Engaged, Disciplesship, Prayer and Great LentDuring the first week of 2018, each member of our community was challenged to come up witha “one word resolution” for the New Year. Over 225 of you responded. And of the 225, there were over 120 unique words. This was very powerful and very reflective of the diversity of our community. You’ll find in this issue of “The Messenger” a “wordle” that shows all of the words that you sent, so even though you won’t know each person’s resolution, you’ll know the words that represent the resolutions of your fellow parishioners. I encouraged (and still encourage you) to pick a one word resolution for your marriage, for your children, for your home, for your business and for your spiritual life. In our parish, I encourage each ministry to do the same, to choose a one word resolution for your ministry. The Parish Council, for example, has chosen the word “focus” and you can read all about it in a special article that is going to be part of the Messenger each month this year. The word for our entire community this year, our one word resolution is the word ENGAGED. What does “engaged” mean? Most often, we associate that word with the period of time before one gets married. It means that they are committed and invested in the idea of a life-long commitment to their fiancé. Engaged means that we are not only committed and invested in the life of the church, but in the life of Christ. In regards to the church, engaged means that not only we are here, in body, but we are committed and invested in the life of the church, in the work of the church. There are many people who are baptized Orthodox who are “inactive,” meaning they do not participate in the life of the church, save for maybe a few times a year. There are many people who are “active,” meaning that they come to church, even frequently, but that are still not “engaged” in the life of the church and in the life of faith. To be engaged is to be invested and committed, first to a life of faith, to living and embracing the joys of Christianity. To be engaged in the life of the church is to be immersed in the mission of the church. And what is the mission of the church?
To make disciples of all nations!In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells His Disciples “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching to do all that I have commanded you.” This verse is known as the “Great Commission.” In fact, this Gospel passage is read at every baptism, over the person who has just been baptized, to let them know that THIS one thing is what Jesus expects from every Christian. He has commissioned every Christian, as He commissioned His disciples, to go out and share the good news of the Kingdom of God. THIS is why we have a church—to proclaim the good news. One of the best explanations of what it means to be a “disciple” comes from the book “Divine Renovations” by Fr. James Mallon. He writes:
What do we mean by making disciples? In Church culture, we often use terms such as “disciple” or “apostle” without understanding the meaning of these words, but “disciple” is so key to our mandate form Jesus that we ought to know its meaning. The word in Greek for “disciple” is “mathetes”, which, in turn, comes from the verb “manthanein,” meaning “to learn” (think of the term “math”.) To be a disciple is to be a learner. To be a disciples of Jesus Christ is to be engaged in a lifelong process of learning from and about Jesus the master, Jesus the teacher. The English term “disciple” comes from the Latin “discipulus” and provides the connotation that this learning process is not haphazard, but intentional and disciplined. To become a disciple is to commit to such a process of growth. (Divine Renovations: Bringing Your Parish From Maintenance to Mission, by Fr. James Mallon, p. 20)Christ told His Disciples (and that includes us) to make Disciples. On Stewardship Sunday, we talked about a shoe factory. The goal of the shoe factory is to make shoes. If you have a beautiful shoe factory, with the nicest amenities, the best materials and the friendliest workers, but the factory doesn’t produce shoes, then it is a failure. Similarly, the church is supposed to make disciples. We can have the prettiest church, the nicest icons, and the friendliest people, but if the church is not making disciples, then the church is a failure. We know that on a national level, Christianity, including the Orthodox Church, is at an all-time low in terms of membership, attendance, baptisms and weddings, and at an all-time high in terms of funerals. This is because as we build large and beautiful churches, we’ve forgotten the work of discipleship that is needed to fill them. Thankfully, at St. John, our church is filled with people every Sunday—we’re at an all-time high with attendance. It’s time to take a next step—And that next step is going from active to engaged. We have lots of people who are active in terms of church attendance, but are we all “engaged” in the life of a disciple? The disciple is both student and recruiter. Most of us have a life-long desire to learn. We need this desire. Otherwise, we will not make it in life. We have to keep up with changes in technology and changes in the law, among other things. We have to continually learn in order to stay current in life. As disciples, we are supposed to be continual learners about Christ. We learn through prayer, we learn through Scripture, we learn through reading, we learn through life’s circumstances, and we learn from one another’s experiences. Yes, each of us has not only something we can learn, but something we can teach one another about Christ. A disciple is a student, and as part of the learning, wants others to come along for the ride and learn as well. If the job of every disciple is to “baptize all nations,” then it is incumbent on each disciple to spread the word. The Twelve Disciples were very ordinary people--Christ chose twelve men to be His disciples. They weren’t chosen because they were extraordinary scholars. Several were illiterate fishermen who were not even very good fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector, a town pariah. Once recruited by Jesus, they weren’t always exemplary in their faith. At some point they all “questioned.” Thomas doubted Jesus. Peter denied Jesus. All but John fled at the Crucifixion. The Lord called St. Paul to be the greatest of Apostles—St. Paul was persecuting Christians. Whoever they were, they were engaged. They were active. They followed. To be engaged is to be immersed in the life of Christ. Christ doesn’t just fit into a compartment on Sunday mornings but He is the center of each day. Each day starts with prayer, and is centered around love—love for God, and love for those we encounter, our neighbors. It continues with purposeful and intentional good works towards others. The engaged Christian seeks opportunities to help others, and takes all actions under the umbrella of Christianity. The engaged Christian thirsts for God. We can’t get through a day without getting thirsty. We quench our thirst often. We may forget to do many things, but quenching our thirst isn’t one of them. Similarly, the engaged Christian thirsts for God and quenches this thirst throughout each day. We are about to enter the period of the church year known as Great Lent. This is a time of increased services and rituals done only during this special time of the year. However, we can get so caught up in the rituals and the fasting, we can be so busy jumping through hoops that we forget to work on our hearts. Many Christians feel like a hamster running on a wheel. They run and run but feel like they are getting nowhere. During Lent, they run faster and faster, only to find at the end of Lent they haven’t gotten anywhere and instead are just more tired. However, Lent is supposed to reinvigorate us, not exhaust us. And Lent is supposed to serve as a springboard for renewal that continues throughout the year, not a journey that ends with Pascha. However we strong we may feel in our faith or in our Christian journey, at every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we are invited to offer the Lord’s Prayer with these words: “And make us worthy Master, with confidence and without the fear of condemnation, to dare to call upon You, our heavenly God, Father, and to say.” Despite the fact we hear it so often, perhaps we have not taken the time to internalize the words. Make us worthy-Christ has called us to be His disciples, His friends. He has called each of us to be with Him. It is up to us to live a life worthy of this calling. Master—Is Christ the Master of our lives, or just a consultant?. Are we His followers? Do we center our lives around Him, or try to fit Him into our lives? With confidence—Knowledge brings confidence, and so does action. To be a disciple is to be a person of both knowledge and action. A disciple is both student and sharer. Living out our calling to be disciples will give us a boost of confidence. And without fear of condemnation—For the person who doesn’t know Christ, or who is unengaged in the life of Christ, the journey through life may be filled with trepidation and sadness, as the sand drains from the hourglass of our lives. For the engaged Christian, for the committed Disciple, life is all about Him, each day draws us closer to Him, and the end of life is joyful because each day brings us closer to being with Him. Our heavenly God, Father—Christ saw His disciples not as His servants but as His children, and as His friends. He wanted an “intimacy” with them. He opened up to them, He confided in them. The feeling of “intimacy” with God can be so real when we pray, especially when we are able to block out other thoughts and just be with Him. This “intimacy” is magnified when we share Him with others, in prayer, in conversation, in worship, in Holy Communion. Again, do we see God as Father, as friend, or as consultant? Wherever you are in your journey, whether you are inactive, active, engaged, or feel like the hamster on the wheel, I invite you to participate in a six week series entitled “Called to Be Disciples—With Confidence and Without Fear of Condemnation.” This series will be held each Wednesday evening of Lent after Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. The schedule for each Wednesday will be as follows: 6:00 p.m. Pre-Sanctified Liturgy 7:30 p.m. Lenten Dinner hosted by one of our ministries 7:45 p.m. Presentation by Fr. Stavros 8:15 p.m. Small Group Discussion 8:45 p.m. Concluding Remarks and Closing Prayer This series is designed to DIG DEEP. That’s why every lecture will be followed by a small group discussion. There are some real costs to being a disciple—like surrendering your life to Christ. And there are some real benefits—like intimacy with God and confidence without fear of condemnation. This year’s Lenten program will be this discipleship series, which I encourage as many of you as possible to participate in. Other than a couple of hours on six Wednesday nights, there is no cost for this program. The benefit is a more purposeful and more confident Christian walk. It is my prayer this Lent for our entire church community to be challenged, dig deeper, and put the hamster wheel on the ground and run towards Christ. This series is for YOU. The topics will be as follows: Wednesday, February 21 Called to be Disciples and the Awe of the Lord Wednesday, February 28 The Cost of Discipleship—The Distorted Image and Total Surrender Wednesday, March 7 The Rewards of Discipleship—Ten Rewards You Can Reap Today Wednesday, March 14 Prayer: Abiding in God’s Love Wednesday, March 21 Living Out Our Calling: Giving to God What Belongs to God Wednesday, March 28 With Confidence and Without Fear of Condemnation **Childcare will be provided at no cost. We do, however, need to know the name and age of each child by February 15 if you are going to do this series. Concluding Thoughts—I’m 45 years old, so this will be my 46th Lenten journey. It will be my 20th as a priest. It will be my 14th at St. John. Yet, I feel like I have much to learn about Christ, about faith, about prayer, about a lot of things. I hope that as we make this Lenten journey together, we will put our wheels on the ground and seek to move forward. We should all endeavor to come to the Resurrection feeling renewed and refreshed, not exhausted. We should all leave from Pascha feeling purposeful and recommitted. Being ENGAGED is the key to our future, as Christians and as a Christian community. To grow in Christ and to grow the Body of Christ takes each of us making the decision to be ENGAGED. To be the disciples, and ultimately the church that Christ called us to be, sharing the good news and making disciples, calls us to be engaged Christians—committed, invested, growing, understanding and sharing—this is what Christ calls us to be. This is what it is to be a disciple. This is what it is to be a church. I look forward to this year’s Lenten journey. Kali Sarakosti! Have a blessed Lent! With love in the Lord, +Fr. Stavros