Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
ON SPIRITUAL LIFE IN THE CHURCH
By the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America
THE SACRAMENTAL LIFE OF THE CHURCH
Nourished by the Word and Spirit of God through the sound practice of personal and liturgical prayer, we Orthodox Christians in America must strive to revitalize the mystical, sacramental life of our churches and monasteries. To renew sacramental participation in the life of the Church we need only begin. Everything is there. Nothing needs to be added. All things are prepared. We need only receive what the Church gives us, practice what the Church teaches us. It is a very sad fact, the saddest of facts, that when non-Orthodox Christians are looking to Orthodoxy for guidance in the mystical life of sacramental action in the Church, we Orthodox ourselves are so lacking in proper practice of those sacramental treasures which we possess by the grace of God and the gift of Holy Tradition.
Baptisms and Chrismations, marriages and funerals, the services of healing through the anointing of the sick must once again be understood and experienced as corporate acts of worship and praise. They must be taken out of the dark corners of our private devotions and social celebrations and be placed in the center of our corporate spiritual lives. They must become once again the communal actions of the Church as the mystical body and bride of Christ; the common liturgical actions of the whole people of God; witnessed, celebrated and accomplished by all, together in one place, at once time.
Confession, the sacraments of reconciliation with the Church, must be made regular and frequent. It must become once again an abiding element in the lives of the faithful, deformalized and revitalized as the most common and normal of actions of a people continually united and reunited with each other and with God. The "general confession," approved and regulated by the Holy Synod of bishops and practiced as a common act of confession and repentance by those in communion with Christ in the Church, must take its place alongside individual and private confession as a sacramental sign of reconciliation, healing and forgiveness of sins.
Participation in the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of sacraments, must become normal and regular for all of the members of the Church. It must be the rule, and not the exception, that the faithful come forward at the Divine Liturgy, with fear and with love, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the sake of their salvation and inspiration in the faith. It is the Lord Himself Who invites, for He Himself has said: "Take eat, this is My Body! Drink of it, all of you, this is My Blood! He who does not eat of the Lord's body and drink of His blood with faith and devotion does not have eternal life abiding in him."
The Holy Eucharist is the center and focal point of the spiritual lives of Christians. It is the inexhaustible source and unalterable goal of all that we are, all that we do as servants of God and members of Christ's Church. It is our unique and certain means of communion with God the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, with the Holy Theotokos Virgin Mary and all the Angels and Saints. It is our deepest and most perfect means of communion with one another and with the whole Church of God, with all mankind and the whole of creation. May the divine energy be for us always our entrance into the Kingdom of God, our participation in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, as envisaged by the beloved Apostle John in the book of Revelation.
BEARING CHRIST'S CROSS IN THE WORLD
Rooted in prayer and grounded in the sacramental mysteries of the Church, we are called as Orthodox Christians to go forth into the world to do the work of God and to accomplish our mission, each one of us in his or her own way as guided by the Spirit of God.
Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God. Each human person is unique and irreplaceable as a servant of Christ and a living temple of the Holy Spirit. Each man, woman and child has his or her own place and duty in the building up of the Church and the Kingdom of God in the life of the world. Each one of us must sanctify the actual life given to us by God within the conditions of life are ours. Each one of us must use his or her unique talents and gifts, according to the measure of grace and faith which God provides, for the fulfillment of God's will in the service of others.
The first and fundamental task of every Christian is to flee from the temptations of enslavement to the things of this world: the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:15). This means, first of all, that each one of us must strive to be free from the love of money which is the root of all evil, free from all covetousness for earthly possessions which is idolatry. The Lord Jesus Christ, with all of His prophets, apostles, and Saints, is severe in His warnings to those who are foolish enough to lay up treasures on this earth which only corrupt and enslave their possessors. The Lord is strict without compromise in His teaching that those who desire to be rich will lose their own souls in the process and be deprived of the Kingdom of God. 'Blessed are you poor,' He said. Blessed are you who give, asking nothing in return! Blessed are you who trust in God to care for you as He cares for the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air, if only you trust God and obey His commands! Let us trust God to care for us and provide for us as we strive to do His will in our sharing with others. Let us always recall His Holy words: "You cannot serve God and mammon."
As we strive to be liberated from the things of this world which choke the Word of God in us and quench His Holy Spirit within us, let us flee from vainglory and pride, from the desire for praise and fame among men, from every lust for power and prestige within the life of this world. How often we are captivated by our own egos. How often we are ruled by the passion to have others honor and praise us. How frequently we seek appreciation and thanks for the little good that we do. How often we look to exercise power and authority over others. But all this is contrary to Christ, the True Servant of God and the whole of mankind, who has said: "I am among you as one who serves. He who will be the greatest among you will be as the least; he who will be first will be the servant of all." There is no Christian life, no Godlife among men, where there is not the will and the desire to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to give ourselves fully in sacrificial service and love for each other and the least of the brethren. And to do so meekly and humbly, secretly and silently, with gratitude and joy in our hearts that God has blessed us to be His children in Christ, the servant of humanity.
We all must strive as well for purity of heart, for purity of mind and body and soul. The pure will be blessed to see God, Christ has said, while the fornicators and adulterers and the slaves of carnal lusts will lose their lives and be deprived of God's Kingdom. There is no dignity and freedom in the carnal person. There is no true life, peace and joy for the one constantly seeking to satisfy the lusts of the flesh. There is only the bestial condition of constant dissatisfaction and continual frustration and lack of fulfillment in the vain longing to please the carnal senses. Let us flee from such foolishness which destroys the image of God in us. Let us reject the ways that lead to death.
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God