Growing up, my parents taught my brothers and me to respect our clergy. During lunch on Sundays, they reinforced his teachings about God and our faith. They quizzed us about what we had learned in Sunday School. They wanted to ensure we were close to God and to our Church. I believe they succeeded and I thank them. May the memory of John and Charlotte Catherine be eternal!
Often, my parents shared how difficult the vocation of the priesthood could be. Indeed, looking back at the six Priests that served my parish from my birth to the year I left for college, I understood why they preferred I wait to answer God’s call to become a Priest and serve in His Holy Vineyard. They respected and supported each of the clergy in our parish. They witnessed our clergy families offer themselves in sacrificial service to God’s Holy Church. They were happy when parishioners responded to our clergy with love and support; other times they lamented how they felt our clergy were disrespected. In spite of their best attempts to reconcile the contempt of some of their brethren, the end result was the news, “The Archbishop is going to replace our Priest with a new one!” Looking back, the reasons for dismay seemed to me to be petty, vindictive, and in no way becoming of a Christian family. We mourned the loss of each clergyman and sought to support more strongly his successor. We desired stability and love; we prayed for our Church family to be at peace.
I wish I could have done more to support our clergy and their families, especially when conflicts and misunderstandings erupted. Through God’s grace and the blessings of His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios, in my service as Chancellor of the Metropolis of Atlanta, I constantly seek to serve my brother clergy in ways I could never have assisted them as a youth growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s. For this blessing, I thank God, my Bishop, and my brother clergy for their support and encouragement, as well as the countless laymen I have the privilege of serving… in our Metropolis, in my parish, and throughout God’s world!
This past Sunday, the Parish Council, Philoptochos, and parishioners of St. Christopher Church where I serve most Sundays surprised me. They did what I never recall seeing as a child (and I honestly am not sure why). They showered my family and me with messages of love and thanksgiving – a beautifully decorated cake, gifts, and a card signed by everyone present, including heartfelt sentiments that will be forever treasured.
As if this were not enough, the gift I will remember the most was the heartfelt sentiments composed and offered by the President of our Parish Council, Mrs. Julie Skouteris (pictured above in the yellow jacket). As she lifted up the calling of my serving as her and her family’s Priest and the influence of my family and me on our parish family, I thanked our Lord in behalf of my former clergy who served and still serve as my mentors and sources of inspiration. After she ended, I asked her permission to reprint her remarks at the end of this blog, with the understanding that I feel they apply to ALL of our clergy. I want them to know many in our midst appreciate them. Our busy nature is not to express our feelings of support and thanksgiving often, if at all. Today, I dedicate this blog to offer thanks to all of our clergy through sharing Julie’s acknowledgement below.
Coincidentally, this week all of our Metropolis of Atlanta clergy assembled at the Diakonia Retreat Center to share fellowship, to worship, and to learn ways to improve our ministry. His Eminence selected the theme of “Clergy Leadership”. I feel it is fitting to offer Julie’s beautiful words as a further witness underscoring the efforts of all of our clergy who serve as our Bishop’s representatives in our respective ministries and parishes. I thank them and their families. I thank their parishioners for supporting them and working with them. Before our clergy departed, I offered them a two-sided card pictured below, with the hope that they be reminded that God is proud of them and thanks them for serving in His Holy Vineyard.
I close with Julie’s gracious words lifting up the Priesthood and thank her for taking the time to share this gift from her heart to me and now to you. May our Lord bless and protect her and her family always. She wrote:
Father George, thank you for laying down your life for Christ and His Church, for giving up your life to help us get through ours. Thank you for your obedience, for showing us what it means to submit. Thank you for being on call 24 hours a day. Thank you for showing up in the hospital room or the funeral home. Thank you for your counsel.
Thank you for loving us even when we take you for granted. Thank you for remembering our names. Thank you for caring about who we are and what we do. Thank you for smiling when babies scream in Liturgy. Thank you for loving our children. Thank you for the example you set to our sons of what it means to follow Christ with abandon.
Thank you for refusing to be overcome by the world’s hatred. Thank you for the example of a life lived for a purpose. Thank you for offering the Sacraments. Thank you for confession. Thank you for hearing our confessions. Thank you for listening, for never judging. Thank you for reassuring us that there’s nothing too big for God’s mercy. Thank you for taking our shameful sins to your grave. Thank you for hurting with us and hurting for us and wanting us in heaven so badly.
Thank you for bringing the Holy Eucharist to the sick. Thank you for sermons that remind us that the Liturgy is about the Holy Eucharist, not the works of man. Thank you for consecrating the Holy Eucharist so reverently. Thank you for the intensity of your worship and the love in your eyes when you look at your people and when you look at your God.
Thank you for praying over us and praying with us and praying for us. Thank you for your private faithfulness to prayer, to the Office and the Divine Liturgy, to your own confessions and fasting. Thank you for fighting every day to be a man worthy of the call.
Thank you for preaching Christ to us, for bringing Christ to us, for being Christ to us. Thank you for following Him, never knowing where He will lead you. Thank you for teaching us to trust, for teaching us to love, for teaching us to live.
I pray that all of us pray for you and Presbytera Marinda every day. We are so thankful for both of your sacrifices and your ministry and your love. Please know that, whatever the world throws at you, you are loved in return.