by Rt. Rev. Ellis Khouri
For the past year the predominate theme throughout the Archdiocese has been dedicated to the Icon. During this period you have heard and read about the theology and history of the Icon. It is not my purpose to repeat what has already been said and written in various forms.
I believe rather that we must take a look at another angle when discussing Icons, that is, living icons. What do I mean by this? Precisely that we have spent much time talking and writing about artistic, material and even spiritual ingenuity and very little about the people behind the iconographic reflection.
The scriptural quotation, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among men”, has tremendous implication for this message.
The Word … In the Middle East, “the Word” has so much value and meaning. “The word”, “a word” has such precious quality that we in fact reverence The Word.
The Word has broken out of eternity’s silence and breaks the barrier of human hearts and minds.
How? There is no other way than by human beings.
Did not our heavenly Father reveal the Godhead by the Incarnation of His Son.
The Bible tells us that His Son is an “Image” of His Glory; that is, an Icon of all that belongs to God.
Are we not as Baptized and Chrismated Christians bearers of His image? Do we not share in Pentecost by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon each of us personally as we consecrate our lives to him, The Holy One?
It seems to me as the Year of the Icon draws to a close, we must point out to all our faithful people that you are living icons. You are called to be living and dynamic icons reflecting the image of God within us. This is why our Divine Master cried out: “The Kingdom of God is within you!”
You may ask yourself: “How can this be?”
How can I become what this unworthy priest has asked me to be? Therefore, I must illustrate my point to you by demonstrating how “The Word” becomes en-fleshed in people known to us in recent history or among us now. They are Saints of the living God by their mighty works, words and noble deeds.
I would like to take you on a brief journey — and for what time I have left to speak, share with you some aspects of our contemporary heroes; for example:
— Was not our late, great Patriarch Gregory (Haddad), a living icon, incarnating our Lord’s command to care for “the least of the brethren? During the First World War he saved thousands upon thousands of people from all faiths who were on the brink of death by starvation. During the great famine that claimed the lives of, God knows how many, in Syria and Lebanon, Patriarch Gregory threw open the doors of the Patriarchate in Damascus to feed and give consolation to all who came seeking sustenance. He was rightly called “The Patriarch of All Arabs.”
— Was not the founding father of this Archdiocese, Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny one of God’s heroes? A living icon of Apostolic missionary zeal during his ten years of ministering as head of the Syrian Orthodox Mission in the United States and Canada. The spirit of Peter and Paul imbued his pastorate to the New World in the face of many odds. And yet he was steadfast.
— Was not Gibran Khalil Gibran a vessel of God’s creative spirit by his literary and artistic contributions? His philosophy, his restless mind and ingenious style forever changed the course of the Arabic language throughout the Arab world. He left a legacy to North America that is in an eternal debt to his inspired works.
— Was not Metropolitan ANTONY, of Thrice Blessed Memory, a man of God in his own unique way? Did not our Lord speak through this giant whose shadow still looms broadly over the Antiochian Church at home and abroad? Our Church in North America grew and began to mature by the loving care of his consecrated service and during some of the difficult days in North America. We are the fruit of his careful planting …
— Elias the IV; a poet; a prophet; traveled like a lightening rod across North America blessing and embracing his children here like a compassionate father. He instilled the greatness of the Antiochian spirit, ignited the fire of Orthodoxy and captured the hearts and minds of young and old alike. A true Patriarch of the Church of God.
— Does not Mother Theresa whose humanity to man, transcends religious particularism, bring the tender and healing face of Christ to thousands upon thousands of God’s little ones? The oppressed; the sick; the orphans; the world’s outcasts in Africa, India, South America and in the remotest places of the globe touch the hem of Christ’s garment because her presence brings such hope, joy and wholeness.
— And you, noble servants of God, through the various organizations and commissions, are you not channels of God’s grace by your care and deep interest in the hungry of the world? Your praiseworthy deeds in the name of Christ for the building of the Archdiocese and the outreach to those in need, is a living sacrifice before the Altar of God.
— And finally, Patriarch IGNATIUS IV and our beloved Metropolitan PHILIP and of course, our dear friend Metropolitan ELIAS (Audi) of Beirut are all living icons of God’s truth and beauty.
*Metropolitan ELIAS, stands brave as a charismatic Pastor to his flock in Lebanon, never flinching before the madness of the war and the on-going tragedy in Lebanon. He is a real “sign” for us to be proud. His presence with us reminds us of Christ re-crucified by his evangelical witness to the suffering of the Lebanese people.
*I purposefully joined Patriarch IGNATIUS IV and Metropolitan PHILIP to make my final illustration. It is not necessary for me to enumerate all their past achievements which are already well known to all.
It is meet and right to note one of the most heroic actions of their Apostolic ministries; that is, the reception into the Antiochian Orthodox Church of the Evangelical Orthodox Christians.
The historic importance of this event is a story that will be told for generations to come.
The bold initiative by our Primate, Metropolitan PHILIP and blessed by His Beatitude, Patriarch IGNATIUS IV represents a true maturing of the Orthodox Church in North America.
Is there any doubt that our Lord’s last command to his disciples before His ascension, “Go ye and baptize all nations. . .“ is truly fulfilled by the action that was taken this past year.
A whole new chapter is being written and new witnesses are being called forth by our grace-filled and dynamic hierarchs.
North America will hear the Word of Truth by citizens who proclaim it in deed and in truth!
Someone once said that “icons are windows or doors to the kingdom … I say to you, it is not only paint, gold, wood and mosaics that draw us to God; BUT, living Icons, people committed to the Word. who enflesh the Word by their holy lives, that are the truest windows and doors to the Kingdom! For the kingdom of God is already manifested in them: such are: Those who have gone on to their Eternal Rest; and those who stand here today as our blessed leaders; reflecting the face of Christ in our midst.
And because of this Saidna PHILIP, as our most worthy Archpastor you merit and rightly deserve the love and the loyalty of the clergy and laity alike!
I thank you.
“For the servants of God, departed this life, in the hope of the resurrection, may the Lord God remember them in His Kingdom, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”
This was the last article Father Ellis sent to THE WORD before his death. We print it as a lasting message from “our father-in-Christ”
From Word Magazine Special Edition
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America