Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, October 27, 2014


(Brief message of the Rev. Canon Dr. Fred Vergara to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin 4/25/14)

(Because the microphone was acting up, I told this oft-repeated joke: One Anglican Archbishop was testing the microphone in the cathedral. He tapped the mic three times and murmured, "There’s something wrong with this microphone." And the congregation replied, ‘And also with you.’”

I bring you greetings from the Presiding Bishop and from my colleagues from the Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church based in New York City. Our thoughts and prayers are for the success of your convention and the continuing advance of God’s mission in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.

Anne Rudig, our Communications Director is the DPP (Diocesan Partnership Program) liaison to this Diocese but she’s in the Executive Council this week, so I am here on her behalf. (My own DPP's are the dioceses of Albany, Easton and Rochester). I hope you welcome me as you would her, though I am not as beautiful and blond as she is.

As missioner for Asiamerica Ministries my message is diversity. I believe there is a deep yearning in the Church for greater diversity. Diversity in all its forms –ethnic, racial, cultural, gender---and their inclusion into the mainstream life and mission is, I believe, the key to spiritual revival and church growth. America's motto is "e-pluribus unum" (out of many, one); American Christian mission is "unity in diversity."
You know among Asian and Latino communities growing rapidly in many of your cities, our staple food is rice. Rumor has it that when there is a fog in the valley, it is because the Filipinos in Stockton, Delano and Tracy are cooking rice for breakfast! So I think Bishop David Rice, by his name and based on what I observed today, can usher in this diversity. With his dynamism, energy and vision, people will come in and become part of an exciting and welcoming church. 

The San Joaquin Valley is one of “the bread baskets” of the world. I pray that the Diocese of San Joaquin will also become one of the “salad bowl dioceses” of races, cultures and peoples in the Episcopal Church.
 It may interest you to know that as church wide Asiamerica missioner, I am also serving as a (very part-time) Priest-in-Charge of a parish in New York that left The Episcopal Church (and was won back) and so I understand your confounded longings. St. James Church in Elmhurst, Queens in the Diocese of Long Island is a historic church founded in 1704. One of its early rectors was the first bishop and presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Samuel Seabury. Like many churches, it had its ups and downs in history. When the land and property were returned to the Diocese of Long Island after years of litigation only a few people remained. By God’s grace, we experienced revival and in a year’s time, we grew from 25 to 120.

I believe the challenge is to lay-off the baggage of the past (as your theme “travel light” implies), to forgive the pains, heal the wounds, and to move forward to what lies ahead. The mission fields are ripe for harvest and they are right on our doorsteps and neighborhoods. With the leadership of your new bishop named Rice, I believe a new day has come to your diocese!

In the Missionary Society table, I have some literature that will help you know of some partnership programs with the wider church. Bishop David Rice, Chancellor Michael Glass, Canon Kate Cullinane and all faithful clergy and people of the Diocese of San Joaquin, thank you so much for welcoming me.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


 (Homily of The Rev. Dr. Winfred B.Vergara at the “Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” between Eugene Vinluan Pagal and Mathew Timothy Rosecrans at St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, New York on October 10, 2014.)
Mathew and Eugene exchanging vow: "I give myself to you...support and care for you, enduring all things, bearing all things. I will hold and cherish you...will honor and love you; forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live."
“Faith, hope and love---these three abide---and the greatest of these is LOVE.”  This was the concluding remark of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 13.

Having just toured Greece and visited Corinth in Peloponnese, my mind recalls the archaeological discoveries in this ancient city and imagines the context in which St. Paul wrote this letter. According to biblical research, St. Paul stayed in Corinth about a year and a half, working as a tentmaker, sharing the gospel of Christ. It was there that he met the Greek couple, Priscilla and Aquilla and together, they established the church in Corinth.

Ancient Corinth was a crossroads of civilizations, a trading center for bronze works, textiles and potteries and other products. In the eras before Christ, it was the site of Isthmian Games done in honor of Poseidon, the god of the sea in Greek mythology. Isthmian Games were a precursor to the Olympic Games. There was a temple dedicated to the Greek god, Apollo. It was in Corinth where Alexander the Great was chosen to lead the war against the Persians. Corinth  was partly destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC but was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. During the time of St. Paul in 52 A.D., Corinth was a prosperous cosmopolitan and multicultural Roman city. 

In Greek language, there are four words that describe love: storge, eros, philia and agape. These words were used by the famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle and was later expanded by the great English writer, C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves.

Storge, means filial love or affection between parents and children. Eros means romantic or sexual love. From eros, we derive the English word, erotic. Philia, which is known as “brotherly love” means love among friends. The city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania must have been named after Philia.  This is of course different from the Filipino word, “pilya” or “pilyo” which means "naughty." The fourth Greek word for love is Agape—and this is the word that Paul used in his letter to the Corinthians. 

Being a port city, immigrants come and go in Corinth. So storge love among family members was important so as to hold them together and keep their cultural values, just as we, recent immigrants from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe tend to do in this country, the United States. We do not want to forget where we come from even as we assimilate and pray for the peace and prosperity of this country.

Eros love was popular as the city was the site of the Temple of Aphrodite (or Venus) which had more than a thousand temple prostitutes at some time. Eroticism was at home with ancient Greeks as their sculptures of nude gods and naked mortals aptly demonstrate.

The author in Greece. At the background is the ubiquitous naked  statue of god Apollo in Greek mythology.

Philia love was desirable  as Greeks, Romans, Jews, Venetians, Turks  and other cultural groups  must coexist in diverse and pluralistic neighborhoods.

But agape was described as the highest form of love for it describes God’s love for all humanity, the love that motivated Jesus Christ to give his life for the sins of the whole world. Agape is a self-transcending love that gives of oneself unconditionally to the welfare of the beloved. Agape love was the message of St. Paul to Corinth and his admonition to the Corinthian Christians. Indeed, the "people of the way," shall be known in Corinth as Christians, by their agape.

Agape is the love word that is most appropriate to Christian relationship. Using agape, Jesus said to his disciples in John 13:34, “A new commandment, I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you.” In John 15:13, Jesus emphasized agape, “Greater love has no man than this that a man lays down his life for his friends.” The apostle John himself, in his own letter said: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abide in them.” (1st John 4:16)  The Holy Eucharist, which was instituted by Christ as a passover meal of His Body and Blood is a sacrament of agape meal, a love feast.

Agape is the selfless and unconditional love, a love that is passionately committed to the well-being of the other. This is the love that is desired for life-long marriage. Agape love knows no bounds, transcends all boundaries and overcomes all barriers. In agape, there is "neither Jew nor Greek; male nor female, rich or poor, tall or short, black or white" and for that matter---neither gay nor straight."

Agape love is color-blind, culture-blind, racial-blind and gender-blind. 

As God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16), so agape love delights in self-giving. As one poet says, “A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sitting there; a house is still a house, even when there’s no one living there; but love cannot be love, until it is given away.” Agape love is giving ourselves away for the person we love.

St. Paul describes agape in 1st Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Mathew (yes, one t) Timothy Rosecrans and Eugene Vinluan Pagal.
Eugene and Mathew, this day so long desired by you has now come at last when the Lord will bless and keep your love. You've waited long for this moment. We are fortunate that by God’s grace, the Episcopal Church has boldly advocated for the blessing of same sex unions and has pioneered this beautiful liturgy of “witnessing and blessing of a lifelong covenant,” which we use today. We are fortunate that by God’s grace, the State of New York and other states in America have now recognized marriage equality.  

I believe that someday soon, by God's grace, the Supreme Court would someday rule that the right to marry is a legal and a constitutional right not just for some, but for all people----and that includes the LGBT (lesbians, gay, bi-sexual and transgender)--- couple who so love each other and committed to each other.

But yet, it is not easy. There are, and there will be, some people who would equate marriage only as gender-based, sex-based, eros love. They will misunderstand you and challenge you in your life together. They will moralize and qoute the Bible and even include St.Paul's other writings to support their anti-gay feelings. Some Christians who would call your marriage a sin, an abomination, even demonic. Some Christians will pray that God will deliver you out of that marriage.

But how can a relationship based on love be a sin? Will God who so loved the world deny a part of humanity of living life to its fullness? Did not Christ who opened the eyes of the blind and set the captives free also promised to give us life and have it abundantly?(John 10:10)

Many heterosexual marriages that began as plain romance based on eros love alone have ended in recriminations and wretchedness because neither partner has a loyalty beyond the physical and material. I presume this will be true to same sex marriage as well. That is why, you must strive to raise the level of your love to the ideal of agape, for agape alone can truly make your marriage endure and prevail. Agape love "bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things. Agape love never fails." 

Eugene and Mathew, as you enter this new chapter of your life, and as you build your home as a couple, I pray that you will be affirmed by the storge love of the family, strengthened by the philia love of friends and community, affirmed by the eros love of intimacy, but most of all nourished, sustained and sanctified by the agape love of God in Christ Jesus. In the words of this Episcopal Church liturgy: "May the Lord bless your union, a relationship of fidelity and steadfast love, forsaking all others, holding one another in tenderness and respect, in strength and bravery for as long as you live." Amen!
Mathew and Eugene surrounded by loving family and friends coming from California, New York, Virginia.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him." (John 3:16-17)