Remarks of Honoree
The Archdiocesan Cathedral Philoptochos
Sixty-fourth Annual Chrysanthemum Ball
The Mandarin Oriental
New York, New York
November 10, 2017
Your Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America,
Primate of the Holy Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who is observing his 50th Anniversary to the Holy Episcopacy,
Everyone joins me in proclaiming – Eis Polla Ete Thespota!
Reverend Presbyters, including Father John Vlahos, Dean of the Holy Trinity Cathedral,
Father Robert Stephanopoulos, a pivotal figure in my life,
My Distinguished Brother Archons of the Order of Saint Andrew,
Honorable Members of the Diplomatic Corps of Greece and Cyprus,
Maria Logus, National Philoptochos Society President,
My dear friend, Aphrodite Skeadas, past National Philoptochos Society President,
Dr. Miranda Kofinas, Archdiocesan Cathedral Philoptochos Society President,
George Tsandikos, my brother, and inspiration, Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council and Chairman of Leadership 100,
Father Elias Villas, and my brothers and sisters in Christ from the Church of Our Savior in Rye, New York, who I love, respect, admire and rely on more than they will ever know,
To everyone back home, my people, at the All Saints Church in Weirton, West Virginia,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
My family and I are honored and humbled to receive this recognition this evening.
This honor is uniquely special because it comes from the Philoptochos Society.
While I thank the Philoptochos Society for this recognition, this honor belongs to my wife, Robin. Robin is my angel, my conscience, and my rock. She has brought an elegance, a beauty, and a poetry into my life. She deserves this recognition, not me because when Father Stephanopoulos officiated our wedding almost 24 years ago at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, she could not have known that in the future, she would end up with a part-time husband due to our family’s commitments to Orthodoxy and Hellenism. I recognize that now, especially since I turned 50 earlier this year. I do not have the words, even between husband and wife, even after almost a quarter of a century together, to thank her for her selflessness, her humility and her grace, day after day, week after week, year after year, which has provided me with the opportunity to serve our Church and our omogeneia. She is the embodiment of philotemo. She is the beating heart of our family. Robin, all I can say is efxaristo kai se agapo.
This evening I would like to first recognize, commend and salute the Philoptochos Society and its Ministry, and then use this incredible platform as an opportunity to call for unity.
I am here tonight because of my deep respect for the Philoptochos’ Ministry. The backbone of every Parish is its Philoptochos Chapter and its tireless volunteers. Philoptochos’ Ministry is truly at the heart of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian – to give of oneself, selflessly, reverently and with humility, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. The members of Philoptochos are living Icons, true examples of our Faith and an inspiration to others. The women of Philoptochos are the embodiment of the “Cheerful Giver” in Corinthians: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” I am a student of philanthropy, one of the most important and beautiful of all Greek words. I truly believe, as is said in Luke, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” I truly believe, as St. John Chrysostom said, “The rich man is not one who has much, but one who gives much. For what he gives away remains his forever.” If charity, rendered with true humility resides at the center of our Faith, then the Philoptochos and its volunteers reside at the center of our Faith. To the women of Philoptochos, on behalf of all us, I proclaim “AXOI!”
Tonight, I call for unity throughout the Holy Archdiocese. The Church needs the unity of our people, and our people need the Church. The Church is the body that embraces us all. The Church is our rock – sacred, holy and eternal. The Church is the only institution that binds the Greek American community together.
Our Ecumenical Patriarchate, our Archdiocese, our Metropolises and our Parishes are connected as one body. From the smallest Parish in the most remote corner of this Holy Archdiocese to here in New York City, the spiritual blood running in our veins is one and the same. As Saint Paul said “The members may be many, but the body is one. How can the eye say to the hand, I don’t need you? Or again, how can the head say to the feet, I don’t need you?”
There is no ethnic or secular organization that approaches the primacy of the Church in the Greek-American community. Secular Hellenism is not the answer. Hellenism can only be viewed through the glorious prism of Orthodoxy. You cannot separate the two. The Church and only the Church has guarded and maintained our Hellenic identity, customs, culture, and language through two millennia.
This is a serious time and requires a serious commitment by serious people.
We are currently confronted with certain internal challenges, and very serious external challenges, which will only be overcome by unity in Christ as a single body.
We are working hard to address our internal challenges, all of which are controllable and manageable. By the Grace of God, in a matter of a few short months, the Archdiocese has taken unprecedented and concrete actions to establish the foundation for a strong future. His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, the most Revered Hierarchs of our Holy Eparchial Synod, and the Archdiocesan Council are working together to bring integrity to the operations of the Archdiocese. I respectfully ask the Faithful, to please take the time to understand, and then take confidence in, the unprecedented actions taken in both substance and speed to reestablish the trust between the Faithful and the Archdiocese. These actions, include the appointment of new lay leadership at the highest levels, assigning new people to critical senior management positions, the implementation of new internal controls, practices and procedures, the appointment of highly qualified professionals to serve on independent audit committees, the retention of accounting firms for various independent audits and reports, and very significant cost reductions. While we still must very, unfortunately, address the Archdiocese’s legacy obligations, the Archdiocese is working expeditiously to remedy the financial and control issues it discovered and confronted earlier this year. I ask you to join us in this effort.
I exhort everyone: instead of criticism, to please propose solutions; instead of idle words, to take constructive action; instead of anger and frustration, to embrace forgiveness, love, and humility. We all have the same heart and the same soul, therefore we must speak with one voice and act as one body. Following in the tradition of the generations that came before us, we must get on our knees, lift up our hearts, and pass the torch of a thriving Church to our children and grandchildren.
We must also confront and overcome many serious external challenges.
First, here at home in the United States, especially in New York and New York City, there is a war against organized religion of all kinds. We live in an ocean of secularism that makes maintaining our Orthodox faith and identity very difficult. We all know the Orthodox Church is the Ancient Faith – the Church of the Apostles. Our faith is not easy. Orthodoxy challenges you every day. Orthodoxy spends a lifetime teaching you humility, through a spiritual journey of prayer, fasting, self-discipline, and self-denial to achieve a path to Christ. It doesn’t tell you what you want to hear to just feel good. As every parent and grandparent knows, especially in 21st century America, this is a tough sell.
Second, outside of the United States, Christianity is being persecuted around the world. The West sits and watches as Christianity is being liquidated in the Middle East, the place of its birth, where tens of thousands of men, women, and children are being massacred and martyred, and entire ancient communities are being annihilated. As the Patriarch of Antioch said recently, “Without Christians in the Middle East, there is no Middle East.” While we will pray for those martyred, as an Archon of the Order of St. Andrew, I implore all Orthodox Christians in the United States to provide a voice to the voiceless, who are suffering silently and courageously, armed with only their faith in defense of the Cross.
Third, speaking again as an Archon, please understand our Mother Church in Constantinople is facing an existential threat without modern precedent. I exhort you to pray for His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is now under siege from many forces, even as he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his enthronement.
The only way to overcome our internal and external challenges is through unity in Christ as a single body. There is no other choice. There is no higher calling. There is no greater imperative. Family demands, ethnos demands, two millennia of history demand, tradition demands, honor demands, the saints and the martyrs, through their example and sacrifice, exhort.
Now is the time for us, the Church Militant, to be worthy of the Church Triumphant.
We are people of faith, love, and hope.
Now is the time for all of us to work together for our future and the future of our children.
I thank you for the recognition this evening and the patience in listening to my remarks.