1. fulfills their stewardship obligation
2. adheres to and lives their life in accordance of the faith of the Orthodox Church
3. faithfully attends Divine Services
4. partakes regularly in the mysteries of the church to include confession and communion
5. is obedient in matters of faith
6. is an effective witness and example of the Orthodox Faith and traditions to all people.
This is what makes us a good parishioner. Do we do all of these all the time, no, but we strive to hit them all. That is what it is all about striving to hit. Our Christian life is a journey, a marathon, not a sprint.
Last week I spoke about the communal nature of the Orthodox Church and about the Liturgy and the Eucharist to be more specific. In the elements of bread and wine we have the actual body and blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This is no mere symbol this is the actual, real presence of Jesus in the chalice.
The Liturgy does not belong to the priest, but to the people. The sacrifice is not mine but ours. I stand at the altar on your behalf and make this sacrifice to God on behalf of all of us here and the world. All of the prayers of the Liturgy, except one, is prayed on behalf of the people and not just the priest and should be read along with the priest during the Liturgy.
Our very life as an Orthodox Christian is Liturgical. We begin our day with prayer and we end our day with prayer. In the monastic tradition, morning, mid day, evening, and night prayers are said daily for the entire church. The monks main job if you will is to pray. Ora et Labora St. Benedict wrote to his monks, work and prayer. The very word liturgy means work of the people. Our entire spiritual life is liturgical.
Another aspect of our Christian life is a life of peace. We are called to be at peace, peace with each other and peace with ourselves. Last week I mentioned to Scripture passage where a person is told that if you bring your sacrifice to the altar and you have a grudge against your brother, leave your sacrifice and go make amends with your bother, then return to the temple and make a worthy sacrifice.
In the Divine Liturgy, more than 30 times, the word peace is used. We begin every liturgy with “In Peace Let us Pray to the Lord.” This is the peace that exists among Christians. We cannot be an effective witness to the world as church if we are against each other. I am not saying we always have to agree, but we must be at peace with one another. We can disagree on an issue and when it is settled we move on, if we cannot do that then I would suggest we need to look deeply at ourselves to find the reason why.
In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom that we serve most Sundays and fest days of the church year, just before we read the creed, is the time for the holy kiss. This practice has fallen out of use in our church and is now just exchanged between the clergy. What a shame this is. This is the time in the Liturgy when we greet one another, we embrace, and say a greeting. Not just with the people next to you, but to everyone in church. This is the problem with the pews that we have introduced into our Orthodox Liturgy. Pews are foreign to the worship of the Orthodox Christian. The Divine Liturgy has movement, not only of the priest but of the people. We venerate the Icons, we come up to the solea during the reading of the Gospel. We bow and make matanyas often during our services, but we have restricted our movements by corralling us into these pews.
At another point in the Liturgy we say, “Let us love one another, that with mind we may confess.” Followed by, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity One in Essence and Undivided.” We cannot confess the love of the Triune God if we do not have love for one another. We are an ineffective witness to the word, if we, as Orthodox Christians, do not love one another.The Trinity is the greatest example of this love that we have. The Trinity is one in essence yet three persons and yet undivided. We, as Church, need to be of one mind and love one another so we will be able to confess the Trinity. We need to have the same concept of unity that the early church had. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that they held all things in common. Imagine, all of us assembled here today, holding all things in common. No one had more than he needed and if he did, it was give to another in the community how needed it. The very essence of the word community is unity. If we do not have this, then we are just a group of people who gather on Sunday and then go home. We are called to be far more than that.Our entire Liturgical Life is based on us praying for someone other than ourselves. We do not each bring a sacrifice to the altar, we bring one sacrifice to the altar. The Jews of old would bring an individual sacrifice to the altar in the temple, a pigeon, lamb, bird, cow, goat something depending on what they wished to pray for. We do not come as individuals, we come in unity to the altar and pray for one another. We do not sit alone, as I said last week, and pray for what we want and what we need, Liturgy is not a time for private prayer and devotion, it is communal and all of us need to pray for each other, at all times, but especially during the Divine Liturgy. The English version of the Divine Liturgy has over 9,000 words, not one of them is the pronoun “I” The words, we, us, ourselves, all of us, are used because the Liturgy is not personal but communal.
In a few moments we will gather in general assembly, a meeting, of the church. The reason these meetings are held in the church is because in our Orthodox Theology a meeting such as this is no less of a Liturgical gathering then Vespers or the Divine Liturgy itself. When we gather we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide what we say and what we do. When we speak we should do so with the words of Psalm 19 on our minds, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Each time we gather as church we are an example to the rest of the world on how to live their lives. We are the example that the world needs, the guide post, the candle in the wind, whatever phrase you wish to use.
Mahatma Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see. If we wish the world to a more peaceful place then we need to be more peaceful, treat one another with love and great one another with a holy kiss, not a scowl. Our face is a window to our soul and tells the health of our spiritual life. If we walk around with a permanent frown, then we need to look deep inside our own spiritual life to find the answer.
Growing up, one of my favorite church songs was peace on earth. It is sappy and wishful thinking but if very appropriate for us today.
Let there be peace one earth and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth the peace that was meant to be. With God as our father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony. Let peace begin with me let this be the moment now, with every step I take let this be solemn vow. To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally! Let there be peace on earth and let it being with me!