25 July 2014
Remarks in Veliki Mosti
Note: over the past few weeks, my wife and I were privileged to be in Europe, including western Ukraine, where we visited a number of exchange students we've hosted over the years. Last Sunday I was invited to speak after Liturgy at the Orthodox parish in Veliki Mosti, Ukraine. A number of non-Orthodox people from the town were present at the Liturgy to hear these remarks. (The name "Veliki Mosti" means "Big bridge;" I make a pun in the first full paragraph by speaking of "malinky most," or "little bridge.")
I have many fond memories of our time in Ukraine, and especially in visiting with Fr. Dmitri from Veliki Mosti. He is truly a good shepherd of his flock, and I am grateful to count him as my brother in Christ and in the priesthood.
The remarks I made were not profound, but I put them forward because they were very well received and because they will serve as an ongoing reminder of a very precious day in my life.
Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ the Lord,
I bring you greetings from your fellow Orthodox Christians in the USA.
My name is Fr. Gregory Hogg, and I am an archpriest in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. My wife and I are here in Veliki Mosti because we are visiting our former exchange student Olah Ruda and her family. In a way, we are building a “malinky most” between our parish and yours. Later today, God willing, we will begin our homeward journey.
You are members of the Moscow patriarchate, and we are from Antioch, but the delightful thing about being Orthodox is that all around the world we are one Church, one body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. The “Moscow” and “Antioch” are just adjectives; the important word is Orthodox—right believing, right praying, right teaching.
With you we grieve at the conflict elsewhere in Ukraine...a conflict that has the devil’s fingerprints all over it. In such conflicts there are no winners, only losers. What shall we seek in this conflict? Justice? When my children were young, sometimes one of them would complain that they were not being treated fairly, not being treated justly, over against their siblings. "Do you want to be treated fairly?" I would ask, and remind them of all that I did for them that I didn't do for the others. "If I treat you justly, I'll have to stop doing these things for you." So also with us. We don’t need justice. We need God’s mercy in this conflict and in the many other places that Orthodox Christians are threatened today, including the home of my church in Syria.
I am sad that some make use of this conflict to attack the Orthodox Church. They claim that to be Ukrainian is not to be Orthodox. But the Church is Christ’s kingdom, and Christ God told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” To belong to the Orthodox Catholic Church is to belong to the church that is right-believing and scattered through every country of the earth. Now more than ever we need the Orthodox Church to guide us through the troubled waters of the 21st century.
I was not born into the Orthodox Church. I was raised a Protestant, a Lutheran, and served as a Lutheran pastor and professor for 22 years. I came to Orthodoxy because, after an 18 year search in which I read Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox sources, I found here a faith that does not change.... A hope that helps people endure under persecution... A love that receives all people, even me.
Some of you come from Orthodox families. To you I would say that no one is born Orthodox. We are all converts through the water of Holy Baptism, the oil of Holy Chrism, and the sharing of Christ’s true body and blood.
Some of you may not be Orthodox. To you I would say, take the challenge to study what happened to the Church Christ founded. St Paul says, “Remain in that standard you received; and if anyone is otherwise minded, God will make it plain to him.” I am living proof of those words. It took time, but God made it plain to me.
Thank you for receiving us so warmly into your beautiful home!