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Archpastoral Opening Address

For the 13th Annual Popadias and Diaconissas Gathering
In the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese of the United States, Canada and Australia Detroit, Michigan, USA
July 19-20, 2018

Beloved in the Lord Popadia Junia Tolbert, Popadias and Diaconissas,
Fathers, brothers and sisters in the Lord, Christ is in our midst!

This evening is special—we are opening the 13th Annual Conference of the Popadias and Diaconissas in the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the United States, Canada and Australia in Detroit, Michigan, in the Macedono-Bulgarian Orthodox Church “St. Clement Ohridski.”

The dinner is also special. We have been invited by Popadia Junia—Diocesan priests and deacons–husbands of the popadias and diaconissas, and my self—to congratulate them, to open the annual conference and wish them a blessed and productive time.

This time, I very much wish to share with you my view of the lives and ministry of the popadias and diaconissas—wives of our clerics, priests and deacons— of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and their exemplary model of courage, faith and godliness in our Diocese, for which I also express gratitude on my behalf and on behalf of all the members of our Eparchy.

A Bulgarian proverb says that whomever you rub elbows with, will rub off on you. Prior to the ordination of our priests and deacons, we have requested, under oath and notary, your assurance that you agree to become a popadia or diaconissa, and to follow our clergy in a life-long ministry according to God’s will.

This is how I understand this requirement. Well, just like in the proverb—to become like the ones you married! In my math, 1 plus 1 equals 1, which means that you as husband and wife are one, you have become one flesh. Thus, from eons ago, in the one holy, catholic and apostolic Orthodox Church, God’s people say: Pop (Father) and Popadia, Presbyter and Presbytera, Batsushka and Matushka, Protodeacon and Protodiaconissa, Deacon and Diaconissa.

Moreover, side by side with our diocesan priests and deacons, you as popadias and diaconissas, by your way of life with your spouses, also teach the Church how to be with the Lord. Equally with our priests and deacons, you teach our people a living faith in God, not only in accordance with The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles [Didachí Kyríou diátón dódeka apostólon, Διδαχὴ Κυρίου διὰ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων], which is fundamental to all Orthodox Christians, but also according to the exemplary life of the saints. In my opinion, you are very good teachers of our Diocesan Church, not so much because of our catechism, but because of your practical manifestations of faith, courage, humility and reverence for Christ the Savior. Even the ancient Romans thought that “words instruct, but examples lead” (Verba docent Exempla trahunt). The Holy Fathers of the Church, especially St. John Chrysostom, contrast the courage of the Myrrh-bearing Women with the inordinate fear of Jesus' Apostles. I am a monk, but being a Bishop with so many years of experience, I know that often you—the popadias and diaconissas—are encouraging your husbands, our clergy, to expel every fear from their ministry. Many times in your souls and hearts, you have shown your love and honor to Christ, and without fear you have instilled courage, which is not always up to par in us men.

In my archpastoral visits, especially if I use the priest’s house as a bishop’s hotel, I witness such strong relationships and such zeal of the popadias and diaconissas that I almost agree with the ordination of women in Protestant churches!  

To tell you straightaway, I admire your faith and resolve, because you honor the Lord Jesus and the Most Holy Theotokos as if you have seen them, weeping for their tribulations and rejoicing in their feasts and their passing into the life of the age to come.

I cannot help but congratulate, and thank with all my heart, our popadias and diaconissas for their attitude filled with awe, respect, honor, and love for the Lord Jesus Christ and His servants—for you dear Fathers and Brothers—our clerics, and our faithful in the Diocese. That is why I think that the Lord rewards you for your goodness and faith, and in a wonderful way, too. He gives you joy from the joy of His glorious resurrection, which I witness at every meeting and service. You, beloved popadias and diaconissas, cannot hide your smiles in every one of our meetings. I know that you know the longest word in the English language—smiles. There is a mile between the first and the last letter. So, keep smiling!

Even here, I observe a mystery of the Holy Church - you are icons, images and likenesses of God in our Diocesan Church, always filled with reverence and faith when there are two or three gathered in Christ’s name and He is among us. This is the case with everyone who rejoices in the Lord, the Virgin Mary and the saints, who does not fear, but believes in them, loves them, and meets them during their worship and prayers. Do we not experience just this when we venerate each of their icons, when we listen to the Holy Gospel, and at appropriate times partake of the Holy Cup?

As in Bulgaria, the worshipers learn from the popadias and diaconissas how to behave in church—the place of our encounter with Christ. You may have not said anything to them, but by just lighting a candle and venerating an icon, you instruct them in the proper ways in a place of worship.

Therefore, when the worshipers in many churches partake of the Holy Cup, they look at what the popadias and diaconissas are doing and repeat it, because they are confident that you are drawing near the Lord “with fear of God, with faith and love,” in full reverence, humility, and kindness.

Know that if you stop being an example and assisting those in need of your help as popadias and diaconissas, God will have to send angels to do your work. Therefore, we should know that you are an example to all believing people. In the trying times for our faith in Bulgaria in Batak, Rhodopa Mountains, and Novo Selo, the public confession of our Orthodox faith called for the courage and sacrifice of our Orthodox people. During that time, our popadias and diaconissas frequently became martyrs, confessing the risen Christ at the cost of their lives. Many of them also preferred to become reverend mothers and sisters in our convents after the death of their husbands.

As your Bishop, I am proud of you, our popadias and diaconissas, that you are wonderful mothers to our Orthodox families, that you have born and raised good children in our Orthodox faith, rejoicing in their benevolence, humility, and diligence in our churches, families, and society. The motherly prayer of popadias and diaconissas avails much before the mercy of the Lord God.

You are the first ladies in your churches. We know your names, your lives, we pray for you—alive or departed. Everybody is well aware of your financial efforts, labors, and maternal care for the construction, beautification, and maintenance of our temples, the support of the poor, the orphans, and the sick.

I exalt our popadias and diaconissas as Orthodox workers who, from dawn till dusk, and at night, bow their heads and knees in front of the icons of the Savior and His Mother and, with heartfelt and affectionate prayers, ask their help so we may be able to lift the “heavy stones of life.”

I believe I am not exaggerating when I say that our popadias and diaconissas represent all women in asking Christ’s help, so that they can bear and raise children in our Orthodox faith, be faithful wives in their families, be godly women in our Diocese, and be bearers of our Christian values. The precious gifts that believing women bring to Christ become the gifts of faith in Christ-- the abundance of spirit, and the fellowship of man with God. These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit received by believers as a foretaste of the eternal blessings in the Kingdom of the Most Holy Trinity.

I once again express my sincere gratitude to the popadias and diaconissas in our Eparchy for the many prayers, good works, and worship services that give birth to the holy virtues of our Orthodox faith: reverence, humility, obedience, goodness of heart and character.

I ask that you continue to pray for all the mothers and girls in families, the mothers and sisters in the convents, as well as for all the faithful women who watch over the sick in the hospitals and the rehabilitation centers, the religious teachers, the many women working in educational and cultural institutions and many other areas—the women who carry in their souls, and thus reveal to the world, the light of the Orthodox faith and the joy of the resurrected Christ as a hope of life in fellowship with God and with the people of God.

Thank you for your fervent prayers for me during my surgery and rehabilitation, due to which I am still among you today. Thanks for the letters, the cards, the fruit baskets, the flowers, and most of all, your love for me, which I think is mutual.

Through the prayers of the patron saint of our host church “St. Clement Ohridski,” may God help us and bless us all to have the courage and faith of our popadias and diaconissas, so that even more zealously we may confess our Lord with good words and good works, experiencing fellowship with Him every Sunday and every Feastday, in His Church, for the glory of God and for our salvation. 

On everyone’s behalf, I congratulate the First Lady of the host church Popadia Sashka and bless her to always be under the protection and mercy of the wonderful St. Clement.

I open the 13th gathering of the popadias and diaconissas of the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese of the United States, Canada and Australia with well-wishes for pleasant, peaceful, and fruitful meetings.

Bon appétit!

On behalf of myself and my fellow Fathers, thank you to Popadia Junia and all the popadias and diaconissas for the kind invitation to be with you during this warm agape meal!

Thank you for your attention!

+Metropolitan JOSEPH

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