Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (I Cor 9:16)
Although rather overlooked and perhaps inconsistently observed for that very reason, the Church New Year (September 1) nevertheless allows us the opportunity to review, reassess and then renew our commitment to our lives in the Church. That would also include our commitment to the living God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for as Orthodox Christians we experience the mercy and love of God in and through Jesus Christ within the grace-filled life of the Church.
Commitment raises issues as wide-ranging as our use of time, our resources and our energy, here understood as what deeply "moves" us to live and act in a certain way. Commitment reveals just what we are "passionate" about. That raises further wide-ranging challenges to our pursuit of the life "in Christ" as there is just so much "out there" to be passionate about, and hence to commit ourselves to. Or so it would seem.
And thus, as our lives crowd up with a combination of unavoidable demands and our own more personal choices, we realize that we only have "room" for so much in our lives. We are all very committed to the well-being of our families; so assuming that as a matter of course, we can then ask the questions: Just what is the extent of my commitment to Christ and the Church? To what extent do I have room for the Church in my life?
If we make the honest assessment that, in answer to this question, I really have only a limited amount of room for the Church; and that because of that I find myself compartmentalizing my "religious" and "normal" life rather unconsciously; then a further question persists: To what extent do I make room for the Church in my life?
This is a more probing question, because to make room for the Church in my life, I must make some hard choices and consciously change some priorities. I may have to make some sacrifices concerning those ever-important components of time, resources and energy. Being committed to Christ and the Church is not about finding a "comfort zone" and then staying within its confines; it is about breaking out of that comfort zone in order to encounter the "living God" which is meant to be an awesome experience: "and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). Or, as Christ Himself said decisively: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt 6:21).
Taking up the challenge to make room for Christ and the Church we can initially explore this on the level of parish life.
Over the years, I have tried to consistently maintain what I call the "three pillars" of parish life: worship, education and charity. There is more to parish life, but I begin with these three components, for if they are strong than the parish will be strong - and spiritually healthy.
Worship, education and charity are hopefully rather self-explanatory and therefore do not need to be analyzed in detail. However, by way of reminder we could say in summary fashion that we begin with the worship of God as expressed above in the text from Hebrews; we deepen our faith in God through education by seeking to learn about our shared Orthodox faith in a communal setting of support and fellowship; and through charity we extend the love of Christ for the world by sharing of our own parish and personal wealth with the "least of these my brethren" (Matt 25: 40). Once we make our commitment to these "pillars" we will be cheerful givers in support of the parish's life and activities. In fact, Christian stewardship can be added as an essential "fourth pillar" of parish life!
I spoke initially of reviewing, reassessing and renewing our commitment to Christ and the Church. Focusing as we are on parish life, is it possible that you could extend your present parish participation further by expanding your commitment to worship, education and charity on the parish level? And also become a more faithful steward of your time, resources, and energy? If room needs to be made, are you able to actually make that room regardless of the "cost?"
Of course, each and every member of the parish must make that choice on a personal or family level. (On that more personal and family level other elements of commitment may come to mind, from praying together, reading the Scriptures, helping our neighbors, etc.). If anyone is quite content with how things stand presently, then so be it - that is in and of itself a choice to be made.
However, if you think there may be something "missing" from the patterns of your life, then I hope this reminder of what our parish is committed to in the service of Christ and the Gospel, will serve as something worthy of your reflection with the goal of offering up the "first fruits" of your lives to the living God.