The following is the first part of a message from His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, written on the eve of the Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, which be held this July 6th-9th in Philadelphia. Click here for more information on Clergy-Laity.
From God every family in Heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:15)
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We anticipate with joy our gathering in Philadelphia this coming July for the 42nd Biennial Clergy Laity-Congress of our Holy Archdiocese of America. We pray for the blessings and grace of God as we make our preparations for this tremendous opportunity to review the progress of our sacred work, evaluate the use of our resources and efforts, and deepen our commitment to sharing the Gospel and extending the healing ministry of the Church.
For this year’s Congress, our theme will continue our focus on strengthening the family. Our theme is “The Orthodox Christian Family: A Dwelling of Christ and a Witness of His Gospel.” This theme is based on the prayer offered by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:15).
This proclamation affirms that God is the source and identity of the family. He created us in His divine image and likeness. He also created the family. As we live in a time when family as an institution is frequently attacked, such a statement is vital. The history of divine revelation as presented in the Holy Scriptures is filled with references to the family. From the creation of the human race with the first family–Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel–to the origins of the Hebrew people with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants, family becomes the context for God’s divine work. Family is also essential in the fulfillment of His divine plan in the Incarnation of Christ. Our Lord was born into a family, and He spent thirty years with His family in Nazareth before starting His three years of public ministry.
The role of the family in the history of God’s revelation to humankind is joined in Holy Scripture by many passages that present the identity and ideals of what God intended the family to be. In the book of Proverbs and the deuterocanonical books of the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Sirach, we are offered guidance on the qualities of family life. Further, many counsels presuppose a family environment. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul addresses family relationships in several of his Epistles, offering guidance to husbands and wives, parents and children, and emphasizing the priority of love, commitment, and faith.
All of this together offers a strong, biblical foundation for our emphasis on the family as Church or kat’oikon ekklesia (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15). This concept is related to the early Christian practice of conducting worship, teaching, and fellowship in the homes of believers, closely connecting the life of the family with the life of the Church (Acts 2:41-47).
The relationships shared by the members of a family and by the family with the Church are essential to understanding the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s statement, from God every family in Heaven and on earth is named. When the family is connected to God and is the dwelling of Christ, great and abundant blessings will come. As further exclaimed by the Apostle in Ephesians 3, we can know that God will provide all that we need from the riches of His glory. Families that live in Christ and offer a witness of His Gospel, that are rooted and grounded in love, will find inner strength, will gain the wisdom of the Saints, will know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…and be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).
As we prepare for our Clergy-Laity Congress in the months ahead, we will examine other important aspects of our theme. I ask you to take this opportunity to prepare prayerfully, to consider how our theme deepens our understanding of the identity and role of the family, and to evaluate how our ministries at all levels of the Church in America can be more focused on strengthening the family and helping families to be what God created them to be. Strong families of faith make strong parishes and communities. They also offer a witness to the world of the power of God’s grace and of the abundant blessings of life with Him.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America