The Third Annual Orthodox Prayer Service for the United Nations Community

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral
New York, New York

October 6, 2003

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral
New York, New York

Your Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, Your Eminences and Your Graces, Reverend Fathers;
Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors and Diplomatic Representatives to the United Nations,
Honorable members of the staff of the United Nations Organization and members of the United Nations family; Brothers and Sisters in the Orthodox Faith and in the United Nations community:

Tonight we have gathered in this Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity to express in prayer and in fellowship our Orthodox Christian solidarity with the quest of humanity for a world which is at peace, a world in which justice prevails, a world in which the dignity of persons, communities, and nations is protected.

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches in the United States feel a special responsibility for the United Nations community since the headquarters of the United Nations Organization is located in New York City. Several months ago the United Nations suffered a grievous loss when a bomb exploded at the United Nations offices in Baghdad, killing many staff members. The grief and loss are shared by all of us. We pray for those who died, we pray for their families, we pray for all the members of the United Nations family.

We offer prayers also for the citizens of Iraq who have suffered decades of oppression under a tyrannical regime, who suffered the terrors and losses of war, and who now suffer in the uncertainty of occupation and continued violence.

We pray for the soldiers of the United States and the United Kingdom who have died in Iraq, for the families and communities who grieve for them.

During Vespers tonight we heard hymns to the Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, who died as Christian martyrs in Syria at the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth, under the rule of the Roman Empire. Christian martyrdom is a triumph of courage and faith over tyranny and torture. The martyrs witnessed to the truth, standing firmly in their faithfulness to Christ, witnessing to the joy of Christ’s love, Christ’s compassion, Christ’s Resurrection.

The quest of humanity for peace and justice also has its martyrs and witnesses. Some of these are Christian believers, others confess other religious creeds, yet others may be agnostics. Yet it is characteristic of the Christian faith, with its universal message, universal love, and universal compassion, to recognize Christ’s presence and truth wherever love and compassion are manifested.

Let us honor the integrity, courage, and faith—the martyrdom—of those who have died in service to the needs of suffering people in Iraq. Let us honor the courage and perseverance of those who continue to labor as agents of peace and reconciliation in so many other parts of the world where suffering and violence assault the dignity of persons and peoples.

Many questions are raised today about the role of religious faith in conflict and in reconciliation, in war and in peace. What do communities of faith have to offer in situations of conflict? Are violent conflicts fueled by religious faith, or is reconciliation made possible by religious faith?

Orthodox communities in the United States and around the world are well aware of the evil potential of religion when it is misused. Extremist nationalism or other forms of extremist ideologies often seek to harness the energy of religion to their own purposes and aims. Sometimes, religious communities succumb to manipulation and to the temptations of idolatrous nationalism, ethnocentrism, or other forms of ideological extremism.

The true ministry of the Orthodox Christian faith, of Orthodox Christian communities, is loving service to God and to humanity. We believe that every human being carries the image and likeness of God. When we honor the human being, we honor God. When we serve human community and the common good, we are imitators of God, we are disciples of Christ, we are full of the Holy Spirit.

The governments of the world are together called to serve humanity as it continues its long journey in the pursuit of peace and justice. As communities of faith, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches are committed to support all initiatives and efforts towards the common good. Therefore, as communities of faith, we strongly affirm the humanitarian work of the United Nations, which offers relief and hope to the poor people of the world. We support the common efforts of nations, expressed in and through the United Nations, to secure peace in situations of war, to secure political stability in places where instability threatens, to promote democracy where tyranny rules.

Yet, as communities of faith, our ultimate allegiance is not to nations or even the international community. We certainly do not espouse or accept any idolatry of human institutions. We are accountable to God in our ministry to protect the dignity of human persons and human communities. In this way, we make our contribution to the health of our American nation and other nations and to the well-being of the world.

Several weeks ago I had the joy of participating in the one hundredth anniversary of the canonization of St. Seraphim of Sarov, a great 19th-century saint and mystic of the Orthodox Church of Russia. This gave me the opportunity yet again to witness the revival and renewal of church life and religious faith in Russia. Over twenty thousand pilgrims traveled long distances to take part in the celebration. The Eastern Orthodox Churches of the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, and America were all represented.

Decades of persecution and oppression did not succeed in eradicating the Orthodox Faith in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union. The holy relics of St. Seraphim, lost in the depths of an anti-religious museum for decades, were rediscovered and returned to the Russian Orthodox Church twelve years ago. They now repose in the renewed women’s monastery of Diveyevo.

St. Seraphim preached a message of peace and joy. Acquire inward peace, he taught, and thousands around you will be saved. He greeted those who came to him with the words “Christ is Risen, my joy.” He saw human beings, with all their difficulties and sins, not as burdens and problems, but as joy in the Risen Christ.

Let us ask God, let us beg God, to strengthen us all in our ministry of peace and joy. We can offer this ministry only if we ourselves acquire inward peace, only if we ourselves partake of the joyful faith of St. Seraphim of Sarov.

As we come to the end of our time together in this beautiful cathedral, I would like to express my gratitude to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios for welcoming us in the holy temple in which he presides as Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

I express my gratitude to the hierarchs and representatives of the Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox who are present tonight. Your presence deepens our fellowship and our ability to work together in ministry and public witness.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the members of the Joint Commission of the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, the sponsors of this Orthodox Prayer Service for the United Nations Community, for their labors in bringing us together tonight. A special word of gratitude is to be offered to His Grace, Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, to Mr. David Wagschal, and to all the members of my Chancery staff who assisted with this evening’s arrangements.

I am grateful to His Excellency Ambassador Armen Martirossian, Permanent Representative of Armenia to the United Nations, and His Excellency Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations, for honoring us with their addresses.

I thank Mr. Joseph Stephanides, Director of Security Council Affairs, and representing tonight His Excellency Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, for his message on behalf of the Secretary General.

The presence and participation of so many ambassadors and diplomatic representatives at the United Nations, and many members of the United Nations family, is greatly appreciated by all of us.

I am grateful to the choirs of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and St. Tikhon’s Seminary for the beautiful singing of Vespers, and for the lovely musical offering of “The Good Shepherd Choir” of St. Mary and St. Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox Church.

Finally, I am thankful for the presence and participation of clergy and laity of local Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox parish communities.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of us.