Service is Characteristic of True Greatness in the Life of Christ

Venerable Theoctistus

My beloved spiritual children in Christ,
Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.


"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (St. Mark 10:45).

"After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, 'Lord, are You washing my feet?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this...You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him (St. John 13:5-16).

In my many years of diakonia in the service of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and our Holy Orthodox Church I have come to understand the significance of the word "diakonia" i.e., ministry (service). Following the foot-washing, Our Lord Jesus explains to His disciples its significance: As He Himself is a Servant of God and mankind, so we are to serve the Almighty God and our fellowman. Service is characteristic of genuine greatness.

Our Divine Savior, the Servant of all of us, teaches us that, "whoever desires to become great among men, let him be your servant and whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, and who gives his life as a ransom for many" (St. Matthew 20:28; St. Mark 10:45).

   There is no greater example of this kind of servitude among people than the Heavenly Mother, Our Most Holy Mother of God.  Her life was lived in humble obedience and service to God and to all of mankind.

Our Redeemer and Lord, in rebuking the devil, quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20, telling him, "For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'" Another example of service is Joshua in the Old Testament who led the Israelites into the Promise Land. He said, "Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). Serving God is a personal choice.

Israel's great Judge Samuel gave instructions to God's people on how to serve God. He said: "Serve with all your heart" (I Samuel 12:20) and not half-heartedly. Saint Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians that we are "to serve the Lord with no distractions" (7:35). Our Lord teaches us in St. Matthew 6:24 that we are to serve God wholly: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." We cannot give our full attention to or be loyal to two different masters.

Serving our Lord in His Holy Church must be a service of total love and humility. In his letter to the Ephesians (6:5-7), Saint Paul describes what our attitude should be in serving those in authority over others and each other: "Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters (our bosses, our bishops, our priests, etc.) according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not with eyeservice, as men pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men." God does not read our lips, but our hearts. He looks for the sincerity of our heart.

Saint John Climacus in his Ladder of Divine Ascent tells us that to serve the Lord in all humility is to acknowledge the achievements of others instead of our own; to acknowledge that we are the least important person in the world and the greatest sinner; to see ourselves as being weak and helpless without Christ; to be the first to end a quarrel and apologizes even if we were not at fault; to be willing to abdicate our own will for the Will of the Father.

In King David's Psalm 100:2, he tells us: "serve the Lord with gladness." Whatever we do in the church, whether sweeping the floor, emptying the garbage, cleaning the church, singing in the choir or chanting, or other, no matter how we serve the Lord we should do it with joy and gladness in our hearts, never grumbling nor complaining. "All grumbling comes from the devil" (Archimandrite Seraphim Alexiev).

Since faith and practice are inseparable, then ministry (Diakonia) is the witness and validation of our faith. The responsibility to serve others is not a responsibility of the clergy only, but of all Christians. The role of the Church community is to facilitate in an organized fashion the service to others. Saint John Chrysostom writes: "The most basic task of the Church leader is to discern the spiritual gifts of all those under his authority, and to encourage those gifts to be used for the full for the benefit of all." Saint Paul adds that every member of the Church has a specific ministry (service) that he/she is called by our Lord to fulfill. He writes: "All of you, then, are Christ's body, and each one is a part of it. In the Church, then God has appointed first Apostles, second Prophets, third Teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues."

Having revealed the various and wonderful descriptions of what it means to be a true diakonos (servant) in the Church of Christ we can now appreciate the blessing that comes from serving with humility, with joy, with love, with obedience, with reverence, with faith, with conviction and trust the One Who sacrificed His life to save us and all of humanity.

In a parish community every member is responsible to serve Christ with the talent or talents that He has given him/her. It is not only the responsibility of the Priest or the members of the Parish Council. The Christian duties must be shared by all the believers and faithful Christians. The tendency at times is for the general membership to be inert and inactive, to simply expect everything to be done by the parish priest and the volunteer members of the parish council. That of course is not the attitude of a practicing Orthodox Christian. The God-given gift you possess is expected by the Lord to be invested so that it may grow. "And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents, went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make your ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord'...Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant...So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents...and cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (St. Matthew 25:15-30).

The "wicked and lazy servant" could not evade responsibility for ignoring his talent. We are stewards of every gift (talent), using each for our own and our neighbor's salvation. Idleness is a renunciation of God's grace, as well as lack of love for God and humanity. Since Christians are stewards of God's gifts, each of us will give account of how we used the "abundance".

One very important point also is that neither the priest nor the parish council should appoint the same people over and over again to serve or to assume more and more responsibilities without making an attempt to engage more and new parishioners to serve in different capacity. It is important to note that usually anyone who serves in one or more ministries, committees, organizations, etc. eventually burns out. The other danger is for that one person to fall into the sin of pride (ego). It is therefore necessary to engage people that have never served on any of the parish ministries or committees. Serving in any of these parish duties is not a life-long service. All ministries and organizations and committees should change hands and not rely on the same person or persons always.

In past experience people holding positions on the parish council, ministries, committees and other have mistakenly assumed that they are indispensable which of course it is not true. Others have abused their position for the purpose of gaining control and assuming that they could control the direction and destiny of the parish. Serving the Church of Christ is never about control, power, influence, pride or ego, personal prestige or other but diakonia and nothing else.

I ask all of you, our beloved syndiakonoi (co-servants) to volunteer to serve on one of the parish ministries and by doing so to take some of the burden from those dedicated and devout members of the church that have served unselfishly for many, many years.

With agape in His Holy Diakonia,
+Father George