In the period from the Resurrection to Pentecost, the Sunday Epistle readings tell us of a community of believers who were so totally devoted to God that their life together was charged by the power of the Holy Spirit. They prayed and served together in true Christian fellowship, loving each other and sharing their lives with one another. Those with more shared with those who had less, and people related in ways that blurred the lines of gender, race and culture. Unbelievers coming into contact with this community of believers saw a vision of life that was so dynamic that they couldn’t resist it. We read in Acts 2:47 that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” This is the Church that we as Orthodox claim to be.
In his recent book, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania writes of a sermon delivered by Gregory the Theologian on the Sunday of Thomas in the year 383 in which the call for a “radical renewal” of all things through the Resurrection of Christ is linked to the obligation of every Christian to strive for personal renewal. As Orthodox Christians we are called to creative renewal and continued spiritual growth. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Through the Orthodox practice of infant baptism, three sacraments are administered – Baptism, Chrismation and Communion – and the child becomes a full member of the Church. But people often ask why we baptize babies before they could possibly know what is happening. Our answer is that we don’t baptize babies because they believe. We baptize babies so that they will believe. God takes the first step as a sign of His love. But there is nothing automatic about being a Christian. There is nothing magic in the sacraments. Salvation is a lifelong journey that begins at our baptism. It is not just belonging to the Orthodox Church that saves us; it is our personal acceptance of the Spirit of Christ. We have to make the decision for ourselves to place Christ at the center of our lives. In the Book of Revelation, Chapter 3, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.” God is all-powerful, and yet He places a limit on that power in that He will not enter our lives unless we let him. He will wait outside the door and knock until the day we die.
An Orthodox priest making his weekly visit to the local hospital was visiting all those patients who had identified themselves as Orthodox Christians. The priest quietly entered a hospital room with his prayer book and hospital kit in hand and found the patient in his bed surrounded by family members. One young family member looked up, and seeing the priest he said, “Oh Father, we don’t need you yet.”
How many of us say to God, “Oh Father, we don’t need you yet.” C.S. Lewis wrote that people think of God the way an airman thinks of his parachute – he knows it’s there, but he hopes he’ll never need to use it.
Yet think of the power we need to face the problems and temptations of modern life. Think of the inner strength we need to cope with the pressures of everyday living. When we don’t have sufficient power, we blow fuses -- and we break down. But we do have an unlimited source of power; it was given to us in the sacrament of Chrismation. Just as the Holy Spirit descended on the Disciples at Pentecost, so did the Holy Spirit descend on each of us at our Chrismation -- our own personal Pentecost. The power of the Holy Spirit dwells within us, but we have to connect ourselves to that power.
This year the Archdiocesan Department of Outreach & Evangelism has introduced a new monthly program in every parish throughout the Archdiocese with the objective of revitalizing the faith of active Orthodox and offering ideas and methods for developing and maintaining a spiritually vibrant local parish. Each month a packet of ministry tools arrives in the parishes, relating the feasts and fasts of our calendar to the theme for 2004 of Renewing our Faith and our Parish: Making it Real. In April, the month of our Lord’s Resurrection, the focus will be All Things New in the Resurrection.
As Orthodox Christians we were not created to stay as we are. We were created to become. Our challenge as Orthodox faithful is to hear the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ anew, allowing Him to transform our lives -- to be renewed in His Resurrection. As St. John Chrysostom exhorts us in his Paschal homily, “Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.”
Fr. Jim Kordaris is the Director of the Archdiocesan Department of Parish Renewal, Outreach & Evangelism.