It seems like 44 years of sacrificial Service to the Church of Australia by our departed Father and Ecclesiastical Head, Archbishop Stylianos of blessed memory, are now as “a dream that passes and has gone”.
The silence of his physical absence, however, seems to me more powerful than could ever be imagined, for we now search for his words that filled our hearts for over four decades to inspire us.
On a very personal level, Archbishop Stylianos was my greatest spiritual Benefactor. He ordained me to the priesthood; his first ordination as Archbishop of Australia.
CALL TO OBEDIENCE
I have often stopped to consider my unworthiness for the frightening responsibility which the Archbishop placed on my head by the laying of his hand. Yet, he showed enormous faith and hope in my youthfulness by calling me to move from St George Church, the parish of my childhood in Brisbane, to St Spyridon Church in the more needy and challenging city of Sydney.
With my young Presvitera Patricia and our firstborn child, I soon found myself charged with the responsibility of such a vibrant and complex Parish after the untimely departure from this world of my Proistamenos, Father Elias Economou of blessed memory, a strong and visionary “workhorse” of the Church.
Like my late mother, Maria, whom I lost just weeks ago, Archbishop Stylianos treated me with much wisdom. Stern but caring; cautious but always encouraging; rebukeful but always inclusive. I knew he was moulding me spiritually. I appreciated that he was pushing my limits of obedience to guide me to that most necessary habit of humility which is the essential ingredient for all other virtues to prevail.
And when, after many years, he felt more comfortable with my seeming “advancement”, he entrusted me with more responsibility and accepted me as a loyal collaborator.
He taught me, by example, to stand up for the Truth Who is Christ Himself; perfect God and perfect Man; the perfectly Holy and Sinless Head of the Church.
LESSONS IN COMPASSION
He taught me, by example, to be compassionate and forgiving to my fellow human but to have the courage to stand up with loyalty to Christ and to censure with faith and love any attempt to undermine the Teachings of the Church which is nothing less than the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
He taught me, by example, to reach out to the downtrodden. An indelible lesson in this cause is the memory of his tearful sorrow for the people during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. He called upon his friend and regular communicator Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict of Rome, to join him in standing on the main bridge in Belgrade as targets to stop the bombing. The Cardinal did not respond in kind. But my Archbishop’s courage remained as a powerful lesson to my priesthood – never dismiss those who come to seek the support of the Church.
UNITY OF THE FAITH
Archbishop Stylianos drew enormous strength from the first millennium of the Undivided Church during which the Christian Church was united in the Faith of the Apostolic Tradition. This would be a core reference both in his sermons throughout the Archdiocese and in his lessons at St Andrew’s Theological College which he founded through shear love for the Church in Australia. This was not merely historical observation or theological romanticism. It was his conviction that, throughout the persecutions, the unity of the Faith prevailed as the most invincible defence.
And now, this luminous figure of the Orthodox Church and of our Archdiocese, has gone to be with Christ.
It is natural that all of our people are wondering when and whom the Ecumenical Patriarchate will choose as his successor to this challenging corner of world. The answer to this question must be entrusted to God Himself. We must pray both individually and corporeally for the future of our children and the future generations.
Some enlightenment might be shed on our concerns by a discussion I had with Archbishop Stylianos of blessed memory in his office some decades ago. I asked him: “Given the human considerations of the Patriarch and the individual Metropolitans of the Holy Synod; and given the “jockeying” and “lobbying” by those who might aspire to further elevation of position; and given all other traits of human weakness, can we be sure that the outcome of the Synod on any issue will be the “work of the Holy Spirit”?
The Archbishop looked at me with much sympathy and responded forthrightly: “It will always be the work of the Holy Spirit. Never doubt this. The Holy Spirit is aware of every activity that leads up to a decision. He cannot be fooled because in His perfect Knowledge, He knows not only the actions of each member of the Synod but their very thoughts and dispositions. After all is said and done, however, God the Holy Spirit, in His perfect Wisdom, will either stop a decision or allow it to happen. The decision is the work of the Holy Spirit. Take myself. The furthest thing on my mind was to leave my beloved Thessaloniki in Greece. Yet, suddenly, came the news like “lightning through a clear sky” that I had been elected Archbishop of Australia. I had great hesitation in accepting the decision of the Synod. Australia sounded so distant and unknown to me. Yet, in the end, I showed obedience to the Holy Spirit and came to serve the People of God, here in the Antipodes.”
Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, come and abide in us also and help us to accept Your decision for us in these troubling times.
MY DEAR ARCHBISHOP AND FATHER, PLEASE PRAY UNCEASINGLY FOR MY UNWORTHINESS FROM HEAVEN. PLEASE ALSO ENCOURAGE US ALL FROM ABOVE TO ACCEPT YOUR SUCCESSOR WITH THE SAME LOVE AS WE DID YOU.