“Be” the Church; Part 2: The Parishioner

“Serving in a parish deep in the heartland of American Protestantism, where Orthodoxy is a very meagre & rare presence, I often tell my parishioners that our first task as a parish is to actually “be” an Orthodox Church–so that, when someone comes looking for the Orthodox Church, they’ll actually be able to find it. To “be” the Church is the whole of our salvation.” Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God For All Things, http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/

Each & every parish member needs to remember that we are mystically united to the Body of Christ, just as we are the Holy Trinity, at all times, even when outside of the church building, even at home or work or school, & even when not in the physical presence of another member of the parish. It is easy to let the minutia of life overwhelm what is important & to lose sight of the pearl of great price. If we can remember this, then perhaps we can deal with the trials, tribulations & sufferings (experienced by ourselves as well as what we witness by others) that result from our living in “…a non-Orthodox world, Western in its religious traditions, secularistic in its culture, & pluralistic in its ‘world view.’”

The world’s religiosity means that the world metaphysically, philosophically & conceptually figured God out long ago; so presenting your Orthodox Faith is not generally welcomed. The world’s secularity means that man is considered supreme & belief in God is considered superstitious nonsense that must be minimalized & marginalized, & preferably extinguished out of existence if at all possible; so must your Orthodox Faith. The world’s pluralism means that if you just have to believe in God, well then okay. But please admit that all religions are the same since to believe or say otherwise is the epitomy of intolerance, as is your Orthodox Faith. This tight knit integration of religiosity, secularity & plurality creates a strong wall of resistance to change by the world even as the world demands that the Church change to its baseless & mindless mindset. And if the Church, & by extension the Christian, will not change its mindset, then it should at the very least restrict itself to a small unassuming corner of the world & assume a role of silence when confronted by the world.

Despite the frivolity, pressures & mindset of the world, the world is comprised of people. People who are searching & seeking for something better; people who are experiencing many of the same trials, tribulations, sufferings & challenges that we Christians face, people that are hurting. These are the people that we Christians interact with & are reflect the love of Christ God to daily. Fr. Schmemann calls for the laity to realize & manifest this “apostolic vocation” when he writes,

“The gift of apostleship is bestowed upon each member of the Church on the day of his Baptism & Chrismation. If we call our Church “apostolic” it is because She is…”sent by God”…She is sent in Her totality, & this means in all Her members, into the world to preach the Gospel of Christ, to manifest His presence, to fulfill the salvation which He accomplished. In this sense, we all are apostolic & apostles. We all carry the responsibility for the apostolicity of the Church. Today we need more than ever to be reminded of this apostolic nature & function of the Church, & of the apostolic vocation of each of us as members of the Church. Truly it is the time for an apostolic renewal. And in this renewal, the place & the role of the laity is unique. If the first duty of the clergy is to serve the Church, the first & essential duty of the laity is to bring into the world—& this means into its culture, daily life, professions, family, etc.—the Christian witness, the image of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Before we can reflect the better way of God’s love & the Church in a truly apostolic fashion though, we need to ensure that our own spiritual house is in order. We need to focus & adopt the ascetic practices through fasting, prayer, spiritual reading, charity, & good works; realize & deepen our communion with God as well as with our fellow members in the Body of Christ through regular participation in sacramental life & mysteries of the Church, especially through the reception of the Body & Blood of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist; thereby developing true wisdom & understanding of the Orthodox Faith. We should all through the love & grace of the Holy Spirit realize that we are chosen apostles of the Church of Christ as were Sts. Peter & Paul & become wise confessors of the Faith of Christ as was St. Maximus. This is how I see that we as individual parish members can “be” the Church.

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