Pastoral Letter from Archbishop Gabriel on his retirement

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My Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters! All you who are the spiritual flock that Christ has confided to me!

I must share a serious decision with you. As you know, I have been seized by a brutal illness, the progress of which leaves me very little remission. This illness that is gnawing at me is very difficult to overcome, even if God has Himself shown us that suffering can be a source of life. However, I no longer have the strength to carry out my archpastoral ministry because of the fatigue and suffering in which I find myself, and so, in the words of Symeon the Elder, I pray: ‘Lord, now lettest Thy sarvant depart in peace Luke 2:29.

Also, after having informed the Council of the Archdiocese, I have asked His Holiness Patriarch Batholomew I to let me retire, to go home to Maastricht, to live there as a retired bishop and continue my treatment, with the complete rest prescribed by my doctors and in prayer that remains my only comfort. It is hard for me to say goodbye to you, especially as not all of you are ready to accept my departure. It is probable that I will disappoint many of you by going. But be sure that all that I am doing is for the good of the Church and, more concretely, of our Archdiocese. I hope that your love and compassions will allow you to accept a decision that can no longer be changed.

At the moment of leaving the mission that I received almost ten years ago, by the Lord’s will, by your election and the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Holy Synod, I am thinking of all of you with whom it has been given to me to work: the priests, deacons, monks and nuns and all the laity. Through these long years, we have forged links; I have known deep joy, many consolations in the midst of tribulations. In this moment of emotion, my strongest feeling is one of love and gratitude. I give thanks to God for having covered my archepiscopal service with His overflowing love. Even in the trial He has given me at the present time, I see myself as ‘a beloved disciple of the Lord’, for, as the Apostle Paul says, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’ II Cor. 12:9. This love in Christ is shown most vividly and concretely through you, my beloved brothers and sisters, whether near or far, who have shared in my joys and sorrows and have supported me. We have lived through so much together. We have prayed together, worked together for our common enlightenment and sanctification. Together we have hoped in the Lord, together we have received Jesus Christ in Communion, building up through time the holy Church of the living God.

I thank God first of all for you, the priests, my brothers and concelebrants at the Lord’s Table. You all have a place in my heart. You are the bedrock of our diocese, building it up day by day to be a living and harmonious organism, able to sing with one voice and one heart the most glorious Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I also thank the Lord for my confidential, discreet and effective fellow-workers, who have been driven by a spirit of service and self-giving, who have helped and surrounded me during the years in the Council of the Archdiocese, the Diocesan Office, the Cathedral, the St. Sergius Institute, the parishes and deaneries in France and in other countries.

Finally, I thank the Lord for all of you, my brothers and sisters, the beloved faithful of the Archdiocese with whom I have always discussed, made projects, shared moments of friendship, adding all those whom I have met, one time or another, during my many pastoral visits in the Archdiocese in many of the countries of Western Europe where we have parishes and communities. I’m grateful to you and, like the Apostle, ‘I cease not giving thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers’ Eph. 1:16.        

While we are speaking of gratitude and love, how can we not also mention forgiveness? I am aware that, in public debates and private discussions, and also in pastoral decisions, certain people have been  offended or hurt: the message of truth and faithfulness to the Tradition of the Church is not always welcome; it involves suffering for the hearer and often for the speaker. I have attimes made mistakes; no one among us is infallible, not even our bishop. Also, aware of my own weaknesses, I ask God and all of you to pardon all that I have done wrong to . I ask you to forgive my faults and my shortcomings. I also ask you to forgive, in my name, all who have trespassed against us. We do not accept either evil or sin, especially sin against the Church, but we must forgive and pray for those who have gone astray, that they may rediscover the right path. May our merciful Father let us part in peace and reconciliation!

And now the time has come to leave you. How can I put into words all that I have in my heart? I am certain that my going is in response to the will of God, and that with the Lord’s help it will be good for you as well as for me. Through all sorts of tribulations, always trust and hope in the Word of God, who is the assurance of our salvation and the strength of our Church. The freedom of the Church and the universality of the Orthodox faith are the two treasures that I have sought to preserve, following the example of my predecessors at the head of this Archdiocese. And this lets us concentrate on that which, in the eyes of Christ’s disciples, was the ‘one thing necessary’: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness’, as the Lord Himself commanded us Matt. 6:33. My last word will be to ask you to keep your love and unity. It is our Church’s most precious treasure. May the Lord deign to ‘give you the spirit of wisdom’ ‘the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling  Eph. 1:17-18.

May God succour us and have mercy on us! May the peace of the Lord be always with you! Receive my blessing.

Paris, 8th January 2013

+ Gabriel, Archbishop of Comana