CHERRY HILL, NJ – The parish of St. Thomas in Cherry Hill New Jersey warmly welcomed His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America in his first archpastoral visit on the Sunday of the Forefathers. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has assigned Archbishop Elpidophoros as Patriarchal Vicar to the Metropolis of New Jersey after the removal of Metropolitan Evangelos on October 8, 2020.
The Archbishop was welcomed at the entrance of the nave of St. Thomas by children of the parish who presented to him bouquets of flowers, the presiding priest Archimandrite Christoforos Oikonomidis, and officials of the Parish Council.
The Archbishop presided over the Divine Liturgy and in his sermon he said among other things that “I am happy to be with this wonderful community of Saint Thomas so close to the Feast of Christmas. As the Patriarchal Vicar of the Metropolis of New Jersey, it is a great joy to experience the life of this vibrant Metropolis in person.
In fact, today is the Sunday of the Forefathers, which falls on the nearest Sunday between December 11th and the 17th. It is the day on which we remember all the righteous figures from the Old Testament, whose lives and character revealed, in a prophetic manner, something of the mystery of the Coming of the Christ.”
Part of the congregation at St. Thomas of Cherry Hill New Jersey. Shown is Supreme President of AHEPA George Horiatis. (Photo by GOA/DIMITRIOS PANAGOS)
In another instance he said that “the lives of these righteous men and women are a manifestation of the plan of God to save the world – His Divine Oikonomia. It is a story of God’s outreach to the human family, and His desire to include everyone in His Household and in His Kingdom.”
Archimandrite Christoforos Oikonomidis, addressing the Archbishop, said among other things: “Your Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, it is with tremendous joy that we welcome you today to Saint Thomas, in this first historic visit of Your Eminence to our Parish. We all feel blessed and honored with Your presence, especially during these days of the pandemic, when we all feel distressed and anxious, not only because of the disease but mostly of the various effects that this brings to our lives.”
He also said “unfortunately, due to the pandemic, not all our faithful were able to come and be with us today. Therefore, I submit to You Your Eminence, everyone’s respect and humble wishes for a blessed, healthy and productive ministry as our Spiritual Father and leader of countless Orthodox faithful across the United States of America. The last time that the Archbishop of America visited our Parish was in 2001, when Archbishop Demitrios came to pray at the funeral of our beloved Danielle Kousoulis, one of the 3000 victims of the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11.”
Youth of the parish of St. Thomas of Cherry Hill with His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros. (Photo by GOA/DIMITRIOS PANAGOS)
Fr. Christoforos also said that, “St. Thomas has been and always will be a dedicated Parish to our Holy Archdiocese, to our Archbishop, and to the mission of our Orthodox faith. Your presence and visit today, Your Eminence, renews our mission and hard work, as you are giving us strength, power and courage, not only to continue, but also to become even stronger, especially after this pandemic. Please accept our gratitude for being with us, just a few days before Christmas, and may the Lord keep You safe, honorable, and healthy for many years! Before I conclude my thoughts, please allow me to say that Your historic visit today is the first of many to come. Therefore, we, the people of St. Thomas are humbly asking Your Eminence to honor us with Your presence on St. Thomas weekend, May 8th and 9th, 2021.”