SERMON OF ABBOT AGAPIT (GORACHEK) ON THE DAY OF HIS CONSECRATION TO THE EPISCOPACY
Beloved Archpastors, Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, People of God:
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Comprising one body in Christ, today we are gathered to produce another cell for the life of the body, the vineyard of God, not planted by us, which we are only partly cultivate. It has been determined that my unworthiness is to labor among the archpastors. The hopes of the entire flock are laid upon me, so that the name of Christ be praised among all peoples.
Beginning with last year’s Council of Bishops decision on my nomination, I have been in utter bewilderment. From divine service to divine service I am subjected to inexpressible trepidation. How has this happened?
When I was led into the altar as a seven-year-old boy, to serve my beloved priest, Fr Leonid, in a barracks of a camp dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ, the image of a pastor was impressed upon my heart, who became my unit of measure throughout my life.
For some reason, from the joyful lessons from the Law of God that he taught me, one lesson remained in my memory, when we learned the Creed by heart.
His death was a terrible blow for me and my first encounter with death. We buried Fr Leonid in the new Church of St Nicholas, which was built through his prayers. After the funeral, dear Vladyka Pavel, who noted that I suddenly felt orphaned, touchingly and wisely spoke to me. Throughout those confusing years, I never lost faith in our priests. Vladyka later blessed me to be tonsured a monk.
But when I became a monk, I did not even imagine becoming a pastor.
I came to love the choir. Even before monasticism I was convinced to sing in the temple of God. This began at St Nicholas Church in my hometown, and later developed at St Nicholas Cathedral in Munich and in the monastery.
In time I was summoned to the ambo to serve as a deacon. It was hard to leave the cozy confines of the kliros, with that humble corner whence the Divine words from the books of God were sung. Every subsequent elevation frightened me.
When it was decided to place me upon the ambo of our monastic church as a preacher of the Word of God, I fell despondent—how can a limited mind glorify the Lord?
Serving at the monastery, I did not sweat to earn my own bread, let alone the additional labors and sweat connected to the nourishment of my flock. I relied too much on my Abbot, who compensated for my insufficiencies and guarded our monastic life from the outside world. To my shame, I must admit that only in my final years there did I realize that we lived in the most peaceful corner of the world.
When my sober-minded Abbot, five years ago, began discussing my nomination to the episcopacy, I hasten to say that my ossified and unreasonable soul did not gain sobriety to properly prepare for such responsibility.
The Christian Truths are only slowly absorbed. The minutiae of Christianity are only obtained through faith, hope and love. There is no other path.
Orthodox Christian Theology is an invaluable jewel for which the zealot and thirsty strive for as for a great feast, which I, the tepid soul, witnessed during seminars and conferences that the German Diocese organizes with great effort (first in Frankfurt, then in Munich) for many almost thirty years. From the Greek theologians I would point to Prof. Yannis Panagopolus, who revealed to us St Gregory the Theologian, the great guardian of Orthodoxy from scholasticism, declaring: “Christ is Born, Glorify Him.” From the Serbian theologian bishops, disciples of Fr Justin (Popovic), I hear to this day from the mouth of Vladyka Athanasy: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 14-18).
I would not have understood our father, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and his successors, having no image of the spiritual feast of which he spoke to his flock.
The mind of mankind only reflects the Mind of Christ through Divine Grace, the Holy Church, in which He is High Priest and reigns through collegiality and unity of spirit. Sobornost’ [collegiality—trans.] is not a human quality. Sobornost’, just like sanctity, is a property of the Church, and so is superhuman.
The ability to think collegially is a gift from God, granted to us in the baptismal font. In this is expressed our image and likeness to the Holy Trinity. We are called upon to emulate Christ. We are christened to this during baptism. Following Christ, we honor the Father and the Holy Spirit, and our neighbor. Through faith and hope we come to the Orthodox reverence of God, just as the three Magi mystically came to Bethlehem.
The Shepherds of Bethlehem were likewise guided by the angels.
Because of my sinfulness, I have not learned to hear and discern the Angelic voices. But you, God-beloved archpastors, I do see and hear, and I beseech you to include me in your union, when you act upon the Wave of God.
I am now assigned to the episcopal ambo of St Nicholas Cathedral in Stuttgart. I see my assignment in serving the revelation of Christ and supporting my Abbot in his difficult labors. For this I ask the prayers and support of all my fellow clergymen and flock.
Munich, April 17/30, 2001.