15th Anniversary Banquet Speech

The following speech at the St. John of S.F. Orthodox Academy 15th Anniversary Banquet on October 12, 2008 was given by Fr. Spyridon Jajeh, a deacon in the Jerusalem Patriarchate and a current parent.

Your Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill, venerable priests, the diaconate in Christ, most esteemed faculty and parents, and loved ones … Greetings in the name of Christ our Lord and Saviour.
It truly is with great honour that I stand here before such a holy gathering and thank His Eminence for this opportunity to offer up a few words that come from my heart and I pray will find some resonance in yours.

Tonight I speak as a parent, as a Deacon, and as a friend. A person not only concerned about my own family’s welfare but about the welfare of our entire Orthodox communities’ children.

Today’s secular world and society, is not very secular at all. Yes, it is not as secular as it may appear. For the society of today indeed has its own religion, a religion that is preaching a morality and a way of life that for the most part is diametrically opposed to our own Orthodox and Christian values. And not only is it opposed to our most Holy Faith, but the fact of the matter is that it is entirely intolerant of it. This supposed secular culture has become like a tidal wave or an avalanche that has just begun and is now growing with more and more consuming force, wanting to engulf and assimilate into it any world view that is not conforming to its ideal of how life is to be lived…

And the force of this secular religion is of such great strength that we all feel its choking tentacles clinging to us and none of us can escape from it. Especially, especially the weakest amongst us, our little ones — whose spiritual and intellectual capacities have not yet matured enough to engage in battle. And as St Theophane the Recluse recounts that the souls of these young ones are like softened wax, that will take onto it whatever impressions are placed on it or they are like young green sapling trees that can be grown in any direction by just adding a little pressure and force to it one way or the other.

So the question now arises and must be posed — from whence, as parents, do we want that pressure that is being applied onto all of our children to originate from. From whence do we want these influences to be begotten? Remember these are the very factors that will form our children spiritually, academically, morally, psychologically. Where do we want that to come from — from SF city hall, from MTV, from the Disney channel, X-box, cinemas — these are all around, it is so pervasive — with an ultimate aim of preaching a foreign gospel? Or, as God loving and fearing parents do we equip and protect our children, by placing them in an environment where all of their God-given potential can be realized without the toxic pollution of the cult of the x-generation. Some will say, hold on now Father, aren’t you secluding and sheltering your children? Isn’t that unhealthy for their socialization? And I would simply reply that I do not have to throw my kids into a tank of hungry sharks for them to learn about sharks — I can, and I should, as a parent, as an Orthodox parent in fact, keep spiritual and intellectual poison as far from the children as possible and equip them and fortify them, with the necessary faculties to overcome the negative that is awaiting them when they grow.

I must confess, that as a parent I have my own failings, I am not always there, I am busy , working earning a living, perhaps the stresses of life do not make me the greatest example or role model. But by the sheer benevolence and philanthropic love of God, I have stumbled upon a place that seems to be tucked away from the hustle and bustle of this contemporary world: a place where I have found a new family, a place where my guard is let down for I am amongst brethren in Christ.

St John’s Academy is a reinforcement of everything as an Orthodox family we believe in. This crazy world asks of us to be schizophrenic in a way, society asks of us to have multiple personalities. Be one way in front of your boss, another personality as we are with friends, and yet another in front of our spouse or priest. And this schizophrenia is a deceitful way of living that covers up the true identity of the individual, its masks the true beauty and individuality of that child of God.

For the world does not wants these precious children to be individuals they want them to conform… And here at St Johns Academy under the gazing protection of our great Hierarch St John of San Francsico we are able to provide an environment that is intrinsically wholesome, completely integrative. This holy institution offers to our children the opportunity and atmosphere to thrive as complete and whole persons, that very person that was made in the image and likeness of God. The body, soul, and intellect are cared for in equal measure — there is a holy balance — forming balanced children, where the entirety of the child is brought to its full fruition. Where the anxieties of trying to please the demands of pop culture are put at bay — and the child is allowed to bathe in the Light of Christ, as they develop their full capacity intellectually as well as spiritually…

Tell me, where else can this happen — and if this is not all enough they truly are on a daily pilgrimage as they venerate St John.

My brothers and sisters,
1. Bigger is not always better
2. More is not always required

Just as our Savior was humbly born in a grotto tucked away from the eyes of the world, yet it was there in that simplicity, in that seemingly irrelevance, that the light that is never overtaken by the night was shining, the light that enlightens all these beautiful children as they enter this world was swathed in simple clothing and nobody in that city knew. It took a few very wise men from afar to understand the profundity of the event as they came in search of the Child, to worship and proffer offerings. So it is here, yes we are a bit tucked away as you look at us from wordly eyes, but I must confess this Academy and these God inspired faculty shine so bright, that I am confident the angels of heaven comprehend it.
I am talking about an ontologically and different existential paradigm at play here. A paradigm that from the outside world seems convoluted and backwards and appears to be opposed to better judgment — but as our Lord had said the Wisdom of God is foolishness to the man.”

It is here, at this venerable school, as Orthodox Christians, we can live out our Orthodox faith unashamed and unaldutered and yes the glamour of the world may pass on by, not paying much attention to us, but to me and my family and I am sure to many of you, we have found that pearl of great price, we have seen the true light, we have found the true faith in a place where we can grow and live and prosper as Orthodox Christians.

To You, your Eminence, thank you for welcoming us with such open arms and open heart, thank you for allowing your dedicated servants, Father Serge and his wonderful Matushka to make this all a reality as they work with such missionary zeal here in the heart of San Francisco. May God grant you all many, many years.