Building Communities of Faith and Love:
Orthodox Parish in Worship and Ministry
We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
When the Apostle Paul was writing his second letter to the Christians of Thessalonike, his heart was filled with joy and gratitude. As indicated by the passage above, he was thankful for this community of believers that was growing abundantly in faith and increasing in love.
First and foremost, this was an Apostolic affirmation that the faithful were being transformed by the power and presence of our Lord. They had heard the Gospel message through the preaching and teaching of Paul. They had believed in Jesus Christ--His incarnation, His death, and His resurrection. They had been baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. They had committed their lives to the will of God, and now they were building a community that was characterized by the faith and love that filled their hearts.
These attributes of faith and love were visible in many of the early Christian communities, as believers became powerful witnesses of the Gospel of Christ through the gracious acceptance of others, through faithfulness in persecution unto death, and through authentic lives marked by goodness and holiness.
This was how the Gospel was shared, and this is why the Church grew. In those early parishes, and in parishes down through the centuries, generation after generation has labored with God to create communities of faith and love, where people find and experience the transforming power of faith and the saving love of God. Through worship and ministry, parishes of faith and love have offered life to those dying in sin, the peace of God to those living in turmoil, divine assurance for those struggling with fear and despair, healing for those ill in body and soul, and fellowship to those who are alone.
Today, it is critical that the parishes of the Greek Orthodox Church in America be communities of faith and love. This is our divine calling as communities of believers who are joined together as the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). Faith and love are inherent to the identity of your parish, as you gather regularly to worship, to partake of the sacraments, and to minister to one another and to those in need. All that is done in your parish must be focused on growing in faith and increasing in love. When this is happening, people of all ages will come to Christ through our worship and ministry, lives will be changed, hearts and minds will be strengthened, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13a).
Christ at the Center of the Parish
It is the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that brings us together in our parishes. It is through Him that we know and experience the immense love that God has for us (John 3:16-18, Romans 5:8-11, 1 John 4:9-11). He is the one we receive through word, sacrament, and faith, as we gather in His name. It is His victory over sin and death and His resurrection, that we proclaim as we offer hope and salvation through the worship and ministry of our parishes.
The centrality of Christ in the parish is clearly revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures through the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. Our Lord Himself affirmed that the Church would be built upon the confession that He is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16-18). The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians states, "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (3:11). Christ is the foundation of the Church. The Church exists because He established it upon who He is, upon what He has accomplished for our salvation, and upon the truth and love of God which He has revealed to us.
Thus, the fact that we belong to the Church and that we participate in it through our local parish is because of Jesus Christ. In him we have found life and salvation. Through the grace of God revealed in Him we have been received into the community of believers through baptism. It is our faith in our Lord that is revealed in our worship, in our participation in the Holy Sacraments, and in our commitment to conform our lives to His teachings and His holiness. This is summarized by Saint Paul in his letter to the Colossians where he states, "As therefore you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith…" (2:6-7).
We must be connected directly to the One who guides, strengthens, enlightens, and saves. If we are to build and to be communities of faith and love, then we must be firmly grounded in Christ, the source of faith and love. He must be the one leading and molding each parish. All of our activities, endeavors, and plans must reflect an awareness of His divine presence and must be characterized by an offering of the love and life that comes from Him.
As we prepare for our 2004 Clergy-Laity Congress, I ask each of you to reflect upon the centrality of Christ in your life and in your parish. Just as faith and love are dependent upon His presence in your life, they are dependent upon His presence in each and every parish of our Greek Orthodox Church in America. As brothers and sisters in Christ united in His Body, may we call upon our Lord to lead us in building lives and communities that will offer saving faith and transforming love.