Today a strange miracle happened

Sermon of His Beatitude the Archbishop of Ohrid Mr. Stephen

(On Pentecost, 12.06.2022, Holy Patriarchal Church of Saint George the Trophy Bearer, Phanar, Constantinople)

On[1] this moment of trembling joy, we remember but also vividly feel – we conform, without comparing with the persons and events, with the words from the Vespers of the Ascension, when the apostles, dwelling in sorrow because of the separation from Christ the Lord, “in grief and tears, crying said: Life-giver Christ, do not leave us orphans …[2]

Today, on this completed Feast, we, the members of the Ohrid Archbishopric, felt that we are not orphans, but, having found ourselves in the paternal embrace of His All-Holiness, the beloved Patriarch Mr. Bartholomew, returning from “a foreign land,” we sat at the Lord’s table and understood the desire of the Prophet Malachi: He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…[3]

Here we are, accepted and loved, co-celebrating with the bearer of today’s liturgical offering for “all and for everything,” participating in the meaning of the mystery of Pentecost, when God’s grace is undividedly divided among the divided.

This day’s event means so much to us: in the same place, from where we felt the initiative and heard the joyful decision for our request for recognition, we celebrate now, receive acknowledgment, and are brought into liturgical unity with all, not just anywhere – but in the catholicity of Christ’s Church, in that “upper room” for us; not on any day or feast of faith, but precisely on the feast of Pentecost, when “the Church was established, in the sense that the apostles became members of the Body of Christ.”[4]

Today, at this final Feast, we, the children of hope and faith, who ate from the crumbs that fell from the table,[5] understand this: great is thy faith, be it unto thee as thou wilt.[6]  Today, becoming actual members of the Body of Christ, we rejoice with the children of Zion. We see the floors full of wheat, and the fatsoverflow with wine and oil,[7] we see the Lord’s restore the years of sorrow and temptation, [8] we feel that upon the servants and the handmaids the Spirit is poured out.[9]

Today a strange miracle happened – with the division of the fiery tongues, the people are joined in unity. Today, behold, another mystery of Pentecost is fulfilled: together with the language of the Fathers, in our language also, which is named after the Logos, the miracle of the Spirit is fulfilled, so here we are “preaching the immortal God and Word, who gives great grace to our souls”.[10]

Today we see the fulfilment of the words of the First Apostle: …ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (Peter 2,9)[11] Today with the Prophet Jeremiah, we exclaim O Lord God… there is nothing too hard for thee; Thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands… (Jeremiah 32,17-18),[12] and with the psalmist we sing: How great is thy goodness, O Lord, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee, and which thou hast prepared for them that hope in thee… (Ps. 30,19)[13]

Beloved descendants of the heaven-dwellers,

   The history of the Ohrid Archdiocese tells us that it has nurtured and spiritually fed many peoples, stretching over many territories. Today, ecclesiologically confined within its contemporary borders, it continues the legacy of its glorious sacred history, i.e. to love again, to unite, to befriend and to co-serve, refusing to accept in its service the criteria and conditions that arise from some low motives and unreal illusions.     

Your Holiness,

The next thing we want to say, we entrusted in our letters and in our request for ecliton, but now we want to say it publicly here. Yes, we are patriots, as are all our neighbouring nations! We love the land where we have been born and where we live, we love our ancestors from whom we stem and among whom we live. But, we also love our neighbours! We love the neighbouring hierarchs from your throne in Northern Greece. We are looking forward with love and impatience to meet them personally, to embrace them, to co-celebrate with them. This was once a dream, but today it is a reality – and you are the guardian angel of that reality.

Beloved sacred synodia,

There is an obvious truth – if we want to see the history of the Ohrid Archdiocese, we cannot see it without the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Much of the heritage of the Ohrid Archdiocese is related to the centre – in ecclesiastical art, in architecture, in liturgical tradition, etc.

Everything that happened to be made, in its great and splendid form, in Constantinople, appeared, in its smaller and more modest form, in Ohrid. This synergy, viewed historically, had its glorious and good, but also bad and unfavourable moments. However, what we want to emphasize is that the Mother Church in Constantinople always knew, and still knows how to lovingly find the way to the hearts of the wronged, burdened, suffering, weakened by the hardships of time and history, even when that resulted from her actions.

She never ceased to sacrifice, to share, to part from herself to the delight of her children. Thus, exempting the old Churches of the East, all other Churches, even in times often unfavourable and difficult, times of suffering, martyrdom, have been created with her blessing and from her canonical territory … So is the case now, with this raising and with this renewal of the Ohrid Archdiocese.

Your Holiness,

You are well aware of the longing of our hierarchy and our Orthodox people – and we do not hide it from you and before you, and before the members of the sacred hierarchy of your Church and the faithful people who belong to it – to see the Ohrid Archdiocese restored and recognized as an autocephalous Church. However, the Lord is our witness that as great as our hope is, even greater is our complete trust in your judgement, in your discernment of the time when the regulation of these matters should take place. We leave the judgment of time to you, but we beg you – do not forget us, help us to grow…

In you is the responsibility of the Mother Church for the well-being and success of the Orthodox family, you have the privileges and rights and we do not ask for more or anything different from what you did with the granting of autocephaly, both throughout history, and in modern times. Without making an analogy with the words of the wise King Solomon, and having in mind the responsible and ministerial primacy and the privileges and authority of the Constantinopolitan cathedra, we will say: For thou canst shew thy great strength at all times when thou wilt; and who may withstand the power of thine arm? … But thou hast mercy upon all… for thou lovest all the things… thou sparest all (Wisdom of Solomon 22-27).[14]

We vow before you that we will work hard on our spiritual growth and  patiently wait for that favourable time, when for us the joyful announcement of the Great Christ’s Church, accompanied by the cheerful ringing of the church bells, will fill the hearts of us, contemporaries, with indescribable joy and calm the spirits of the departed.

Let it echo loudly throughout the Orthodox world, through the voice of the Mother Church and Primate, which is the leader among the Local Churches, the news of today’s event of establishment of the liturgical unity. Because on this Pentecost, after centuries and centuries, the Constantinople Patriarch presided over the community of the Church, co-celebrating with the Ohrid Archbishop. The father with the son, the brother with the brother, the co-celebrant with the co-celebrant… Today they all celebrate and rejoice together: Heaven and Earth, the living and the dead, the past, the present and the future!

May today’s joy be for many years! May our legacy with the Holy Mother, The Constantinople Church be inseparable! Many years, Your Holiness!

[1] On Pentecost, 12. 06. 2022, church “Saint George the Trophy Bearer”, Phanar, Constantinople.

[2] Sticheron on Lord I have cried, Great Vespers of Ascension, “Floral Triodion”, Skopje 2009, 369.

[3] Malachi 4, 6.

[4] Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, The Lord’s Feasts, Skopje 2011, 261.

[5] Mt 15, 27.

[6] Mt. 15, 28.

[7] Joel 2, 24;

[8] Cf. Joel 2, 25.

[9] Joel 2, 29.

[10] Great Vespers, Sunday of the Holy Pentecost, Flower Triodion, Skopje 2009, 479.

[11] 1 Peter 2, 9.

[12] Jeremiah 32, 17 and 18.

[13] Ps. 30, 19

[14] Cf. Wisdom of Solomon 11/ 22, 24 and 27.