The following was the presidential address delivered to the M.Th. students at Agora University during during the inaugural week of 2018 August 19-24.
The call to live exceptionally was inspired by the life of a truly saintly man:
Three weeks ago, not only each of us, and the global Church, but the world at large, experienced a great loss as the life of a truly saintly man was prematurely taken. A man who appeared ordinary to most people, Bishop Epiphanius was a man who realized his extraordinary calling. He transformed the lives of those he encountered, not because he was a bishop or monk, a prolific author or scholar, but because of the light he shined with. He enlightened others both inside and outside the Church. He spoke the Truth, even when it cost him his own life. In the fullest sense of the word, he continued the ministry of – and became a witness to – Jesus Christ. What was done to him by one of his brothers is not very different than that which our Lord experienced by one of his twelve. Sure it was shocking yet not unexpected. There have been numerous attempts to suppress the light but the end is always the same. Many have tried and all have failed. In fact, it was only after his death that the light shined brighter from the tomb and revealed God’s glory more fully. Each of us should not look to those who have shined the light of Christ on our lives as exceptions but rather as examples. Perhaps we consider them exceptions because the degree with which they realized and actualized their callings.
However, you too have a calling. Your calling is not to be defenders of the faith as the Patriarch indicated last week, “the faith needs no defense”; the faith simply needs to be lived. Our calling is not to respond with an eye for an eye, as tempting as that may be. Our shared calling is primarily to live out of union with God, to share a living faith, to testify to Truth as disciples, servants, teachers, and scholars. Pope Gregory (the Great) (Homily 3 on the Gospels (604AD)) reminded the faithful at Rome in his Sunday homily of their great calling with these words, “He is above all the Mother of Christ, who preaches the truth; for he gives birth to our Lord, who brings Him into the hearts of his hearers. And he is the Mother of Christ, who through his words inspires a love of our Lord in the spirit of his neighbor.” We say that St. Mary is not the great exception but rather the great example, and so it is for each person who has shined the light of Christ upon our lives. Your calling also should be lived in an exceptional manner, that it might be exemplary to others. In order to run the race and continue the work, run with the certainty of the calling with which you were called, run with purpose.
Have no doubt, there is an anti-human spirit that remains in the world today. It attempts to destroy and devour. It seeks to enter the Body of Christ but the gates of hell will not stand against us. For sure there is a cost but there has always been a cost associated with anything that is of value. From beyond the grave, I hear the voices of those who have paid a great price as witnesses for the Truth, reminding us together with Paul the Apostle, “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had.” (Philippians 1:29-30) Each of us must run with endurance and seek to also be faithful witnesses to that which we have received, and to those we encounter in our own context. We must be witnesses of that calling to the Sunday school classes we serve, in the articles and books we produce, in the sermons we preach, in the monastic order we took vows to, to the lost youth sitting at the coffee shop, and to the office each of us (bishop, priest, deacon, and laity) have been entrusted to serve.
Your calling is not only a personal one but is also communal. As we run we do so with an awareness of the great cloud of witnesses by which we are surrounded, both those in the flesh and those who have departed to be with the Lord. Our calling may be personal but we truly run in a community. You are not alone. You have the support of a community…of a family. During these past few weeks I have been personally reminded by our Lord, we are not alone. In the midst of tragedy, family stands together. It is my dream and hope that in our successes, we might also learn to be a true family (the family of Jesus) and celebrate one another’s work as the very work of Christ in our calling as a community.
Brothers and sisters, the baton is being passed to you. We must continue the race. This is a marathon not a sprint. Rest assured that our aim at Agora University has always been to build you in your calling as witnesses of the Truth to this generation. We remain dedicated to your service in building the Church. May our lives as a family fill those we serve as with real food and not as sugar. One nourishes the body, the other excites the flesh for 30 minutes. May our lives and work – just as Christ, the Virgin, Bishop Epiphanius and so many others – be motivated by love and characterized by sacrifice, that it too may be both exceptional and exemplary.
May the Holy Trinity continue to bless our shared work and calling for the glory of His Name with the pure intercessions and prayers of our mother, the Virgin St. Mary, and our spiritual father, Bishop Epiphanius.
Thank you and may God bless you.
Rev. Fr. Michael Sorial, President