Reflections on an Era Past
by Rt. Rev. Ellis Khouri
Sermonette delivered at the 25th Antiochian Archdiocesan Convention in Chicago, August 22
My brothers and sisters in Christ: I am called this morning to share with you some “Reflections on an Era Past”: some remembrances of incidents and people that will conjure up in your imaginations memories of those days—those “good old days”—to which we all seem to refer when things don’t seem to be going just right with us today.
Beloved, the September of my life is upon me, and, I suppose, no one is more qualified to speak of the past than is a member of my generation. But I protest! St. Paul says: I LIVE, YET NOT I. CHRIST LIVES IN ME.”
If Christ is living in me, then Christ is now: not yesterday or tomorrow, but now, and we cannot speak of things “past” as being past without somehow nullifying whatever meaning we wish our “now” to have.
How shall I speak to you of an era “past and gone,” when to do so is to imply that that era is dead? How shall I speak to you of the “dead,” when in the Body of Christ there is no death but Life Everlasting? How shall I speak to you of a glory that once was, if that glory is also now and forever?
Can I speak to you of consistency, if that consistency is not here today?
Or shall I speak in terms of things being “past and gone,” of the heroes who struggled for the survival of the Church as they struggled for their own survival, as though heroic challenges are no more and the need for heroes has been obviated? Shall I offer reminiscences of an “era past” as though it were never to be again?
I cannot do this!
No, my beloved: I speak not of an “era past,” but of an era that has its recorded beginnings in the streets and fields of Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Galilee; of an era whose Divine Master walked upon the soil of our blessed patriarchal lands—Byblos, Tyre, and Sidon—who drank of the cold streams of the mountains under the shadows of the Cedars of Lebanon; of an era that has known pain and joy, sadness and fulfillment, agonizing defeats and resounding victories; of an era that comes to us through Peter and Paul and Barnabas, through Chrysostom, Ephraim, and “the Damascene,” welling up anew in the tears which fell from the almost blind eyes of Victor, the first Archbishop of this Antiochian Archdiocese—whom almost no one here remembers—and manifested in the clenched fist and determined jaw, the manly posture and visionary leadership of Antony, the Archbishop whom few of us here will ever forget.
Shall I speak to you of Priests who suffered, of Khouriyyat who made sacrifices, of dedicated lay people who gave so unselfishly of themselves to sustain the Faith of our Fathers? Shall I reminisce about the conception and the agonizing labor bringing to life the infant of this American Church—S.O.Y.O.—born on the battlefields of World War II, nurtured through the soul-searching struggles of the Cold War period, and now searching for a new and more significant identity and meaning for itself? Shall I speak of the fruits of S.O.Y.O.’s labors: Choirs, Church Schools, Youth Groups? And shall I speak of them as though they were no more? God forbid!
For the “Era Past” is the Present Era and the Era of Tomorrow. You see, beloved, an “era” is an “age,” and the Church is ageless!
Were this not true, and if the Church could be spoken of in terms of “eras” past, present, and future, then would I be rendered silent at the threshold of this present time; then would I be prevented from transcending the glories of the past so that I might embrace this “Now Generation” of the Church, which is being led so capably by our beloved spiritual father, Metropolitan Philip: or would it be denied me that I should touch briefly upon the joys of this new day simply because another shall dwell upon them at length?
Since I cannot be separated from the imperative “now-ness” that is Christ, then forbid me not to mention in passing the delight with which I touch the crown and kiss the hand and venerate the office of my dearly beloved Archbishop Philip, in whose behalf I have had the distinguished honor and privilege of serving with so many others, and whose episcopacy I support with my life.
May his labors be just and true, filled with this continuing “now-ness” of the Church, and may his ministry bring forth the nourishing fruits of a labor of love and wisdom, of faith and hope, to the Glory of God and the Mother Church!
As I approach the winter of my years, and look at the bright young faces of my brothers who are still in the springtime of their youth, I think not of things past, but of things that are and of things that have always been, for my Christ is not “yesterday” nor is He some far-off “tomorrow”: My Christ is now!
If Christ is now, as I believe: and if Christ is in me as St. Paul believes: then I somehow have a continuing share in now—and whenever “now” is, I am a part of it: and whenever this mortal flesh is laid to rest, please do not think of me as part of “an era past,” for then I will be dead indeed. But if Christ is in me, alive, as St. Paul proclaims Him to be: and if Christ is now, as I have proclaimed Him to be; then the Church—you and I and Christ— the Church is always “now,” militant and triumphant! And for the Church there is no “Past Era,” for we are always united in her—together—NOW!
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America