The Coronavirus pandemic took a toll on practically everyone worldwide, especially the priests who worked tirelessly through turmoil and conflict to keep their congregations connected to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. With this in mind, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph blessed the theme of the 2022 Clergy Symposium: The Spiritual Health of Priest and Parish.
More than 200 clergy of the Archdiocese reunited for their first in-person symposium since 2018. They listened to the pastoral wisdom of His Eminence Metropolitan Gregory, leader of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA.
Before he became a priest and bishop, His Eminence had been a cardiovascular researcher for 20 years. In that career, he had seen countless, literal hardened hearts in patients that had struggled to be merciful and compassionate. Vladyka Gregory had also seen countless, literal soft hearts in patients who had embodied those virtues.
His Eminence taught that we struggle to give others compassion because it is understood with suffering. If we try to avoid suffering, then we avoid giving compassion. But if we encounter and investigate the roots of suffering in others and ourselves, understanding leads to compassion.
Of course, Vladyka Gregory taught, we cannot have God be merciful to us if we don’t have mercy for others. Mercy removes misery, and grace removes guilt, so we must ask Him for mercy and grace which lead to peace.
Both Metropolitan Joseph and Metropolitan Gregory taught the priests that healers cannot heal when they are overcome with illness. So, priests must care for their physical and spiritual health first before that of their parishioners. This involves mastering time constraints and setting up realistic goals and expectations for their ministries to prevent burnout and depression. “Even Jesus sought quiet places by Himself to pray,” Vladyka Gregory said. “If it worked for Him, it will work for us.”
Priests also need to discern the talents of their parishioners and place them in ministries, His Eminence said, and parishioners must show their devotion to Christ and His Church. The priest and people form the fully functional body of Christ. All of this begins and continues in the home with regular prayer, the reading of Scripture and the lives of the saints, and any good activity that avoids the ills of the world.
Finally, as a reminder to clergy and laity, Vladyka Gregory reminded the clergy and laity that there are no miracle cures for our problems. Only hard, steady and relentless work will affect change. Sayidna Joseph thanked His Eminence for his inspirational teaching and practical points.
The 2022 Clergy Symposium also featured presentations from V. Rev. Nicholas Belcher, chairman of the Archdiocesan Task Force for Youth and Young Adult Ministry; Dr. John Mark Reynolds, the president and founder of The Saint Constantine School; V. Rev. Thomas Zain, chairman of the Department of Liturgics; and yours truly as Director of Communications.
Sayidna Joseph and Their Graces, Bishop Thomas, Bishop John, Bishop Anthony and Bishop Nicholas led two 90-minute sessions fielding all sorts of questions from their priests regarding pastoral care, liturgics and new service books, and protecting the unity of the Archdiocese.
Of course, every morning and evening, the symposium gathered for the divine services, especially for the commemoration of the Prophet Elias on July 20. Rev. John El Massih led the beautiful choir.
The schedule also allowed more flexibility this year to allow the priests to renew their fellowship for the first time since the pandemic began. They were so happy for the reunion.