Dear friends, I stand before you all, deeply honoured and thankful for the kind invitation extended by the Dean of the Sydney College of Divinity, Professor Diane Speed, to offer the Occasional Address at this year’s Graduation Ceremony of the S.C.D.
I remember fondly, my own graduation some 15 years ago, in May 1996 from St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College and the S.C.D. I remember the sense of awe as we entered this Great Hall, the pomp and ceremony, the sense of achievement and the overwhelming anticipation of what lay ahead for each one of us. I felt a sense of solidarity with those graduating then, and I feel a deep connection with you all now.
I was deeply privileged to study at St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, which this year celebrates 25 years since its opening. My time there provided me an introduction to the inexhaustible wealth of the pristine beauty and richness of the Early Church: Her Fathers, Her Ecumenical Councils, Her Liturgy, Music and Iconography, all were lived and experienced doxologically as ethos and phronema of the College, or more precisely Ethos and Phronema of the Orthodox Church. It was at St. Andrew’s where the necessary foundations were given and nurtured in order to be where I am today, a Shepherd in the Church, and for this I am eternally grateful.
And I am sure that I could speak on behalf of all graduates past and present of the S.C.D., that as students and graduates we all feel deeply indebted and connected not only to our own Colleges, but rather to all Member Institutions of the S.C.D. as well. More specifically, to our lecturers, staff members and fellow students, who have now become life-long friends and colleagues, and all those who labored to nurture and provide each one of us an amazing opportunity to participate in this sacred journey.
Now, as graduates of theology, we are often asked, what did the study of theology give you?
Well in the words of St. Silouan the Athonite, ‘it is one thing to speak of God; it is quite another to know God’. And I always remember with fondness my first lecture in Introduction to Theology when my Professor and Dean Archbishop Stylianos said that theology was not ‘merely intellectualism but actually ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ from the table of Life of the humble who seek the Lord.’ This for me, at first, was an enigma, but also a revelation, which required nothing less than a revolution.
And it was in this way that I came to see the sacred study more than simply comprehending knowledge but actually humbly trying to under-stand or better still trying to stand under and with the Lord. For without this revolution, you cannot have metanoia [this radical change of mind], or alloiosis [namely, a deep change from within]. Consequently, we can become guilty, according to St Paul, from the passage we just heard, ‘of always learning and never being able to come to the knowledge of the Truth’ (2Tim 3:1-17, 4:1-5), or worse still, ‘having the form of godliness but denying its power.’
Quite simply and sincerely, more than being immensely informative, this sacred study was deeply formative and ultimately transformative.
But how could it not be so?
This sacred study radically changed my life. It opened my experience and understanding to the reality that God truly is Love, and that out of love He creates, and out of Love He nurtures, provides, suffers, is Crucified and Resurrected, so that we may all experience and abide, in Love, with Him and each other.
And it is with this conviction that I serve, suffer and am saved in the diakonia of His Flock. And I pray that you too have this experience and conviction as well.
Now, having been prepared in such a way, you, as graduates, have the enthusiasm of dreams and aspirations of how and where you see yourselves now and in the future, and these are wonderful and necessary.
However, the reality of what actually lies ahead can devastate these dreams and any romantic notions of ministry. But this is not something that should stifle or discourage all sincere endeavours in our ministries or vocations.
In anticipation of the ‘perilous times that will come’, since ‘people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, blasphemers, unthankful, traitors, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’, we choose to accept this reality knowingly and willingly, and to remain steadfast out of Love for God and love for His suffering servant.
Furthermore, it is because of the anticipated difficulties, dangers and even persecutions, that St. Paul reminds us: ‘continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.’ And since he truly stands a bright example to all as one who has ‘fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith’, we too are encouraged in fact to expect all types of challenges and tribulations, even persecution and death, ‘with longsuffering, love, perseverance’, ‘with the knowledge and faith that the Lord will deliver’, ‘all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus’.
Therefore, we as students of theology – for that is what we all are – have a responsibility to see and speak ‘the truth in love’, in all situations and on every topic.
And if we take a snap shot of our world in 2011, we will see that it is not all that different to the world of the Apostles, essentially.
Considering the advancements in technology, science, medicine and communication, humanity still suffers so much conflict, famine, disease, injustice, instability and loneliness.
Yet I feel there is a most recent ‘plague’ afflicting us especially in the last decades. And that is…political correctness.
Yes, political correctness!
And where political correctness abounds, Truth suffers!
Is this not the case?
– Who can be a student of the sacred study, with good conscience, and not be wounded deeply at the constant negation of God’s truth around us, as revealed to us in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition?
– Who cannot see that eternal moral laws and values are negated or audaciously corrected by secular arguments?
And St. Paul tells us, by whom these things will occur. By those ‘who will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, turning away from truth and be turned aside to fables’.
Now, please do not mistake me for a pessimist or fatalist, but do take me for a realist!
For we are called to go forth, engage and respond to the challenges realistically, genuinely that is, truthfully and in love.
My friends, don’t be discouraged at the difficulty of witnessing the truth in a time that ‘distracts us’ ever so subtly. For Christ reassures us that He has overcome the world and so it is in Him and through Him that our true victory lies.
Dear friends, there is no greater joy than to know that being in the service of others, you serve God Himself.
Whether in ordained or lay ministries or through personal witness in our lives, the purpose of our life has now been changed through this sacred study.
We could say much more but time does not permit.
Therefore, allow me to congratulate the Sydney College of Divinity Graduates of 2011 for your remarkable achievements.
I congratulate your families, teachers and all who have labored with and for you during your time at the various Member Institutions.
I pray that the Merciful Lord will bless, guide and protect you in every way as you commence this new stage in your lives.
And finally, I thank the S.C.D. family once again, for giving me the privilege and honour of addressing you all here today.
Please allow me to finish with the words of St. Paul to each and everyone of us:
‘I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom. Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season…be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry!’
This address was made on Saturday, 21st May, 2011 at 11am
At the 27th Graduation Ceremony of the Sydney College of Divinity
In the Great Hall
University of Sydney