Home Church & Religion Archbishop Elpidophoros and Area Clergy Focus on Paschal Message of Peace, Love

Archbishop Elpidophoros and Area Clergy Focus on Paschal Message of Peace, Love

By Sophia A. Niarchos

OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – Saturday of Lazarus’ Divine Liturgy had ended at St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Church in Greenlawn, N.Y., and congregants assembled in the gymnasium for a pot-luck lenten meal before working on the palms that the next day would become their palm crosses. Earlier, in his sermon, Fr. John Vlahos had told the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, adding that after being raised, he had refrained from speaking because of what he had seen “on the other side without Christ.” Fr. John reminded those present of the other occasions when people were brought to life by Jesus. He also noted that the verse in the Gospel of St. John, “…there are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if each and every one should be written, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” allows for the possibility that Jesus raised even more people from the dead that we don’t know about.

“In other words,” Fr. John emphasized, “Planet Earth is not a big enough library for the Gospel!”

After two years with very limited attendance at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s churches due to restrictions mandated because of the pandemic, this year was quite different with parishes packed to the brim with parishioners at Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday morning liturgies and at Holy Wednesday, Holy Friday, Holy Saturday morning, and Resurrection services. 

On Palm Sunday at Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Port Washington, N.Y., Fr. John Lardas’ message focused on peace.

“What is true peace, and how can we achieve it?” the proistamenos asked. He cited the many times in Scripture when peace was offered as a blessing, when it was requested, or when it was identified with specific personal qualities and actions of repentance.

“Jesus is peace,” he continued. “The peace of God is different from the peace of world rulers. Peace can be forced in the world by being based on fear. God’s peace isn’t based on fear. The way we pursue peace is by following God’s commandments.”

Referring to the war in Ukraine, as Archbishop Elpidophoros also would on Holy Friday, he noted, “We are witnessing the breakdown of peace because of a tyrant.”

Absent from Holy Tuesday night’s Bridegroom Service in many area parishes was the singing of the Hymn of Kassiani by their Western-styled choirs. St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Church Choir Director Cathy Zarbis expects her choir will be singing it in 2023.

At the Friday unnailing Vespers at Archangel Michael, Fr. Michael pointed out the two sides in the story. “There were those who out of envy, pride, greed, and not wanting their way of life disturbed, put the nails into Christ. Then there were Nicodemus and Joseph who were willing to put everything on the line, going against the grain, putting their reputations, wealth, and lives on the line in order to do what was right and declare themselves friends of the Lord by taking down the nails. There are people who put in the nails and people who take them out, which are you?” he concluded. 

On Holy Friday, at the Epitaphios Thrinos service celebrated by St. Nicholas Antiochian Cathedral and Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn, N.Y., a tradition established nearly 20 years ago, Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, Dean of Sts. Constantine and Helen, introduced the Antiochian Cathedral representative, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brooklyn and Queens Robert Brennan. Addressing those present in the procession, Archbishop Elpidophoros said, “When we are following Christ, we are together in the same direction; we are all brothers and sisters; and especially in these times when the Orthodox people kill Orthodox, let us give the example to the world that we are brothers and sisters and send an appeal to all Orthodox to cease fire and embrace each other in peace and love and repentance because we all need repentance in order to love one another. In this procession, everyone has a place because Jesus came to save the whole world….” He thanked all the government and ambassadorial representatives present for joining the procession, and there was an exchange of the Holy Trinity and the Synaxis of the Saints of Antioch icons.

Prior to the proclamation of “Christ is Risen” Saturday night at midnight, priests read the encyclical of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in which he too referred to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, noting that “the radiant message of the Resurrection and our cry, ‘Christ is Risen,’ today reverberate alongside the sounds of weapons, the distressing cries of innocent victims of military aggression, and the plight of refugees among whom there are innocent children.” However, he added a message of hope by emphasizing that, “In the Risen Christ, we know that evil, no matter what form it assumes, does not have the final word in the journey of mankind.”

The events of Holy Week ended with multilingual readings of Gospel passages during Agape Vespers and Easter egg hunts at many parishes.