Building Communities of Faith and Love:
Orthodox Parishes in Worship and Ministry
By His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios
Communities of Faith
In Christ we have found the way to salvation. With Him as our guide, we journey through this life seeking to follow His will for our lives. However, we do not travel alone. In Christ we are joined together with others whose lives are being transformed through faith and love. Saint Paul affirmed that "in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith" (Galatians 3:26). It is faith that has brought us together, uniting us as family--as brothers and sisters in the Lord--abolishing anything that separates us from God or one another.
Faith, then, is relational. It leads us to God, and it brings us together. In the parish this unity is affirmed as we gather to express our faith in worship and sacrament. With Christ in our midst and in our hearts, we cannot look upon those around us as strangers or enemies, but we must see them as brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing in one faith that will lead us all together into life and communion with God.
Our faith also leads us through the challenges and difficulties of this life. Since the days of the early Church it has been faith that has helped many Christians to endure persecution, suffering, and even death. Numerous examples offered to us in Scripture and through the lives of Saints show us the power of faith in the face of hardship. Faith provided strength to endure, and it engendered hope that the promises of God would be fulfilled.
This is why it is so critical that the worship and ministry of our parishes directs lives to the source and perfectrr of our faith, Jesus Christ. Through our witness as communities of faith, we show others in our world the power of faith to save, heal, renew, and bring people together in Christ. By faith, we endure as persons, families, and parishes, knowing that no matter what may happen in this world, God's promises are true and will be fulfilled.
Communities of Love
It is clear that faith is essential to the identity and existence of the parish. We must also understand that faith is inseparably linked to love. Where there is faith, there is love, because faith is our response to the love that God has shown to us.
In his first Epistle, the great Apostle and Evangelist John writes, "So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (I John 4:16). First and foremost, this affirms that we know God because of His love for us. He created us in love, and He has provided for our salvation through His love.
Our faith, then, is a response to the love of God. We know this love through Christ, His teachings, death, and resurrection. We believe in Him as the Son of God who came into this world to offer us eternal life. And it is the grace of God through this faith that brings us salvation.
As we respond to the love of God through faith, His love is within us. As a God of love, He abides with us, and the evidence of His presence is His love. We know and experience this love through a life of personal communion with Him. But, His love is also shared through us in our relationships with others. As God loves, we love. As He lovingly created all human beings in His image and likeness, we look upon everyone with His love.
With a God of love in our midst and His love filling our hearts, we come together as His children in communities of love. In parishes that are filled with the love of God, we worship and minister in love. As communities of love we face challenges and difficulties in love. We disagree in love; we find solutions in love. We move forward with the work of God and His kingdom in love. Our conversations, our actions, our work, our activities, all that we do in our parishes is characterized by a love that is "patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
In the coming weeks and months, I ask you to contemplate prayerfully the importance of faith and love in your life and in the life and work of your parish. As Greek Orthodox Christians in America, we have much to offer to those around us--those who are in need of a faith that is grounded in truth and of a love that renews and saves. The challenge that is always before us each and every day of our lives is to grow in faith and love, and together, to build communities of faith and love. If we are doing this, assuredly our parishes will be what God established the Church to be, and our worship and ministry will draw all people unto our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
May our Lord guide our preparations for the 37th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and may we pray that our gathering together will be a blessed time of worship, fellowship, and rededication to offering faith and love to contemporary America.