His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
Homily at the Great Vespers service
Holy Cross Chapel
February 5, 2022
My beloved Hellenic College and Holy Cross community,
Tonight we gather at this High Vespers service to implore God’s blessing on the spring term of classes here at our institution of higher learning and preparation for the holy priesthood.
In another Apolytikion of Saint Photios, the great patriarch of Constantinople, we hear the following:
Ἑώας τὸ θεῖον σέλας, τῆς Ἐκκλησίας λαμπρότης, ἣν διατήρει Πάτεσ ἄ.
Divine Flame of the East, Splendor of the Church – O Father, preserve the Church steadfast…[*]
Therefore, in this gathering of joy and spiritual celebration, it seems to me that a consideration of the person, character and brilliance of this “Eastern Divine Flame” should constitute our meditation and reflection at the both personal and collective.
As you all know, the Great Photios was, until his election as Ecumenical Patriarch, a layman – and perhaps the most learned layman of his time. He was schooled in all ways of learning – both secular and ecclesiastical – just as you are here in this institution.
His mind and heart were on fire with the love of God, and he fueled that fire with the wealth of worldly and otherworldly knowledge. And that’s an example for every student and, in fact, every teacher here. Be like the flame that burned in Saint Photios; for, as the Scripture says, “our God is a consuming fire”. [†]
And just as God is known as a living flame of love,[‡] the Spirit lights this flame to purify us and enable us to reflect the Divine Radiance which blinds the proud and enlightens the humble.
Thus, Saint Photios is called the “Splendour of the Church” for his defense against teachings and leaders who were at odds with the Church. He represented the full expression of the Person of the Holy Trinity. And his work entitled, Concerning the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, is a classic that all who consider themselves scholars in Orthodox theology should read.
Of course, the Great Photios defended the prerogatives of the Ecumenical Throne and the entirety of the Eastern Church administratively as well – even risking the schism with Old Rome in order to defend the good order of the Church. His correct position, however, was misjudged for many centuries by those who spoke of a so-called “Schism of Photian”.
Nevertheless, today, through honest scholarship in the West, even his detractors have been turned to the truth of his righteous and holy position. Thus, the Great Photios continues to shine as the “Splendour of the Church” which he so admirably defended.
Nowadays, when we see our Mother Church under attack, we call on the Great Saint to “preserve the Church steadfast”. We need his intercession because he knew so well what it was like to be wrongfully attacked.
Even so, despite the outrages against his high office as Ecumenical Patriarch, his apostolic spirit never wavered. He sent missionaries to the Slav Lands – lands that today suffer from politicization and interference by secular forces; lands that our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew brought healing, despite those who hold the love of power, above the power of love.
Saint Photios is more than a source of inspiration for us Hierarchs and Clergy. Remember that he started his life with no intention of being ordained. Yet, in just three days, he rose through the ranks of the priesthood, so that he could ascend the patriarchal throne. But before his priesthood, he was always a disciple and a learner – just like all of you here today.
Therefore, on this feast, I urge you all to become like him. Use your knowledge and learning in the service of Christ. Study with diligence and dedication. Above all, practice love in everything you do. In this way you will respond to the call that the Great Photios has made:
“Preserve the unshakeable Church!” Τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν διατήρει ἄσειστον!
[*] Alternate Apolytikion Saint Photios – Τῆς σοφίας ἐκφάντωρ λαμπρὸς γενόμενος, Ὀρθοδοξίας ἐδείχθης θεοπαγὴς προμαχών, τῶν Πατέρων καλλονὴ Φώτιε μέγιστε · σὺ γὰρ αἱρέσεων δεινῶν, στηλιτεύεις τὴν ὀφρύν, Ἑώας τὸ θεῖον σέλας, τῆς Ἐκκλησίας λαμπρότης, ἣν διατήρει Πάτερ ἄσειστον.
[‡] See the parable of the Lazaros and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31).