This is my own transcription from the audio recording of the address. It can be downloaded, in a slightly awkward file format here or listened to on Ancient Faith Radio here. My own transcript is in no way official, and I can't promise total accuracy by any means. If anyone wants to improve it, let me know.
Your Eminence Metropolitan Phillip, your graces and dear brothers in Christ. I can say again that I am very glad to be here these days. I will try to speak to you about the mission of the Orthodox Church today, the priest and his service. I begin by a passage of Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians. He says, “For I delivered to you first that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that he was buried and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. 1 Cor. 3-4. These words written by the Apostle Paul constitute the main core of our mission in the present world, as it was in the ancient world, preaching to all the Gospel, the Evangelion, the joyful announcement, the joyful news, the resurrection of Christ.
The following main points of the subject, mission of the Orthodox Church today will be developed briefly with some not-systematically because of their interconnection. These points are first an appeal for repentance, returning again to God. This reminds me about the magazine Again and reading a lot that this magazine has taught. Second, to deliver man from slavery, from his passions, helping him to get out from different, new idols as I have said in my homily, to get out from his egoism and his individualism, to teach him how to live again in a community, in a Christian family as it was lived in the early Church mentioned in the Acts where they say “as it continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine in fellowship or community, in the breaking of bread and prayers… Now all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:42-44. All this struggle to get out from the old man supposes and needs purification of the heart during the illness of the soul. It is a therapeutical method. Third point, to live here with an eschatological view experiencing death before death, resurrection before the last resurrection as a foretaste, progeusis, of the kingdom of heaven and giving signs to people, to all people, that this apparent world is insufficient, is unsatisfying, for to live with the spirit of God, to live with the Spirit of God and not with the spirit of the world, I would mention here some known passages from the New Testament from the Apostle Paul and he says, “for these who live according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit, set their mind on the things of the spirit, for to be carnally minded is death but to be spiritually minded to life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6. Another passage from the first Epistle of Saint John, he says, “do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world , the love of the Father is not in him for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The world is passing away but he who does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17. This will not make us forget at the same time what Saint John himself writes the in his gospel, “for God so loves the world that he gave his only begotten so that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” This passage is in the Divine Liturgy, John 3:16. This point, the uniqueness of the Orthodox Antiochian Church, what is unique in our Antiochian Orthodox Church and in her mission and sixth point, another particularity of the Antiochian Church today.
Now after these points, I return to the first point, the Church appears with a prophetical voice, with an eschatological view. All the people, reminding them that the object is repentance in regards to the Kingdom of God. Saint Gregory Palamas says that this present life is a time, an occasion for repentance. kairos metanias. The Church struggles in order to guide all God’s creation for sanctification, which is the aim for our life, sanctification, or glorification if you want. It is not just returning to the first Adam, but more than that it is acquiring the glorification of our nature newly created in Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. “All things have passed away, behold all things have become new.” 2 Cor. 5:17. Now people usually search for physical heaven. We say to each other in Arabic, kif sa7tak, mni7, so it is in material things, they don’t seek purification of their soul, of their passions. They think about the health of our body and they focus very much in our times on the body. The object of life for man, lay people and clergy also, is acquiring money, making business. I remember when I attended the final commencement at the University of Balamand, the greatest number of the graduates was in business administration, while on another part for true Christians the main purpose is supposed to be to acquire the Holy Spirit, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov says. That is why the priest is mainly a spiritual father, that’s why we call him abuna. Before all things, others. He is not just a liturgical servant nor just a teacher. He has to liberate people as we said from their passions, from the fear of death, from the darkness. The one who overcomes things within his heart, I mean the spirit of the world, overcomes death and fear of death. Saint Isaac the Syrian says the one who confesses his sins is more important than the one who raises people from death. And he says also, the one who repents truly resembles the one who has passed from death into life. The present world took out from man the sense of sin. The greatest spiritual illness of the soul is the unawareness towards sinful acts. Sin, in our days, as someone said, a spiritual father, became a something happy, a friend. What characterizes a priest as a spiritual father is that he speaks, he behaves, he thinks with the spirit of God. He is supposed to have the gift, charisma, of discernment between good and evil, between what is from God and what is not. All this supposes simplicity of life, humility. He is not just a confessor, but also a guide, a counselor in all things in life towards repentance. The priest is a spiritual doctor, curing men’s souls those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil Heb. 5:14.
Now we move to another point concerning, now say, another subject, concerning uniqueness of the Orthodox Church and of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is built on two pillars- the parish and the monastery, parish life and monastic life. However, His Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius used to say many times that the Orthodox person is the one who lives as a monk in the midst of the world. This tradition is based on the example of Christ and also on the example of the saints who are human beings as Metropolitan Phillip said. They are human beings who incarnate the word of God and follow a deep, serious interior experience of life, training themselves and others to deny themselves and follow the commandments of Christ, to struggle against the passions, purifying their heart from bad intentions, from judging others. The church tries to show and reflect to others the face of Christ to the world, living icons of Christ. This occurs when it is guided by the effective action of the grace of God. It is a synergy, movement gathering the initiative of man and the action of God from another side, the Orthodox Church is mainly an ascetic church, Orthodox man is supposed to live ascetically, simply without too much complications in this life, too much unuseful consummation of materials. All this helps man to focus on spiritual affairs. Also, it helps him to be free in God, to say the truth, the word of God, to be detached from the environment, to have courage, zeal, initiative for what is good .The Orthodox, now, the Orthodox Antiochian church, is neither a national nor an ethnic church because it doesn’t belong to this world. It is evangelical in the sense that it lives literally the incarnated word of God according to the tradition of the school of Antioch.
At the same time, regarding the Kingdom of God with a spiritual and eschatological view. Now another particularity of the Antiochian Orthodox Church it is that is it is the only Orthodox church in the world which uses, at least in the Middle East, the Arabic language. It has a long experience of common social life with Muslim people. It knows the mentality, the psychology of Islam. This is a great opportunity for us to witness to our faith and, who knows, maybe even to the Jews. The Orthodox Antiochian Church is a missionary church even though it is a minority in numbers. However, it can be as a leaven which is put in a meal in order that it will be all leaven. Mat. 13:33.
Now, allow me to speak again about the priest and his service. We said before that the priest is the spiritual father and that he is abuna, abba. He reflects the paternity of God. Saint Paul the Apostle says to the Corinthians “for though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.” 1 Cor. 4:15. And Saint John Chrysostom explains- the instructor gives his lesson and goes away, but the father follows his son and embraces him continuously. The priest as a spiritual father reflects also God’s compassion. He is the father and the mother at the same time. He is the confessor, the teacher and the preacher, and he will communicate the word of God. He tries to implement, practice, what he is teaching. “Whosoever does and teaches men he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Mat. 5:19. Saint John of Kronstadt says that he is first of all a man of prayer. All these functions, the ministry and the preaching, suppose that he is praying at home with his family. That he is travailing against his own passions in order to cure weaknesses of others. And so as not to hear from others, “physician, heal yourself first” Luke 4:23, he must have, the priest must have, a father confessor as well as spiritual director. Otherwise, how can he hear the confessions of others? If he does not pray himself, how can he teach others how to pray? And finally he must have a great zeal for Christ in order not to hear God’s voice saying to him, “so then because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Rev. 3:16 Or even another voice, “I know your works, your labors, your patience and that you cannot bear those who are evil and you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and are have found them liars and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for my name’s sake and have not become weary, nevertheless, I have this against you that you have left your first love. Remember the height from where you have fallen, repent and do the first works.” Rev. 2:2-5.
In conclusion, I would like to recall this passage from Saint Paul the Apostle saying in his chapter on the resurrection, “the first man was of the earth, made of dust. The second man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust, and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are heavenly.” 1 Cor. 15:47-48. Today we need to be detached from the slavery of this secular society, money politics, fashion, mult-media. However not to be indifferent towards others but to face reality by being energized by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. Here comes the role of prayer. We need in our days prophetic words, prophetic voices. How to re-evangelize our own people? Books are profitable but not enough. We need experienced people, enlightened, illuminated. Jesus Christ is the truth. The ministry of the Church is the testimony of the truth. “For this reason I was born for this cause I have come to the world that I should bear witness to the truth.”Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” John 18:37. “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”John 8:32. Finally, Saint basil the great says the responsibility of the bishop is to defend the faith and to keep the Church in the right dogma. If we don’t strive for the welfare of the church as our enemy struggles for destroying it, the right faith, then nothing can prevent faith to be wasted. Amen.
Priest: I am intrigued and fascinated ,and probably time doesn’t allow us, but could you say a little bit more about how we here in America, in our situation, can profit from one of the benefits of being Antiochian that you mentioned, namely that in your area, that part of the world, the special relationship to the Muslims around. How can we profit from that here ,how can we take the experience that the Church has worked out in that setting and profit from it in our setting?
Met. Ephrem: Yes, I take the occasion, this occasion of my presence here, to say really that we need to have more relation between the Mother Church in the Middle East and the church in America. We need this because we are completing each other. Something good here we need it there and something good there, maybe you will need it here. That’s one of the reasons I am here with you also. Because I take profit very much just to see this Antiochian Village. Now for Islam, I suggest also even if it’s a little difficult, that we must know the Arabic language or as much as possible. This is very important in our days to know this language and the Arabic language may help for that. In a way, we have to study this subject and you can take profit from our experience in the Middle East because we are living in peace with Muslim people. This is a great thing and it is really a way of a real dialogue, of an actual living dialogue with Islam, which as you know played a great role in this world now.
Priest: Sayyidna Ephrem, could you comment for us on the correct usage, if appropriate, of using technology in spreading the message of Gospel? Correct usage, appropriate usage of certain mediums, that you have an opinion of?
Met. Ephrem: You see, the modern technology is not an obstacle. I say in my speech here that really a man who has a purified heart in himself can discern how to use all these technical things which are in the world. This, I spoke about this detachment. It’s not the object of the man to have more and more high-tech materials and media. If he has the Spirit, if he can discern what is good, he can choose the good materials and technical things for this mission he is making. The technical things are what we call neutral, they are not good or bad. It depends on how to use them. The important thing is the person himself, and the person as you know by the Bible is his heart. God says, give me your heart. Technical things and even the vestments are secondary.
Priest: Your Eminence, might you educate us for just a moment about the state of monasticism, what you call one of the two pillars of the Church, in our Church?
Met. Ephrem: Well it’s a whole subject we have not now the time to speak about monasticism in our Antiochian Church, but I can say that we have some monasteries and they play for the moment a great role for our people and especially for the young people, for the youth. They help very much and also good priests. That’s why I spoke about the priests and the spiritual father, because young people, as you know, they are living in their own atmosphere and they need someone to hear them and to love them, this is the main point. And they respond to him. They are not far from God, we say that they are far but they are not far.
+Joseph: It’s not a question but I have to say some testimony, how Sayyidna Ephrem, how of the monastic life in a monastery, and how we took part in it. When we were children we visited the seminarians in Balamand, they took us on a tour to a monastery in particular in the mountains. So when we went there, we found some ruins in that monastery so there was nothing at all, no life, no busy, so even if there was life, it was destroyed. So Sayyidna, he started there, with no brothers there, not any monastic life, just like he said. So he started there. And there is one criticism of the monastic, of the brotherhood, that they hide themselves in the monastery. Let me tell you two examples about this monastery, and in particular Sayyidna by himself opened his heart and started visiting the monastery physically but he opened his heart and his mind for the people in that area. You know people in that area now in our parishes, how many people we have at vespers, five ten less more, he brought the whole area, the whole area, people didn’t care about their spiritual life because of the presence, the icons, the love, the care, so he started encouraging people to pray with him. :aypeople, I’m talking about laypeople, not brotherhood. So they joined there. One day, I was in the archdiocese visiting Lebanon, I went to this monastery and he insisted to have me serve, and they serve early and I thought that for the Divine Liturgy, the abbot and two or three brothers would be there. So five o’clock six o’clock, whatever, and I looked after that in that church people from the area, and it was not Sunday, a working day! And they are farmers! So they left everything , like the disciples and they were at worship in the monastery. This is a great impact. The other thing I will switch to something else and please don’t take me wrong, this morning I was about to make the same comment with Father Nicolas. Look at that poster-- diaconate, presbyter, look at that beautiful icon there, the Good Shepherd. We didn’t hear anything about that in the morning. Once father Nicolas was leaving this morning, I was walking there he said “may I say goodbye?” I said, “yes, of course.” So he greeted me because I had known him for many years. He said, “what do you think? I didn’t hear any comments from you.” I said, to be honest you know I am not diplomatic, when I have to say the truth, I say it!I said, “Father your presentation was inappropriate! Because we wanted to hear about the priesthood, we didn’t hear anything about the priesthood.” I said, “the only three beautiful things in your presentation are the names—Saint john the Baptist, Saint john of Damascus, and Saint Athanasius the great. Period. This is the only names I enjoyed in your presentation.” Beloved in Christ, we are here to learn not from presentations and from lectures and from very scholastic presentations, we are here to learn from people like you, Your Eminence, how many times have you heard it, during the time that you were in seminary, that theology is tropos zoes, a way of life? We are here to learn how to live our priesthood .Our priesthood is not a profession our priesthood is not an occupation, our priesthood is a life in Christ. So this is what I wanted to say in the morning but I didn’t want to be offensive to the presentation in the morning, but after I heard this presentation by His Eminence, this is exactly what we are called to do and to live. So thank you again very much for this, and that monastery I tell you, I assure you I may be embarrassed to say it, but I would like to say that that monastery has become not a building with nice windows and doors and everything, has turned from an empty life to a life of a spiritual oasis, a paradise!