CHICAGO, IL (OCA-DMW) — At the celebration of Vespers at Chicago’s historic Holy Trinity Cathedral on Friday, December 26, 2014 — the eve of his consecration to the Episcopate — Bishop-elect Paul [Gassios] delivered an address to the bishops, clergy and faithful.
Bishop-elect Paul addresses bishops, clergy and faithful at Vespers [Gassios]His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, and several members of the Holy Synod of Bishops will consecrate Archimandrite Paul during the Divine Liturgy on Saturday, December 27. [See related story here].
The complete text appears below.
A photo gallery of the evening can be viewed here.
ADDRESS OF BISHOP-ELECT PAUL ON THE EVE OF HIS CONSECRATION TO THE EPISCOPACY
Your Beatitude, Your Eminences, Your Graces, all Clergy, Monastics and Laity who are gathered here this evening. Christ is born!
Last week, a song from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas of Motown fame popped into my brain for a day or two. The lyrics — “nowhere to run baby, nowhere to hide” — just played on and on. Those of you who know me realize I did everything I could do to avoid this day. If I were to be judged on this, I would have passed with an A+ grade. But no matter how much I tried to run or hide, I learned that my stubborn self-will was the problem and that the Lord was not going to let me off the hook. I have been called by the Church to become the Archpastor of the Diocese of the Midwest. It is only because of this call that I am able to give my consent and, finally, say nothing to the contrary. I can’t believe I just said that!
To explain what this means to me I must start with something Father Joseph Morris, Abbot of Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery, said to me on the day of my monastic tonsure. “On the road to the episcopacy you will carry the Cross of our Lord and discover its power in ways that you had never known or imagined before.” One of the reasons I tried to avoid this reality is the same reason other people have stood here before other bishops giving this same address: they realized they weren’t up to the task and unworthy of it. I can only echo the sentiment, “Ditto to the 9th power!” Tomorrow, I am going to need a whole lot of the Grace of the Holy Spirit to fulfill what is lacking in me, and heal what is infirm with me.
My episcopacy will be built upon my weakness and not my strengths. This is where the work of the Cross continues as I experience another new baptismal moment in my life. Saint Paul speaks of this reality in 2 Corinthians 12: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
For me to be a “successful bishop,” I must make those words of Saint Paul my own and live by them. What is the fruit of carrying my cross, which is really His Cross? What should it look like in the life of a Bishop?
By the Grace of the Holy Spirit I need to carry this Cross with joy! People have enough burdens and difficulties to deal with in daily life. They need to see in the example of their Bishop one who sees the Cross not as a heavy burden that is carried with resentment, but as the light yoke for which Christ wants us to come to Him and give to us, so that we might find rest. In His ultimate voluntary act of self-surrender, the Cross, Christ was motivated by the joy set before Him: He offered Himself on behalf of everyone and everything to call us to repentance and to bring us into His Kingdom. That was His Joy!
People need to see in their Bishop someone who doesn’t define his wellbeing in terms of his circumstances. They need to see in their Bishop someone who loves Christ, and loves His people on days when he feels he is leading the parade, and even more so on days when he might feel the parade is chasing him out of town. If he is truly carrying his Cross, he will continue to be joyful and grateful for the gifts given to him by our Lord, whether “abased or abound.”
People need to see in their Bishop someone who is a true steward of Creation, and not a slave of Creation. This means nothing more than seeing that all we have comes from our Heavenly Father and all is given to us as a gift. We are to use and manage them in accordance with His will and glorify Him as the Source of all that is Good. When a Bishop does embrace this Cross, it truly frees him to use what he has to glorify God, and he won’t allow himself to be possessed by what he has.
People need to see in their Bishop someone who is transparent and has the courage to admit his failings and ask forgiveness when he is in the wrong. I can continue to go on with many attributes, but they all bear witness to one unifying reality. People need to see in their Bishop someone who is truly humble, where his yes means yes and his no means no. The ministry of the Bishop is not his ministry, but it is the ministry of Christ Incarnate! In 2 Corinthians 3, we find expressed a thought similar to this: “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” This applies to all of us but the Bishop needs to be an example of someone who is having a living letter of Christ written in his heart by the Spirit of the living God.
I didn’t know Archbishop John of blessed memory. But I think he was a good example of being a living letter. I came across the following about him while reading the 75th Anniversary Album from Saint Nicholas Church in Joliet, Illinois: “When Archbishop John became bishop, he reaffirmed even stronger his faith in God and his deep devotion to the Theotokos. This and his devotion guided him throughout his life and if we term his life a ‘success,’ it is because of that. We cannot forget to recall how approachable and sociable he was. His door was always open to all, his sincere friendship attracted many converts. His Christian simplicity made him accessible to all. We might say that his life and the hardship he endured made him ‘so human.’ He was interested in the natural things in life — sewing, gardening, bee keeping, singing, cooking, etc. He was not affected by our modern problems, which make us neurotic and hard to get along with.”
This description of Archbishop John reminds me of the ninth Kontakion of the Akathist to the Theotokos: “All the angels were amazed at the great act of Thine incarnation, for they saw the Inaccessible God as a man accessible to all, abiding with us, and hearing from all: Alleluia!”
On the eve of my consecration to become Bishop of Chicago, pray for me that I may continue to become, by Grace, a living icon of HE WHO IS — Jesus Christ, the One Who makes the inaccessible God accessible to all. This will be my prayer for you as well. Christ is Born!