Offering Our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America (part 1)
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios
Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
As we begin this new year we do so in anticipation of the unique opportunities for worship and ministry that will be presented to us in our homes, parishes, and communities. For the passing of one year and the inception of another leads us to remember the events, experiences, struggles and accomplishments of the past, but also to ponder, plan, and hope in what the new year might bring.
One event that we are looking towards as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is the Biennial Meeting of the Clergy/Laity Congress to be held in Los Angeles June 30 – July 5. Certainly, we eagerly await this event as a time of sincere discussion and edifying fellowship; but it is also important to affirm that this is a time when we gather in the name of Christ to strengthen our witness of faith and love, to facilitate the work of our parishes, our Dioceses, and our Holy Archdiocese, and to receive and share a vision for mission and ministry in a time and place where the needs and challenges are immense.
This awareness of the condition of our contemporary world, of our divine calling, and of our God-given resources for service, has guided our selection of the theme for this year's Congress -- Offering Our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America. In prayerful contemplation of the tremendous tasks and opportunities that are before us, this theme was chosen not simply as a necessary slogan, but as a true reflection of the life we are called to live as Orthodox Christians—a state of being, of heart, mind, and action. Thus, this phrase becomes much more than a theme. It is an orientation, a guide for our gathering and for the planning and implementation of all facets of the work of the Church.
As we prepare for the Congress in our parishes, departments, organizations, and institutions, it is crucial that we examine this theme carefully and apply it in every possible way to our meetings, programs, and presentations.
The verse from Holy Scripture that accompanies and defines our theme is John 20:21: "Jesus said to them, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.'" This passage of commissioning implies an offering, one that is made by God to us and through us. God the Father sent to us Christ the Son; He offered Him to us so that we might have abundant life, enduring peace, and eternal salvation. As we respond to this divine offering, Jesus himself transfers this unique act of the Triune God and sends us to offer the message of the Gospel to the world.
To be sent by Christ into the world with this saving message means that we have offered ourselves to God in the service of His kingdom. Through faith we have believed in the message of salvation, we have received the Holy Spirit, and we have committed to a daily and life-long transformation and communion in the power and presence of the Lord. As Christians we are turning from sin and evil with a willingness to do the will and work of Christ with our time, gifts, abilities, and resources.
Therefore, the offering of the Son by the Father and the offering of ourselves to God in response to His redemptive gift leads us to offer to others the unfailing love, the abundant life, and the unwavering truth that has been granted to us from above. These things for which the human heart yearns and searches—love, life, and truth—are the essence, the epitome of our faith.
II. Offering Our Orthodox Faith
Our offering of the Gospel to our society and to our world is both personal and communal. As a person, each one of us is receiving life and salvation through our faith in God. As a community, the Body of Christ, the Church, we are led in the path of salvation through the worship, teaching, and manner of life that has been offered through the centuries. This constitutes Our Orthodox Faith.
Within our personal life, our Orthodox faith is a dynamic, transforming reality which directs our thoughts, words, and actions and guides our relationships, aspirations, and decisions in God's divine will. Through prayer and spiritual discipline we seek to know and apply His will by surrendering our needs to His unlimited providence, by facing our struggles with His invincible power, by growing in knowledge in His infinite wisdom, and by experiencing true joy in His unfailing presence. In this manner, our faith not only leads us to the abundant life promised by Christ, but through us it offers peace, strength, and assurance in a world of uncertainty.
Our personal relationship with God and the salvific renewal that comes through His divine presence is consecrated and nurtured within the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church is where we are directed in the way of salvation, where we are guided in the true worship of God, and where we are given the knowledge and means for spiritual growth. Through the Holy Sacraments we are received into and sustained in the community of believers. Through the order of worship, through our services, hymns, Holy Scripture, preaching and teaching, iconography, and architecture we are lead to the true understanding of God and His revelation. Through the lives and writings of Saints we are offered divine truth in deed and word. Through sacred history we are shown the power of faith in the midst of suffering and persecution.
All of this is given to us within the context of our communion and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Orthodox Christians we are given a tremendous treasure of faith that not only leads us to salvation, but it also compels us to offer it to others. Yes, when we wholeheartedly embrace the Orthodox faith, we make it Our Orthodox Faith; and when we commit to a life in Christ and in His Church, we are sent by Him to minister and to love. We are sent to offer compassionate service and a testimony of faith to the world, and more specifically, to the people of America.
III. Offering Our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America
The tragic events of September 11th provoked deep reflection by many Americans as we coped with the loss of life, the threat to our national security and our personal and familial well-being, and the uncertainty of the future. All of these are the unavoidable conditions of life; however, their unprecedented concentration in one day led many to consider the status of their relationships with God and with their fellow human beings. This level of contemplation often uncovers longings, needs, and questions that manifest a person's search for purpose and truth, for understanding and direction that will provide assurance and hope throughout life, not only in the midst of tragedy.
What is able to satisfy these longings in a true and enduring way? How can these needs be addressed in a manner that cares for the salvation of the soul as well as a person's physical well-being? Where are the answers to the questions that are posed by those who are seeking a true and enduring manner of life and being? These questions become even more pressing when we examine the social, cultural, and intellectual challenges of contemporary America. What adequately addresses the devaluation of marriage and the disintegration of familial bonds? What guides people to live in moderation and to make wise choices in the most technologically advanced society in the history of the world? What engenders a benevolent awareness that seeks to use wealth and resources to meet the needs of others? What provides substance in responding to acute bio-ethical and environmental issues? What offers a sure foundation that upholds the potential of the heart and mind, that fosters acceptance of others and concern for their lives, and that leads people beyond themselves to true communion with God and one another?
As Orthodox Christians we know that our faith in God and our presence and labors in this world as the Church are what is needed to address adequately the challenges of contemporary life and to bring healing, meaning, and direction to the lives of those around us. In the midst of a world of challenge, our task is to equip ourselves properly so that we are able to minister faithfully in truth and love. If we are to offer our Orthodox faith to others, we must not only grow in the knowledge and experience of the faith, but we must also commit ourselves to planning, implementing, and enhancing both our witness of Orthodoxy and the types of programs and ministries that lead our parishes in genuine service. In our willingness to be sent by our Lord Jesus Christ as He was sent by God the Father, in our deep commitment to sharing the Gospel with others, and in our affirmation that we have a sacred mission to bear witness to the truth, we will be Offering Our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America.