Building Communities of Faith and Love:
Orthodox Parishes in Worship and Ministry
By His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios
Orthodox Parishes in Worship and Ministry
To build and sustain communities of faith and love we must focus all of our attention, efforts, and abilities on doing what God has called us to do: to gather together as believers, offering Him honor and thanksgiving through our worship, and to serve the needs of one another and others in the love and name of Christ. A community of faith and love is a parish of Orthodox Christians that knows and understands the priority of both worship and ministry.
Communities of Faith and Love in Worship
The priority of worship for the people of
God is very clear within the
pages of Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. In fact we can say from Scripture and Tradition that worship is the most important aspect of our lives as Christians. It is our response to the Triune God, to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. We worship God as the Creator of heaven and earth, who made and sustains all things that exist, who created each and every one of us in His image and breathed into us the breath of life. We offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who redeems us from the corruption of sin and death, who gives us new life and salvation, whose grace works within us bearing the fruit of holiness and affirming that we are His beloved children.
Our response to God, His holiness, His grace and presence, is why we gather regularly to offer Him honor, adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. Through the divine services of the Church we are affirming that He is in our midst, and we are in turn offering a witness to the world of His holy will and salvation that is offered to all. By our worship, our faith in God and our love for each other is enhanced and strengthened as we commune together with the One who offers Himself in love and calls us to respond in faith. Our worship is a response of faith. As we affirm and experience the saving presence of Jesus Christ, we believe in Who He is and what He has done for us. By His presence we are made aware of our sin, and we realize our need for forgiveness. Through our worship we acknowledge that His promises are true, and in faith we offer prayer and petitions seeking salvation and His divine guidance and assistance.
Our worship is also characterized by love. It is our response to the love God has shown to us. When we worship we gather in the presence of the One who loves us and knows our needs. We commune with the Savior who has shared in our human condition and knows our weaknesses and struggles. We have in our midst Him who offers to us life and abundant blessings and who desires to have our fellowship for all eternity. As it is prayed in the Liturgy, we are responding to a God who loves us so much that He "did not cease doing everything until He led us to heaven and granted us His kingdom to come."
In our worship, therefore, we are truly being and building a community of faith and love. As the Apostle Paul states, we are "receiving Christ Jesus the Lord, being rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith "abounding in thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:6-7). Through our experience and faith in the love of God, we are bound together in perfect harmony, united as brothers and sisters in Christ, and through our unity offering a witness of the power of God's grace to forgive, heal, transform, and save.
In worship, the communal bonds of faith and love give us strength and joy. We know that others share in our faith and that they have a genuine and sacrificial love for us. In turn, each one of us builds the community through the faith and love that we offer through our lives. Through our commitment to a life of worship, our fellow parishioners see our faith in God and our love for them, and others who are not in the community of believers know that the will of God and our worship of Him are the primary concerns of our lives.
Communities of Faith and Love in Ministry
In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we see very clearly that worship and ministry were inherent to the identity and faith of the early Christians. Following the example of Christ and the leadership of the Apostles, the believers gathered for worship, teaching, and fellowship, and they also "sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need" (Acts 2:45).
This sacrificial service that was offered as ministry to anyone in need became and still remains and essential attribute of the Church. From the apostolic letters of the early Church down through the centuries we have examples of and exhortations to ministry. But even more importantly, our sacred task of addressing the needs of others is rooted in our relationship with God, a relationship of faith and love.
We respond to anyone in need of the basic necessities of life, in need of hope and salvation, in need of peace and assurance, because our faith affirms and annunciates the blessed truth and promises of God. In the midst of the turmoil and chaos that often confronts our lives, we have a faith that is solid and eternal. It is a faith that fulfills our needs and leads us to offer a ministry of faith to others so that by our offering of service in the name of Christ they might be free from physical, relational, and emotional burdens, and ultimately the burdens of sin, death, and alienation from God.
It is in the joy of this freedom from the bondage of sin and death that we are also called to minister in love. In the Epistle to the Galatians Saint Paul states, "For you brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13). It is the love of God that restores our communion with Him, and it is this same love that leads us to recognized the dignity of others created in His likeness and image, to have compassion for their needs, and to use our abilities, time, and possessions to offer genuine ministry.
Thus, ministry is a very important part of
our daily lives, and especially
our presence in a world of need as communities of faith and love. Through ministry we build up the Body of Christ, the Church, as we offer to one another as each has need. To our brothers and sisters in Christ we offer sincere friendship and compassionate fellowship in the bonds of faith and love. We labor to strengthen and enhance the spiritual lives of others so that we are all growing in closer communion to one another and to God. Further, we join with our brothers and sisters in Christ and offer ministry to others. As communities of faith and love we are called to serve the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick and the suffering, the prisoner, the depressed, the grief-stricken, the outcast and rejected. Simply stated, we are called to serve when and where there is a need.
Our theme for the 37th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress, Building Communities of Faith and Love: Orthodox Parishes in Worship and Ministry, gives us the unique opportunity as an Archdiocese to focus collectively on the very identity and work of our parishes. In our contemporary world, this understanding of our sacred mission is so critical. Our parishes are called to be communities of faith and love so that all may know and experience the power of the Gospel. We are called to build communities of faith and love so that more and more people and future generations may share in the quality of faith and depth of love that is characteristic of those committed to God and His will. To do this we must evaluate and enhance the work of each and every parish of the Archdiocese. We must continue faithfully in worship and ministry, acknowledging and teaching the relevancy and significance of our services, guiding the faithful in prayer, seeking new avenues of service to those in need, expanding our outreach so that others may experience our God-given love and the riches and transformative power of our Orthodox faith. For in building communities of faith and love the blessings and joy will be tremendous, our lives will be fulfilled, and we will be establishing and nurturing relationships in Christ that we will share for all eternity.
To quote the Apostle Paul in his second Epistle to the Thessalonians, "To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." May our Lord "whose steadfast love endures forever and His faithfulness to all generations" (Psalm 100) guide us in our gathering as the 37th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.