An article published in the National Herald, July 05, 2012:
PHOENIX, AZ – The 41st Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America convened in Phoenix, AZ closely monitored and guarded because of the recent alleged suicide of 27 year-old novice monk Scott (Ioannis) Nevins outside the St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence. Archbishop Demetrios of America as well as Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco were closed guarded by security men as it was the premises of Marriot Hotel, where the Congress had been taking place.
Archdiocese officials had taken all measures to avoid any discussion among the clergy and the laity participants about the alleged suicide as well as the monasteries established and controlled by elder Ephraim, former abbot of the Philotheou monastery of Mt. Athos in Greece. No official announcement has been issued yet by the police authorities, nor have the results of the autopsy been made public.
TNH has learned that the issue of the monasteries was discussed by the Archdiocese hierarchs and Archbishop Demetrios. Namely, whether the monasteries actually belong ecclesiastically and canonically to the Archdiocese, as well as the properties of the 21 monasteries elder Ephraim secured over the past 20 years. Only half of the parishes of the Archdiocese attended the Congress.
Archdiocese General Legal Counsel Emmanuel Demos announced that 326 parishes were registered with 651 delegate comprising clergy and laity alike. Also in attendance were 372 Philoptochos delegates for the Organization’s Conference, which took place simultaneously with the Congress. The total faithful that attended the Congress were 1162 people.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was represented by Metropolitan Soterios of Toronto and all Canada.
There was no agenda except for the financial budget. The theme of the Congress was “go and bear fruit.” The official opening of the Congress took place on July 2, at the Grand Hall of JW Marriott Desert Ridge Hotel. It was highlighted by Demetrios’ keynote address, presented to an audience of about 1,200 participants.
It is customary for the official opening to be attended by delegates, clergy and laity, of both the Congress and the Philoptochos Convention. Demetrios defined the mission and outlined the necessary steps for the fulfillment of the theme of this Congress with the charge by our Lord Jesus Christ, who has “chosen and appointed us to go and bear fruit.” Demetrios began by expressing gratitude to God and devotion to Bartholomew, along with wishes for the patriarch’s 20th anniversary on the throne of Constantinople. He also expressed thanksgiving to God for a series of people, organizations, and events that have had a significant impact on the life of the Church over the past two years – since the last Congress, in 2010 in Atlanta.
“The world to which we have been appointed to go and bear fruit is a wounded world, a confused world, a fragmented world, in which we have to cultivate and offer the fruit of faith, love, healing, peace and hope,” Demetrios said as he outlined seven fields that should be the focus of cultivation so they can “bear fruit” in the time to come.
He identified those fields as 1) the lives of families of interfaith marriages, 2) children, adolescents and young adults, 3) places of work where we communicate our faith effectively, 4) gathering and reconnecting our disconnected people, 5) inter-orthodox relationships, 6) increasing our stewardship numbers in our communities, and 7) preserving our universal Hellenic treasures and Greek language.
He said “let us not waste time. Let us go now. The field is open, wide open by the grace of God, Who was, is and will forever be with us.” The opening ceremony began with a prayer service, followed by welcoming remarks from the two co-chairs of the Congress, Theofanis Economides and Isidoros Garifalakis.
Councilman Jim Waring, representing the City of Phoenix also offered a warm welcome, followed by the President of the National Ladies Philoptochos Society Aphrodite Skeadas, who offered greetings on behalf of the Philoptochos’ 25,000 women. Also, the host, Hierarch Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, addressed the audience. He outlined the unique role of the Congresses in promoting unity, fully disclosing the affairs of the Church, and bringing together all parishes. Gerasimos urged the delegates to participate actively and take the message of the Congress back to their communities.
Sotirios of Toronto, conveyed the paternal and patriarchal greetings and blessings of Bartholomew and read the patriarch’s message to the Congress. Bartholomew in his message stated that “this significant assembly of the community provides the forum to offer, in one spirit and one heart, prayers and thanks to our Lord, the giver of all good things, for all that He bestows upon us in His goodness and mercy. At the same time, it is an opportunity to study, examine, and consider, the various issues and matters that concern this Holy Eparchy, its faithful people, the individual Communities, and numerous Institutions, particularly the Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston.”
Bartholomew also stated that “our troubled world, particularly in the United States of America, expects much from you because it considers your mission as heavenly and divine. You can readily see that, on a global level, political and social structures and ideologies are crumbling, leaving peoples’ souls in despair and hunger with regard to truth of divine knowledge. Since, by the Grace of God, all of you have been blessed to be honorable members of the Orthodox Church, many of you dressed with the garment of Archpriesthood and Priesthood, do not disappoint those who look to you with great expectation.”
Immediately following the opening ceremony, the Metropolitans of the Holy Eparchial Synod held separate hierarchal sessions. The theme of the Congress was further discussed during those sessions, giving the opportunity for the delegates to exchange experiences and new ideas. During the course of the Congress several meetings and workshops took place including the Philoptochos General Assembly, meetings of the Church Musicians and Administration Committee, and various ministry workshop sessions.
On July 1, Orthros service and Hierarchical Divine Liturgy were held in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity of Phoenix, with approximately 1,200 faithful in attendance. Demetrios of America presided over the Divine Liturgy concelebrating with all the members of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Archdiocese. Sotirios attended the Liturgy from the Solea along with Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, Chief Secretary of the Holy Eparchial Synod.
Just before the dismissal of the Liturgy, Demetrios spoke on the Gospel and the Epistle readings of the day, about faith and love as two essential and indispensable pillars. Emphasizing the theme of the Congress, he said “both are required if we are to ‘go and bear fruit’ as the Lord commands us.” Sotirios said in his sermon that “I have witnessed your faith, and the faith of all the Hierarchs and faithful during the beautiful Divine Liturgy”.. Speaking on the theme of the Congress “to go and bear fruit,” he emphasized the importance of children as a precious gift from God, the importance of their well-being, the Orthodox family, the Sunday, day and afternoon Greek schools and our role in cultivating faith in the younger generation.” He also conveyed the patriarchal greetings. Gerasimos offered a warm welcome to all. He reiterated the message of love in St. Paul’s Epistle and affirmed this love as the context for “all the hard work we do when we come together in these Congresses.” On Sunday afternoon, Demetrios was joined by Metropolitans Sotirios, Methodios, Nicholas and Evangelos, and Leadership 100 Chairman Charles H. Cotros for the cutting of the ribbon at the official opening of the Congress Exhibit Hall.
Leadership 100, provided a gift of $25,000 for the underwriting of the exhibit area, which featured numerous booths with vendors from the United States, Canada, Greece, and Cyprus and included a ministry pavilion which highlights the national ministries of the Archdiocese. The opening ceremony of the National Philoptochos Convention followed. Sotirios read the Patriarchal Message, and a pre-recorded video message of Bartholomew was presented. Philoptochos President Aphrodite Skeadas presented the work and accomplishments of the last two years and thanked among others Bishop Sevastianos of Zela for his devotion to the organization and his spiritual guidance.
Immediately after, Demetrios, Sotirios, and the hierarchs attended a reception of the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians where a choir performed hymns and the 2012 Recipients of the St. Romanos Medallion were announced. The Order of St. Andrew – Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America also held a reception and an informative presentation on the issues concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate was attended by the hierarchs, several Archons, and delegates.