Esteemed Members of the Board of Trustees,
Mr. Leoninida-Foivo Kosko, President of the Hellenic American College
Alumni of the Hellenic American College
And Graduates of the Class of 2016,
It is my privilege to be amongst you all today, not only because this is an important landmark in many of your lives, but also because I truly believe true change can only be enacted through education.
Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering. (The Confessions, St. Augustine)
We live in an age of change. The world around us calls us, and forces us to change and adapt at a speed never experienced before. From this podium I can reach thousands, millions even. Social media, the invention of faster communications, and transportation has made a vast globe into nothing more than an algorithm of interconnectedness. We seek to know the stars and the moons of the universe but at the same time we have forgotten ourselves.
Something intrinsic to all of humanity is the looking up to the stars in search of heaven. Our soul yearns to reach God in His holy place, where he “walks upon the wings of the winds.” Yet while looking up we miss the world around us. As Christians we do not believe that paradise is a room in the clouds, or that if I look hard enough, amongst the planets I will see angels. God “came down from the heavens, was incarnated, and became man,” he dwelt among us, when asked where the kingdom of heaven was, Christ replied, within us.
Our God is a God of wisdom and of truth. “In wisdom have you made us all” cry out the psalms, “full of Grace and Truth” is what St. John says of Christ. It is therefore quite natural that the first modern universities in Europe were mere branches of monasteries. The monastics in their search of God were led to the only possible conclusion, God is our divine architect, our creator, and the creator of all things, I can learn about God by learning about His creation. The monks locked away in these monasteries filled with thousands of books, millions of pages, searched for God in every word, in every leaf, in every breath. Love, true love of God causes every Christian to seek to know more about Christ.
For over a thousand years the Church was the pillar and rock of education and the sciences. Theology, however, was considered the crown jewel of the sciences. From her flowed every other science. The mystery of God called all to study and marvel at His works. Until the enlightenment, the foundation of every major work, every major study, every major find was that, by learning about creation we could learn about its Creator. And then the enlightenment brought a new idea, that God was not integral to learning, but this corruption of knowledge was short lived, for when you learn without love, without desire, without yearning to know the other, you end up with what we know today as the Reign of Terror, of the French Revolution. It would seem an absence of belief led these revolutionary thinkers to mental decay. Their morals, their studies, their words, became corrupted, they where without God, without love, empty words.
It is from this morally and spiritually bankrupted societies that pockets of missionaries began to spread out to all the corners of the world. To study God and His creation, away from Hate, Persecution, and Suffering. These refugees of knowledge built great universities centered around their faith: Harvard, Yale, and Princeton for example, led, and still lead, sources of innovation and education. The monasteries of old Europe began to see increased lay attendance of their schools at Oxford, St. Andrews, and Cambridge just to name a few. The rise of the Modern University had taken hold, and with the creation of the middle class; more and more people could finally attend school. New ideas combined with the tradition of scientific methodologies led to the growth and birth of the modern era.
Somewhere in this historical framework however the clergy became lost. While most clergyman in our churches have B.A.s, M.A.s and some even P.h.D.s their education seems to take a back seat in their ministry. The parish life is full of joy, but the demands placed upon on a typical parish priest seem to crush any chance of academic study. I would say even more importantly, the ability to simply observe and study the world is only but a dream for the priest of today. It was with tradition and the realities of a modern world that I sought to give the clergy, first in the Archdiocese of Athens, and today most Metropolises in Greece, a small oasis, the institution that would give them “water to quench their thirst.”
The Pastoral Training Institute is this well of knowledge from which all priests, monastics, and lay leaders of our Church can come and participate in a constantly transforming environment of study and improvement; both spiritually and mentally. The education of our clergy not only benefit the clergyman and church members but our society as a whole. It is through these seminars and lectures that the Church re-emphasized the importance of social ministry, that is to say Charity, an integral part of the Christian faith.
Before the financial crisis, before the refugee crisis and before the migrant crisis, the Church had already begun seminars training Her clergy in social outreach. Soup-Kitchens, Food-Pantries, Volunteer Programs, Nursing Homes; all had been traditional parts of the social ministry of the Church; what the Institute did at the beginning of the Crisis was to prepare clergy on how to handle not only social issues in the new reality facing Greece, but also how to address the spiritual needs of a flock suffering from an increased rate of depression, health issues, and the sad reality of a modern economy, increased suicide rates.
A priest in the modern world is expected to be almost inhuman, we call on the clergy to supersede our own weakness, and that somehow in their strength we will be reassured that it is possible to be perfect. Perfection is not only impossible, but not our goal. In order for us to create a better world a modern priest must preach a gospel of love, of Christ’s strength in our weakness, and most importantly that we must love ourselves.
Education is a cornerstone of the Church, educating clergy gives them the tools they need to address this modern and ever changing world. In my diocese, when I meet you students of Theology wishing to become priests I always advise them to pursue diverse studies, all-encompassing, A modern parish priest is called upon to be a preacher, a healer, a teacher, and sometimes just a should to cry on.
A modern priest must ‘build’ the destroy family, he is called to be a father to the fatherless, the Church a mother to the motherless. Separation, mental and emotional illness, poverty, and other forms of suffering pull at the very fabric of our society. A priest must know how to patch these tears. This is why the Pastoral Training Institute was created, to aid in the priests journey along this pilgrimage of salvation.
True education, the curriculum of the Pastoral Training Institute, is holistic in approach, addressing every level of spiritual and mental formation. True knowledge is not just knowing a lot of things, it is being transformed into a better person, a better Christian, by learning more about, creation and our Creator we learn more about ourselves. Just as our salvation is centered around Christ, so should our education be surrounded around Him, seeing a perfect man we can reflect upon ourselves and understand ourselves. Only through love and understanding can we truly transform the wounds of yesterday into the hope of tomorrow. The learning process is just that, a process; and although I recognize this day of your graduation as a day you wish to enjoy the fact you all have finished your learning process it is in fact never-ending.
Your institution of Higher-Learning, The Hellenic American College, has provided a solid foundation, but know that upon this foundation you will build your future. Build a home, full of love and compassion, and God will provide the rest.
I thank the esteemed Board of Trustees of the American Hellenic College, The President, Benefactors, and Alumni, for the honor they are bestowing upon me today. May Christ’s blessing of Peace fill every part of your hearts and minds, and may it be present in all that you do.