Greek Orthodox priests and lay leaders meeting in Baltimore were urged yesterday to reject the idea that theirs is an exclusively Greek-American "ghetto church" and to set their sights instead on a lofty goal worthy of Christianity -- "the world transformed."
The Rev. Constantine Sitaras cautioned the delegates from 51 parishes in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia that, as God's chosen people, they may not shrink from this mission, daunting as it is.
"We are not a ghetto church! Why do we act like one?" Father Sitaras declared yesterday.
"How often I hear, 'I can't stand all the negative and evil in the world, so I stopped reading newspapers, or listening to the news,' " Father Sitaras told his audience.
"I must tell you," he said, "that if we are Greek Orthodox Christians, if we are the church of Christ, His Body, if we are the chosen people of God . . . then we must change the world. We can attempt to do no less than what Jesus demands of us."
He said church members are not expected to "go out and preach to convert the world" but to transform it by example, by "living a Christian life, being the best that we can be, offering love, patience, forgiveness."
Father Sitaras, a Baltimore native on the staff of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of New Jersey, was speaking at East Baltimore's St. Nicholas Community, host parish for the regional convention. The meetings held there and at the Inner Harbor's Clarion Inn concluded last night.
In an address Sunday, Metropolitan Silas, spiritual head of the regional diocese, warned the delegates not to equate the church's mission with that of a secular organization. "Anybody who dares to change the church from the body of Christ," he said, "falls into a major sin."
Among the papers circulated and studied was a report by a commission, headed by Metropolitan Silas, that had been appointed to establish the theological agenda for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.
The report evaluated the denomination's ethnic character and concluded, "Paradoxically enough, the more the church reaches out and accepts non-Greeks, always without compromise of its doctrinal tenets, the more it will ensure its own flow- ering and, therefore, guarantee some form of Greek-American ethnic sur- vival into the indefinite future."