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The Parish as a Life Focus for All Parishioners

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By Reverend Father James G. Moskovites, of blessed memory

One can only visualize the scene of that first Sunday of Pentecost.  A small unknown group of individuals, Disciples of one Jesus Christ, had just spoken to the Jewish Diaspora who had gathered in Jerusalem for this major Feast.  Speaking through the Holy Spirit, one of these Disciples stood out among the rest, but like the others, was miraculously understood in all languages.  The people were cut to the heart with the extraordinary message of salvation through Christ, and asked what they should do.  The Apostle Peter, the main speaker, gave a quick response:  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39).  Here, again, one can visualize the three thousand souls that were lined up probably outside of Jerusalem awaiting baptism in the Name of their newly found Lord and Savior.  In verse 47 we read, “And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved.”  Thus, we see here that the Church became the vehicle through which salvation in Christ has been brought into the world.  A note of interest here is that the very word, “church” is mentioned a couple of dozen times in the New Testament whereas the word “Christian(s)” is mentioned only three times.

Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, and also the Epistles, one can see two very important characteristics of the Holy Church: the first is that she is universal, she is for the world and found throughout the world as she is meant to be, and secondly, she is also local, as in a parish setting.  The local is part of the universal, and though the universal is completely understood throughout the Acts, and the Epistles, it is actually the local that appears to be stressed in these two components of the New Testament, for it is within the local environment that the Church in her universality does her work and establishes her growth.  We are instructed by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to, “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  Throughout her 2000-year history, the Church has done precisely this.  She has gone into the far corners of the earth through her missionaries, always establishing a local mission through which her work was to be carried out.  Indeed, the work can only be carried out within a local setting.

Here in America, however, there appears to be a misunderstanding in the relationship between the local parish and the Universal Church, whereas in fact all are indivisible; each, indeed, cannot exist without the other.  We are united not only in logical and practical terms but through our very baptism and the Eucharist as well, the Church being a Eucharistic unity, all mysteria (sacraments) emanating from the Eucharist itself.  Here our relationship is completely unified and so is our work, the work of Christ.

It appears quite evident that we as the Church here in America have not yet come to grips with our full mission. Currently, it appears that the Church at the parish level attempts to do its work through a more secular business model approach than one that is based upon proper Church administration centered upon ministries.  First, we are rather preoccupied with budget balancing, which at first sight is quite understandable for any parish community that has difficulties in raising funds in order to keep its doors open, but here we do so at the expense of mission, and as our Lord admonishes in Matt. 6:33, "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."  Again, in our attempts to balance the annual budget, we utilize business models.  For instance, we run activities, dances, sell raffle tickets, run other games of chance, and have sporting events, such as basketball, and our people will take part in all of them.  Yet, little thought is given to ministry, to prayer, to preparation to receive the Eucharist, to fellowship programs, outreach and evangelism, bible study or to any other ministry that would enhance our spiritual living, give growth to the church and, finally, would tremendously augment the financial base of each and every parish.

Throughout her 2000-year history, the Church has always been highly successful in regards to her mission through ministries.  The early Church of the ancient world, at a time when traveling and communication could not be any slower, managed to conquer the hearts of many nations, indeed of the whole Roman world within a couple of centuries and in the process established her own empire upon earth that lasted for a thousand years!  Through the loving stewardship of untold numbers of benefactors, Byzantium established ministries of service and spread the Gospel everywhere, Greek missionaries of renown entering not only the Slavic nations of central Europe but of Russia herself bringing half a continent immediately into the Christian fold.  In the late 20th century, as Communism fell, we saw nation after nation return to her Christian heritage, from Russia to Eastern Europe to the Balkan nations.  With the same Orthodox Christian ethos and commitment found in past centuries there is really nothing that can stop the Holy Orthodox Church here in America from spreading the Good News, the Holy Gospel of Christ, and growing immensely as the Church, provided we focus our hearts, minds, and will toward our true mission.  But it must begin at the local parish level, for it will not, indeed, cannot happen at any other level.  It is at the local parish that the spiritual fight must be fought.  The spiritual battle will be hard, make no mistake, but the spiritual war can be won, and will be won once we restore a proper spiritual understanding of, again, our true mission here in America.

In order for the parish to be the Life Focus for all of its parishioners, it first must define itself "in terms of divine-human communion.[1]" It is in the Holy Eucharist that we experience the "immanent life of the Trinitarian God.[2]" It is most unfortunate that we look to all other aspects of society as providing the “life force” but have minimized the true reality of Life. We need collectively to re-shape our thinking to prayer, both - individual and corporate. In essence, have we skewed our view of “life force” into the business or secular model and worse still even trivialized the Divine Model? Is the real Life Force of the Eucharistic community taking a back step to the business and secular model or even worse being overcome by indifference and/or a lack of belief in the Eucharist as the source of Life? These are the fundamental questions that need to be addressed before we see the Parish as a Life Focus for all its Parishioners.

Fr. James Moskovites was the priest of Annunciation Church in New York City. Fr. James served the Archdiocese in different capacities, including as a member of the Spiritual Court and the Archdiocesan Council.

[1] Aristotle Papanikolaou, Being with God, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006, Page 44

[2] ibid. page 3