My beloved spiritual children 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.
THE CURRENT MINDSET OF PARISHIONERS ISDETRIMENTAL TO THE GROWTH OF THE PARISH
"As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2).
For those of you that practice your Orthodox Christian faith daily, those of you with a strong and true commitment to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, those of you dedicated to our Holy Church, those of you with a orthodox understanding of what it means to be a good Christian, know definitely that as a Christian one is expected to grow in Christ. Saint Peter understood that it is imperative that "babes in Christ" grow. We understand the principle from a physical perspective. Let us strive to apply it spiritually as well.
And as Orthodox Christians we ought to know that growth in Christ can never stop. There are some who have made considerable spiritual growth in their lives but they think they have come far enough. They have matured in the faith and they know it. While that maturity is good, it is not a time for retirement. It is pure arrogance to think that you cannot learn anything more or that you have come far enough that you can "ease up".
Saint Peter in his second epistle, written to Christians who already knew much of what he was talking about indicating a level of maturity (see 2 Peter 1:12-15), closes with this admonition, "but grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). The word "grow" in the text is a present tense, active voice verb with a general meaning that the action is something that should never end, especially spiritual growth.
But if growth is so important, why do we not grow in Christ as we ought to? The answer is because of obstacles that are put in our way. Obstacles would be anything that hinders or slows our progress toward a goal. The Epistle to the Hebrews 12:1-2 calls us to "...lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us..."
The Devil wants to hinder each of us from growing spiritually as we ought to. He knows that spiritual maturity is his worst enemy. That is why he will do anything he can to keep you from growing in faith and knowledge. The Holy Apostle Paul warned the Christians of Corinth not to let Satan take advantage of them, "for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Corinthians 2:11). He is looking for opportunities to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). He is a wiley being (Ephesians 6:11). That is why we must be sober and vigilant at all times.
Saint John wrote, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:15). We live in a world that is far too busy. From the time we awake in the morning until we go to bed, our schedule is micromanaged. We have so many more things we think we have to do that there is a little time left to do things necessary to grow in Christ. We may or may not have a prayer life and maybe a couple hours of worship each week, but beyond that we are just too busy to take our spirituality seriously. On one occasion, some disciples came to Jesus offering to follow Him, but they had other matters to take care of first. Jesus was not willing to accept that. The Gospel of Saint Luke 9:57-62 shows that Jesus must be first before all things if we are to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Consider that Mary's actions were more pleasing to Jesus than Martha's when He was at their home. She knew what was most important while Martha was "distracted over many things" (St. Luke 10:38-42). If we are not careful, we will allow many things to distract us from growing as we ought to.
Continually, the Holy Bible speaks of the heart. It is at the center of that which drives our moral, spiritual and intellectual life in whatever direction we are going. Jesus condemned the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders because their heart was not pure. Quoting from Isaiah 29:13 He said, "The people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men" (St. Matthew 15:8-9). If the heart is not pure, God will not accept our actions.
Ask yourself, is my service to God offered with a divided heart? When I look at the church, do I assume that someone else is going to handle the needs, the concerns, the responsibilities, for us and do all the work? Do I expect the priest to do everything for me including prayer, worship, etc? As soon as "church" is over, am I out the door on with my life until the next "appointed time"? The answer to such questions will help determine whether or not you are indifferent. And such shallow Christianity will never produce the growth that Almighty God expects of us. You can rest assured that Satan will capitalize on it. We have to "desire the pure milk of the word" that we may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2).
An improper mindset. Growth, my dear friends, starts in the mind. Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind, that you may prove what is that good acceptable and perfect will of God." Ephesians 4:20-24 says, "But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness." We all have things we are passionate about.
The existing mindset among some of our parishioners needs to change. The way one perceives the church or parish. To use somewhat the phrase of President Kennedy who said, "It's not what the country can do for you but what you can do for your country"! I in turn would say, it is not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church! What are you doing for your church? How are you involved? What are do you contribute to its needs and growth? How sincere and true is your commitment to Christ?
At the Parish assembly yesterday we had an honest discussion about the finances of our parish. The parish council president Mr. Hristos Kirgios spoke sincerely and eloquently about the financial crisis facing the parish and how every steward of the parish needs to respond in a positive way. Hristos gave solutions to this yearly financial problem. Of course there are those who always attempt to make the priest the scapegoat for the financial woes of the parish. For those of you that may not know what a "scapegoat" is, I will explain. A scapegoat is a person or animal which takes on the sins of others, or is unfairly blamed for problems. The concept comes originally from the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, in which a goat is designated to be cast into the desert with the sins of the community.
For 46 years in the ministry of our Holy Church, every time there is a financial problem within the local parish instead of finding solutions or increasing their stewardship, parishioners, inevitably take a look at the salary of their parish priest and how the priest is making "too much money." I have served parishes over the many years with seven hundred families, fifty families, with 180 families and three hundred families and always but always complain about the priest's salary. As was pointed out at the parish assembly by the president of the parish council, each parish must follow the guidelines from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese on the salary and benefits for the parish priest according to his years of service. There is no abuse or exploitation of the parish by your parish priest.
All of our priests and their families teach by example what good stewardship is all about. I do not know any priest who has become rich at the expense of the parish. Receiving a salary to support himself and his family, is not stealing. He earns every dollar by working hard to serve the people of his church. He has gone through seven years of education at our Holy Cross Theological School and has graduated with a Masters Degree in theology. He is trained in every facet of the Priesthood and understands that his ministry demands 24 hour service to his people. If by today's standards of professionals who charge from $100.00 to $300.00 per hour for services rendered, if the priest charged the parish the same fee, no parish could ever afford him. Orthodox priests do not take a vow of poverty as a monk or a nun would. They have families with the same needs as all other the families within the parish.
The solution to the financial woes of the parish rests squarely with all the stewards of the parish and their Christian commitment to the Lord. If there is no true commitment than the parish will suffer. Our local parish does not ever place unreasonable demands upon any one. The majority of the parishioners are not asked to do much throughout the year. Somehow, the attitude is one of entitlement or a right. And this because one was baptized and chrismated in the Church years ago. There is no such thing as entitlement in the Orthodox Christian Church. Every Orthodox Christian understands that he or she have not only certain privileges and benefits within the Church but mostly responsibilities to work in the vineyard of the Lord.
If any Greek Orthodox parish is faced with any kind of dilemma pertaining to the salary of their parish priest they are asked to approach His Eminence, the local Metropolitan and present their case honestly and with respect.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God