On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, more than forty clergy from across the United States and Canada gathered together on Zoom for the fifth Clergy Peer Learning Synaxis.
The Synaxis is organized by the Office of Pastoral Life, and hosted by His Grace Bishop Alexis. Promoting clergy health and well-being is a dynamic goal for the Office of Pastoral Life. Recently, the Metropolitan Council has approved additional funding to sponsor and expand the Synaxis program. This includes using trained clergymen to serve as facilitators for small group breakout rooms.
His Eminence Archbishop Paul was the invited speaker to open the Synaxis. His Grace Bishop Alexis, the chair of the Office of Pastoral Life, introduced Archbishop Paul, who opened the meeting with the troparion of Ascension. Archbishop Paul spoke about his spiritual journey from a teenage acolyte at his local Greek parish, through seminary, the priesthood, and his consecration as a bishop.
Archbishop Paul spoke joyfully about those who encouraged him along his spiritual journey. After finishing Sunday School, he remained active in his local parish. Although it took three times for him to agree to serve in the altar, he eventually was awarded “Acolyte of the Year.” During those years as an altar server, he and his friends would discuss all sorts of things over souvlaki; those friendships are still important to him today. His Eminence spoke of knowing that God’s will was in charge of his spiritual journey. No matter how many times he resisted going to seminary, being ordained a priest, or being concreted a bishop, opportunities did not go away. Those he trusted in the Church, his parish priest, professors, and his own bishop, who always encouraged him to obey God in all things.
After the archbishop’s address, the attending priests and deacons entered breakout rooms. Every small group brought together priests or deacons with a variety of backgrounds and length of ordination, and was led by a trained facilitator. Small groups were given an hour and a half to discuss the bishop’s talk, their spiritual journeys, as well as their own health as priests.
The Synaxis closed with a return to the large group. Two facilitators were given a chance to ask His Eminence questions. Father Peter Baktis noted the theme of seeking encouragement from other people, and asked how Archbishop Paul now finds encouragement now. His Eminence replied that it is always “not me, but Christ,” who decides what the right course of action is; it is his job as a bishop to do the right thing, whether he is “leading the parade or it is chasing him out of town.” He was also asked how to discern if someone is truly being called to the priesthood, or if they are not right for the role. The church must confirm the calling, said the archbishop. It is important to build strong relationships with someone who is discerning whether or not they should attend seminary to develop the consensus of the priest, dean, and bishop before formal education is sought.
The meeting was closed by Bishop Alexis with prayer.
The next quarterly Synaxis will be held via Zoom in September.