Use the Spiritual Gifts

Each year in my parish we hold what is called the General Assembly an annual meeting if you will.  Our Orthodox Church is hierarchical with the Archbishop as it’s head and a priest delegated to represent him in the local parish.  This priest, as head of the local church, serves with an elected parish council, to lead the church together.  It is not the priest leading and the people obeying, nor is the priest an employee as has been the thought in the past.

Today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks about unity and diversity in the Church and the use of our Spiritual Gifts.  While the Church, like the Trinity, is one in essence it has a diversity in gifts and function.  Each member of the church (and I do not define a member as one would define a member of a secular organization) is unique before God with gifts and roles that have been granted by Him.  The priest has a role and the laity have roles.

BRETHREN, grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (in saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-13)
In verse 11 St. Paul lists the gifts granted to those who lead the church; Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  We all share these gifts, clergy and laity, but they are in some sense limited to those who lead the church.  At our Christmation the Holy Spirit extends gifts to each of us.  The gifts that St. Paul  lists here in verse 11 are “ministry gifts” and so they are reserved for those who are in ministry.
Recently I received an email from a parishioner asking about an email that she received.  It was obviously one of the scam emails that goes around from time to time. (I say this because of the spelling and such)  In the email the woman was asking this parishioner to be her spiritual director.  In the Orthodox Church we do not use the term Spiritual Director (see my article on Spiritual Fatherhood in the Orthodox Church) we use the term Spiritual Father and this is a ministry granted by the bishop.  This would be a “ministry gift” as St. Paul lays out in verse 11.
Why is there diversity?  Quite simply it is for unity.  In verse 13 St. Paul writes, “till we call come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…”  unity, being of one mind.  Our diversity brings us to the unity of faith because together we all function as one body.  Verse 14, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind and doctrine.”  As Orthodox we are united in faith under the person of the bishop.  The bishop is one that gives the church her authenticity, of there is no bishop there is no church!  On the altar of each Orthodox Church is the Antimension, the small cloth given to the church by the bishop that binds us to the bishop, and we use to consecrate the body and blood of Christ, Communion, on each time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy.  If the bishop removes this cloth, Divine Liturgy, the unifying service of the Church, cannot be held.
Verse 15, “but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ”  Christ is the head of the Church and if we forget that, the wheels come off the wagon rather quickly.  The bishop and through extension the priest, is the head of the Church here on earth.  When the bishop or priest is acting in their role as leader of the community he is in fact in persona Christi, in the person of Christ!  Christ is the head of the body and we are the parts that make it all work here on earth.
The Church is far more than an organization.  In reality the church has to exist in the structure of the Government where it exists.  We here at St. Michael’s exist in the not for profit structure and as such we have to satisfy certain legal responsibilities, hence the General Assembly.  But the church is far more than an organization it is an organism whose members are the parts of the body that receives edifying power from Christ to grow their lives and service for Christ.
St. Paul taught that there is no such thing as an isolated Christian.  The hand cannot operate without the wrist and wrist cannot operate without the arm, etc.  We are all working together to reach the perfection of faith in Christ and full knowledge of the Son of God.  A Christian survives through the unity of Community and what binds us together is the Communion of and with the Son of God as Christ commanded us.
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