this is a collective effort, it’s not just a matter of the priests and the bishops, it’s everyone–we have to have a very, very high percentage of church attendance. It’s a mission. I don’t want to offer you easy words, I’m sorry. We have to help these people to share the treasures that we have. And then we have to invite the other people to share with us the beautiful things that we have.
I have a suggestion for you. Just open the New Testament and read the parts of the four Gospels that are after the Resurrection. They are just a few chapters, very few chapters. Read the chapters and look there what the Lord is talking about. These are his last words before Ascension. They have an extremely critical importance. What is He saying? In the Gospel of John: As the Father sends me, so I send you. We are sent by Him the way Christ was sent by the Father. It’s a very heavy theological statement, biblical statement. Gospel of Matthew: Go to the whole world. Gospel of Luke: Go to Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Look statistically at the amount of words that deal with just sending people to the mission. He was on a mission as the incarnate Son of God. The destiny of the Church is to be in Mission.
So, I would like to, on this occasion, renew this kind of core to be the voice of Christ and do the action of Christ in a world that is in terrible need of this action and this word. We live in a world that is oversaturated with words; the means of communication facilitate that. But this world needs Christ God’s Word that saves, renews, gives hope, gives perspective, and gives a future.