Dear parishioners and friends of St. John Chrysostom Parish,
It is a great honor and a joy for me to address you, my sisters and brothers, with this letter. God’s providence and plan brought us together to continue with dignity the story of this holy parish.
I am from the country that Saint Ambrose Helaya described in the following words,
“During the pre-Christian era, at the foot of the mountains of the Caucasus, between the Black and Caspian seas, native Georgian tribes created an active and talented state with a strong will. Historically this state is known by the name of Georgia, which for centuries was the only bearer of Christian culture and European humanism to the Near-Asia (Hiero-Confessor Ambrose, Patriarch of Georgia, Letter to Civilized World Present in Genoa Conference, February 7th, Tbilisi 1922)”.
Georgia is where I was born and raised. There, I earned my first university degree, a BA/MS in Civil Engineering (Technical University), as well as a theology degree (Hieratical School of Georgian Patriarchate). Before getting married, I spent two years in a monastery learning about practical religious life. I also have served as the primary reader (Canonarch) in several congregations. I became well acquainted with the old Georgian translations of early and medieval ecclesiastical literature and pre-revolutionary Russian and so-called Russian emigration theology. My enthusiasm for modern theology forced me to move to Greece to continue my theological studies (BS/MA in theology). As an ordained priest, I was appointed assistant priest in one of the oldest churches in Thessaloniki, where I acquired valuable experience in Greek parochial life. Nick, my third child, was born there to my wife, Ia Dekanosidze.
My educational path did not end there. I also studied in Switzerland and at the College of the Holy Cross in Boston before graduating with a doctorate in philosophy in Tbilisi. All this happened in conjunction with my pastoral work. On top of that, I continued to teach at the university level. In 2011, at the invitation of the Metropolis of New Jersey, I joined the Greek Archdiocese of America. I have been at the service of this archdiocese for eleven years.
Several people told me a lot about the parish of Saint John Chrysostom. I became intrigued by it after seeing it in Philadelphia. We all know that the word “Philadelphia” in Ancient Greek means “friendship or kindness between sisters and brothers”, in one word “fraternity”. This is the very value of equality and brotherhood, which the United States promotes among the world nations. It seemed to me that the existence of an Orthodox Church in the heart of Philadelphia, where the founding fathers signed the Constitution and formed the nation, which positively altered the course of world history, was not without God’s providence. Let us now focus upon the concept of the “Providence of God”. At the end of the Holy Liturgy, the priest recites one small prayer inside the altar,
“Christ our God, You are the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. You have fulfilled the Father’s entire plan of salvation. Fill our hearts with joy and gladness… Τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ Νόμου καὶ τῶν Προφητῶν αὐτὸς ὑπάρχων, Χριστὲ ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, ὁ πληρώσας πᾶσαν τὴν πατρικὴν οἰκονομίαν, πλήρωσον χαρᾶς καὶ εὐφροσύνης τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν…”
“God’s providence“ or “[God] Father’s plan of salvation” (a different version is “dispensation of the Father”) responds to the original text’s word οἰκονομία (oikonomia), which means “management of household or family affairs”. It is similar to “dispensation” in old Georgian and to “providence” in Slavic. Each of these translations conveys different aspects of the original, but cannot express the important aspect, which is the concept of the family (οἰκον/οἶκος, Oikos –home/house). The world in the same language is called “oiko-umene (οἰκουμένη) – the inhabited world”. Thus, in accordance with this particular characteristic of this word, God created the world as a single family or fraternity. Our country, with its constitution and history, demonstrates this basic Christian conception of the world as one family of God. The world is diverse, and the traditions are different, but we are all children of God. And our parish, founded and nurtured by Albanian immigrants in central Philadelphia, which is the heart of our country, is the home of people of various origins. It will progress by reflecting the fundamental ideal mentioned above, which is beautifully expressed in the following words of the Apostle Paul,
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting for God, for whom and through whom all things exist, to make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. For both the One who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebr 2:10-11).
I believe God’s providence for us is that we will worship, act and advance as a single family of our Lord Jesus Christ, like His sisters and brothers with different but equally important vocations within our parish. God bless all of us on this wonderful journey!
Rev. Kai Kakhaber Kutanidze, PhD