Address at the States Dinner
Homily of Archbishop Stefan Soroka
Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia
Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States
Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
August 5, 2015
Slava Isusu Christu! Glory be to Jesus Christ!
When Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of Mt. Tabor, St. Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” (Mt. 17:4). This morning, I echo these same words.
It is good for us to be here, in this, our City of Brotherly Love, for the 133rd Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus. Here in Philadelphia, in Independence Hall, just a few short blocks away, 239 years ago our Founding Fathers pledged “their lives, fortunes and sacred honor” as they gave birth to a new nation. That inspirational document, the Declaration of Independence, to which they affixed their signatures, provides the theme for this year’s supreme convention, “Endowed by Their Creator With Life and Liberty.” I want to commend and thank all of my Brother Knights for your defense of the right to life, from conception to natural death, and for your steadfast vigilance against any infringement by the government upon our right to religious freedom and liberty.
It is also good for us to be here this morning, to participate in this Eucharistic Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I am very grateful to our Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, for your kind invitation to celebrate this Divine Liturgy of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the See of Peter, of which 18 serve their faithful in the United States. We are also grateful for all the assistance provided by your staff to capture the beauty and spirituality of our liturgical tradition, where in the words of St. John Paul II, the “sense of the inexpressible divine reality is reflected... and where the sense of mystery is so strongly felt by all the faithful.” (May 2, 1995 Apostolic Letter on the Eastern Churches - Orientale Lumen, 6).
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council state, “Everyone knows with what love the Eastern Christians celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic mystery, source of the Church's life and pledge of future glory. In this mystery the faithful, united with their Bishops, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh who suffered and was glorified, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And so made 'sharers of the divine nature' (2 Pt 1:4) they enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism - Unitatis Redintegratio, 15.)
In his 1995 apostolic letter on the Eastern Churches, Orientale Lumen, St. John Paul II writes: “Participation in Trinitarian life takes place through the liturgy and in a special way through the Eucharist, the mystery of communion with the glorified body of Christ, the seed of immortality. In divinization and particularly in the sacraments, Eastern theology attributes a very special role to the Holy Spirit: through the power of the Spirit who dwells in man deification already begins on earth; the creature is transfigured and God's kingdom inaugurated... This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by St. Irenaeus at the end of the second century: ‘God passed into man so that man might pass over to God.’ ” (Orientale Lumen, 6.)
This thought, “God passed into man so that man might pass over to God” can be visually seen in the icons which surround us today. In the Icon of Christ the Teacher on the right side of the altar, the tunic of Jesus is red, representing His divinity. The blue cloak He wears represents His humanity. God, the Divine, becomes man.
Behind the altar is an Icon of the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Mary’s tunic is blue, representing her humanity. Her outer garment is red, representing the mantle of Divinity she acquires as the Mother of God.
St. John Paul II, in commenting on the transformation of man through divinization, writes, “those who have been made "most Christ-like" by grace and by commitment to the way of goodness go before us: the martyrs and the saints. And the Virgin Mary occupies an altogether special place among them... Her figure is not only the Mother who waits for us, but the Most Pure who... is an icon of the Church, the symbol and anticipation of humanity transfigured by grace...” (Orientale Lumen, 6)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us begin our journey of transformation, of transfiguration in this path of divinization from the moment of our baptism. At that moment we have been “baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ.” We begin to experience the real and transformative union with God as we humans begin to acquire our mantle of divinity.
In a special way, men who choose to become Knights of Columbus, following in the footsteps of our founder, Father Michael McGivney, also experience a special transformation as they are transfigured on this path of divinization.
As a pastor, I was privileged to assist in the organization of a new council in my parish. I saw men who were never very active in church life join the Knights for the opportunity to work with others in parish programs for youth and children, often their own children being among them. Previously quiet, sometimes shy and relatively unassuming men were transformed into dedicated and energetic leaders within my parish and the larger community. They became so bold, so confident that they were not hesitant to even advise me as to what I should be doing! Their natures changed. The power of fraternal prayer and works of charity in an atmosphere of unity with patriotic love for God, Church and country transformed these men and their families. They began to live a transformed life of love and grace in the ways of Our Lord. They now lived a life in union with a God who unconditionally loves them.
This new embodiment in turn inspired these Knights and their families to reach out in service to the needs of others, to live the Beatitudes.
All of us have witnessed and experienced this transformative power that being a member of the Knights of Columbus has had on our lives and the lives of others.
We become transformed, in the words of Our Lord into “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” (Mt. 5:13, 14).
In ancient times, salt was a valuable mineral. People were paid for their labors with salt, from which we receive the word salary. Salt serves two functions — salt preserves food and it also enhances and improves the flavor of food.
Brother Knights, as the salt of the earth, you too are valuable to the world. You preserve moral, ethical and religious values and teachings in a world challenged with evil and immorality. You also enhance and improve the quality and flavor of life for people around the world through your numerous acts of charity, just as salt enhances the quality and flavor of food. I personally know how thousands of people in Ukraine, including those wounded and psychologically scarred by war, have had their lives enhanced by the generous humanitarian aid of the Knights of Columbus for which we are extremely grateful.
As the light of the world, you not only share the light of Christ in a darkened world, but by your example, you let your light “shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Mt. 5:16).
In today’s Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul so beautifully describes a member of the Knights of Columbus. You are of one nature in Jesus Christ. You are of one mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. You do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory. And you humbly regard others as more important than yourself, looking out not for your own interests but for those of others.
At His transfiguration, Our Lord revealed His glory to Peter, James and John. They experienced the Holy Trinity, and through Christ, beheld the radiating uncreated eternal Light of God and they heard the voice of the Father.
During this Divine Liturgy, we too enter into communion with the undivided Holy Trinity and we experience the True Light. And while “it is good for us to be here” we too, must come down, like Jesus and his disciples, from this experience of Mt. Tabor in the Divine Liturgy. Transfigured and divinized, as the salt and light of the world, let us go forth in peace, as Knights of Columbus, as followers of Christ, to continue evangelizing and transforming the world by living and sharing the Gospel according to the divine plan of God.
Slava Isusu Christu! Glory be to Jesus Christ! Vivat Jesus!