Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What does it mean to be a Church?

I have many times in this blog suggested a goal for revitalizing the Church in our lives as Orthodox Christians. I realized, having said that, many not know what I mean by Church, so I have decided to dedicate the February Newsletter to the theme of “Church” and what it means for us practically speaking. How does it affect our daily lives? And quite frankly, why should we care?

It is no secret the Church has changed over the past several decades. We “see” and “feel” the difference on a weekly basis, so I will begin with the obvious fact. WE ARE NOT THE SAME COMMUNITY we were fifty years ago, and I don’t just mean the actual people. The Church is the Body of Christ, made up of individual people, like you and me, jointly working out our salvation. As a community, we gather for prayer and worship as we, together as a united body, struggle to live in communion with Jesus Christ. So it is no surprise that we are different today than we were fifty years ago. We have different struggles that keep us from our Lord.

Fifty years ago, many Orthodox families were focused on establishing themselves in a new world. The Church was a safe place to gather as Orthodox people, considered exotic by most and even strange by others. The Church was a place we could be comfortable being Orthodox – fasting, having Holy Icons in our homes, celebrating weddings, baptisms and funerals, and coming to Church for the Divine Liturgy. We celebrated birthdays, wedding anniversaries and namedays AS A COMMUNITY. We depended upon our Church for our spiritual AND our social life.

Today, our families have long since been established. Even new families have been welcomed as “our  extended families” by the American culture. Today, as many non-Orthodox friends can be found at birthdays and anniversaries as Church members. Today, our families are no longer considered strange and exotic, but respected members of society. We now have a new struggle. We live in a society in which Orthodox Christianity has less in common than ever before. Fifty years ago we lived in a society that was at its core, Christian. Today, we live in a society that encourages same-sex marriage, while arguing that the traditional understanding of gender (males and females) is no longer relevant. The Christian morality is tolerated by most, but persecuted by some. But we still need the Church.

The Church continues to be a place we can feel safe being Orthodox, but TODAY we must teach our children that our society considers our morality wrong. The Church continues to be a place where we struggle to overcome our sinfulness and grow closer to Jesus Christ, but TODAY we must teach our children that our society considers our idea of sin “outdated.” The Church continues to be a place where help each other find Jesus Christ, but TODAY we must teach our children that our society places individual happiness above communal interconnectedness.

I suppose as many things have changed in our Church, one thing has remained the same. We are still considered strange, but now for different reasons. Through all these decades, the Church has never abandoned us. It has remained here for us to gather as Orthodox Christians so that we could safely, and according to our own Sacred Traditions, follow Christ. What does it mean to be a Church? Being a Church means we are dedicated to living in communion with God, and helping each other struggle to overcome the temptations and distractions of daily life, so we can find Jesus Christ. And that will never change.

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