The Orthodox Christian and the Church
Dear friends in Christ our Savior,
Christ is in our midst!
"In the Church, enmity and alienation are overcome, and humanity, divided by sin, is united in love in the image of the Consubstantial Trinity".
The Church of Christ is one and unique (Saint Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church). The unity of the Church, the Body of Christ, is based on the fact that she has one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23), and that working in her is one Holy Spirit Who gives life to the Body of the Church and unites all her members with Christ as her Head.
The Church is the unity of the Spirit in bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3), the fullness of uninterrupted grace-filled life and spiritual experience. "Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace" (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons). This unity of grace-filled life is the foundation of the unity and changelessness of the Church's faith. Always and without change "the Holy Spirit teaches through the holy Fathers and Teachers. The Catholic (not Roman) Church cannot transgress or even err or utter falsehood instead of truth: for the Holy Spirit, Who always acts through the faithfully serving Fathers and Teachers of the Church, guards her against every mistake" (The Letter of Eastern Patriarchs).
"It is only through relationship with a particular community that each member of the Church realizes his communion with the whole Church...Any sin distances a person from the Church to a greater or lesser degree, but it does not cut him off from her altogether."
The Orthodox Christian becomes united with Christ at Baptism and is nurtured by Christ at every Eucharist. We believe that the Holy Spirit acts in and through the Church to make Christ our Lord and to bring His work to fulfillment.
The ultimate commitment of the Orthodox Christian is a commitment to Christ our Lord, Who is known in and through the Church. This is expressed by the litanies of the Church which call upon us to "commit ourselves, one another and our whole life to Christ our God." And, prior to receiving Holy Communion, we pray: "O Master Who loves mankind, unto You we commit our whole life and our hope."
"Each of us is unique and blessed by the Holy Spirit with different gifts and vocations in life; therefore, our personal commitments to Christ will be expressed differently. Yet, Orthodoxy firmly believes that this commitment will always be built upon a worship of God and a loving concern for others. As worship is central to the Church as a whole, worship, personal prayer, and especially participation in the Holy Eucharist are central to the life of the individual Orthodox Christian. Through these actions, we grow closer to God and we are blessed with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which enable us to be of loving and responsibly service to other in Christ's Name. Orthodoxy avoids any tendency which seeks to separate love of God from love of neighbor. The two are inseparable. This conviction is expressed during the Divine Liturgy in the dialogue between the priest and the people which says, "Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the Trinity, consubstantial and undivided."
What should motivate an Orthodox Christian to be engaged with Christ, the Church and his neighbor? Fr. George Morelli says, "My motivation is that I see Christ as our ultimate Physician and Healer of our souls and ultimately our bodies following the brokenness (i.e, passions) that we have inherited from our ancestral parents. I am acutely aware that any of these gifts that I have been given are a gift from God and to be used to glorify His Name, to emulate as best I can the Trinitarian love the Persons of the Holy Trinity have for themselves and have extended to all creation and onto all of mankind. I have an obligation to use these gifts as best I can to reflect this love."
As everyone from the parish returns from his/her vacation, (which I hope was restful), everyone needs to reconnect with the church and be willing to serve our ever-loving God according to the gifts given to them by Him. Every Orthodox Christian steward should make a personal commitment to our Savior Jesus Christ and have a personal relationship with Him. Just attending church services sporadically or when one needs the church for sacraments, for funerals, for documents, for a hospital visitation at the hospital, etc. etc. is not a commitment either to God or to the Church. It is, however, hypocrisy!
Think of your body and how all the members of the body function together and in harmony with one another. However, if one of the members of your body does not work well or not at all, then, you realize that something is dreadfully wrong and you run to the doctors for help. It is he, the doctor, that will diagnose your physical problem and give you instructions on what needs to be done to make it useful again. Every Orthodox Christian is made a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, upon his/her Baptism and Chrismation. It is from that moment that the Orthodox Christian must become a living member of the Church. In other words, you the Orthodox Christian must be actively involved with the divine mission of the Church and be a contributing member of the Church.
It is not proper that any Orthodox Christian feel that he/she have rights and privileges in the Church without any commitment, without any concern for her, without a sacramental life, without any involvement, without contribution i.e., time, talent and treasure (Stewardship), without any relationship with Christ, without any love and without any personal faith. I don't believe that anyone would want to be labeled as an impostor and a parasite. A selfish person who simply uses and exploits the kindness and charity of the church for his/her own benefit.
Instead, let us be co-servants of Christ and serve Him with unconditional love and commitment. Let us do everything for Christ's sake and for His glory and not ours. Let us not have any personal hidden agendas that create always unrest, confusion and turmoil with the parish. Remember we are accountable to our Creator for everything that we think, feel and act. Nothing goes unnoticed by Him for we stand as naked before Him. Everything that He set out to do to save mankind was accomplished by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, accept one thing, the Second Coming and Final Judgment of every human being at which time He will be the One Who will determine if one will enter His Kingdom or be damned for all eternity. His judgment is perfectly just and it will be based on what He reveals in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 25:31-45.
Every Orthodox Christian must take his/her salvation very seriously and not take it for granted that he/she will automatically and without any effort or work end up in heaven. The genuine Christian believer must work out his/her own salvation. We inherit culture, heritage, wealth, certain talents but not salvation. Salvation takes synergy between God and us for that to happen. It takes obedience, love, commitment, work, faith, sacrifice, humility, purity of soul and body, and most important repentance.
Welcome back to all of you and thanks be to God for bringing you home safely and in good health.
With love in Christ,