It is with great humility that I have accepted the invitation by His Eminence the Metropolitan Archbishop of Good Hope Mr Sergios to open this Orthodox Centre. It is truly a great honour for me to have been asked to say a few words on this most auspicious occasion.
I assume that I am expressing the understanding and hope of all of you that this new Centre will fulfil a number of very important functions, such as Educational, Cultural, Social, Recreational, etc. Above all, it is envisaged that this Centre will embrace all Orthodox Christians regardless of their nationality, ethnic background, race, colour, language or heritage. This Centre has been established in order to become the home of all Orthodox Christians.
His Eminence’s vision has been to create a truly Pan-Orthodox Home that will foster closer bonds among all Orthodox Christians. However, we should not forget that this is not just a club, only a place where to meet and socialise with others. Insofar as it is a Pan-Orthodox Centre, we should not forget that its main aim is to promote the spirit of Christian Orthodoxy and thus, its foremost function is closely related to that of the Church.
Christ came to the world so that we may have life in abundance. In Christ’s own words (John 10:10) ‘I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. (In another translation: ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’ In the original Greek ’ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν.(John 10:10)’. Christ came to the world to perfect a body which is His Church because He knew that no man alone can contain the abundance of life that He brought to us. Therefore, He created the Church, His Body, in which He transmitted all the fullness of His Divinity to be inherited to all the members. Each member has a gift from God but no member, no matter how great it is, can contain the fullness of His Grace. He created the Church where there is the communion of the gifts to all the members. When we are in communion with this wondrous body, we are enriched by the communion of the gifts of all the members, the triumphant ones in Heaven and the elect of God on earth, in all parts of God’s dominion. St Paul himself says that we can comprehend the breadth, length, depth and height of the love of God only together with His saints, together with the other members of His Body (Ephesians, 3: 17-19).
Having all this in mind, we can understand what a tremendous reality and treasure is the Church. In the light of this super-natural reality, we understand how important it is the institution of the Church and all the spiritual Centres around Her (such as this Centre) to enable us to keep the Holy Traditions of our Fathers and thereby inherit the abundance of God’s life He brought for us upon the earth.
In our modern times, we try to reduce the Church to a social institution, or a psychological support service, or a promoter of human values, ethical codes etc., or to a nationalist centre. Inevitably, the Church insofar as it also has a human dimension, has the potential of fulfilling some of these roles and functions and many more, but it should never be limited to them precisely because it is not just, it is not only a human and social institution.
Above all, the Church is the Body of Christ and we should never forget its essence which is rooted in the holy sacraments, in its Eucharistic function that enriches us, not in secular and materialist dimensions, but it provides the context for us to connect with what God intended us to become, i.e. according to His image and likeness.
Therefore, let us hope and pray that this Centre, like all the other spiritual centres of the Church, will help us create the conditions to have life in abundance; to enable us to inherit all the gifts that God provides for us.
However, achieving this is not easy, as it is not easy to live in the spirit of the Church in our world today with all the pressures, distractions and false promises around us. And this is precisely why we do need each other and the prayers of all the saints to achieve this. We do need our focus and hard work, our Orthodox practices along with everybody’s prayers.
Finally, we should be reminded that our Orthodox identity should never be a negative identity, i.e. that we are against everybody who is not Orthodox or who is not of our own ethnic or linguistic background etc. Our Orthodox identity should be a positive one, affirming firmly and humbly our own Orthodox traditions.
In his New Year message, His Eminence Metropolitan Archbishop Sergios warned against ‘Fanaticism’ as being ‘dangerous not only to ourselves but also to the whole world’, he urged that we should respect and ‘accept that every nation has its own value and important historical origin’ and that our main feature as ‘Orthodox Christians’ should be ‘our indiscriminate love for every human being and to carry on bearing witness’.
Therefore, let us all work hard and pray that this new Pan Orthodox Centre becomes a place where the words of the psalm (133) become true in actual lived reality: ‘See how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters, God’s people, live together in harmony!’