Last Sunday, after His Eminence visited our Sts. Anargyroi parish, he celebrated a vespers service at St. Athanasios in Arlington. The Philoptochos chapter there is named for St. Barbara, so the vespers was for the eve of her feast. Here is the sermon delivered by Fr. Manoussakis:
Sermon on the Feast of Saint Barbara
Delivered at the Church of St. Athanasius, Arlington
By the Very Reverend Fr. Panteleimon Manoussakis
(on the 3rd of December 2017)
Your Eminence, Metropolitan Methodios of Boston;
My beloved Brothers and Sisters—those of you who stayed within the Arc of the Church and, in particular, those of you who chose to remained outside the walls of the Church;
We have gathered this evening here in order to commemorate Saint Barbara. Every saint in the Church’s calendar is like the icons on either side of the icon of Christ in the iconstasis. If you look at the icon of the Virgin Mary on the one side and at the icon of St. John the Baptist on the other, you will notice that both of them point away from themselves and towards Christ. It is as if they were saying “pay no attention to us, but direct your gaze to Him.” If this is the case for the Theotokos and St. John how much more, then, it should be the case for each of us priests.
No-one among us priests, regardless of how pious, saintly, successful, or kind we may be, could consider the Church as his personal estate or the priesthood as his personal accomplishment. We clergy ought to resist the temptation of personality cult—to avoid that is, to make ourselves the center of people’s attention so that we can allow Christ to shine through us, as if it were through some transparent material. When our devotion is centered on the person of the priest instead on Christ, of whom the priest is only a sign and reminder, then that priest has failed. Such a priest becomes an obstruction that hides Christ from his parishioners. In short, he becomes a “Christ” instead of Christ, that is, an “anti-Christ.”
The same secular mentality that gives rise to the temptation of a personality cult leads also astray those among our faithful who behave as if the Church belongs to them, instead of them belonging to the Church. We often meet people who seem to understand their communities as a self-regulated, semi-autonomous church, over which they demand to have the first and final word. This, however, is not the structure of the Church. The Church is hierarchical, a term that has become particularly detestable to our democratic ears. To our modern minds “hierarchical order” conjures up negative associations of forceful submission, inequality, and domination. Yet, an authentic understanding of order belongs to a worldview of a cosmos in which every single thing has its place and is allowed to be the kind of thing it is. Without hierarchy, there is nothing to protect us from the tyranny of sameness masquerading as equality. Under such equality, however, all degrees of difference are lost and with them the proportionality that ascribes to each of us our proper place. St. Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Nor can any part of the body demand that every other part be equal. A human body whose every member is a foot is not more tolerant or democratic; it is simply monstrous. Without difference, order, and proportion there can be no beauty, goodness, and truth—and above all, that characteristic that pertains uniquely to the Church, namely, unity.
How is this unity to be achieved? Is it perhaps by confessing the same faith? That alone does not suffice, for faith alone becomes abstract and thus it degenerates into an ideology. Is it perhaps by a common rite of worship? Yet, aren’t there schismatic who followed the same rubrics in their worship as we do? Then, where from could we derive that much desired unity, that oneness for which we pray in our liturgies? Oneness, my dear brothers and sisters, is a characteristic of the One, but we are many and for as long as we remain many we cannot become the One Church unless we are in communion with the One of our Eucharist, namely our Bishop. This is the salvific role of the Bishop: to gather the scattered members of the Church into the unity of the one bread and the one chalice of the Eucharist which he has the right to celebrate. He alone is the celebrant. He alone is the unifying principle. He alone can establish a holy altar around which we, the many, can gather in order to form the one body of the Church. He alone can make the many one by bestowing on each and every one, through and by the holy sacraments, the dignity that belongs to the citizens of God’s kingdom. Without the Bishop, there is no Church. Without the Bishop, we are merely a number of people unrelated to each other. As twenty students in a classroom don’t make up a class unless they have a professor, and as fifty musicians cannot make an orchestra without their conductor, so too five or five hundred Christians in a room by themselves could never become the Church without their Bishop. Take, if you wish, the most beautiful building, adorned with splendid icons and iconography—without the Bishop, it can never become a church, but it would remain bricks and stones. The Bishop alone has the prerogative to consecrate the buildings of our churches where our salvation is wrought. And only the Bishop can consecrate the holy altar from which our sanctification flows. Even though we, priests, perform the sacraments and celebrate the Eucharist, we can do so only in the Bishop’s absence and on his behalf. In every local church there is in fact only one priest, the Bishop. He unities us to each other and, through him, we are united with the faithful of other local churches, with all the churches across the world. If, for a moment, a parish were to consider itself independent, then there would be nothing to unite it with the faithful across the world and throughout history—that is, with the Church as a whole. Such a parish would inevitably end up in self-isolation.
To this twofold secularization of the Church that manifests itself both though a narcissistic personality cult and through a divisive autonomy we respond by commemorating our saints—men and women with genuine ecclesiastical ethos. Neither did they claim their rights, nor did they allow others to claim them as their right, but rather they “sought God’s righteousness” (Ps. 118:94). “When they were cursed, they blessed; when they were persecuted, they endured it; when they were slandered, they responded with kindness” (cf., 1 Cor. 4:12-13), so that they may receive abundantly the grace of the only God. To Him belongs all glory, amen.