Christ is risen! Χριστός Ανέστη!
My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
I cannot begin to describe to you how wonderful it feels to make that declarative statement of truth and victory, and to know that this year we are able to respond back to one another and not just through a digital screen. The problem I see that God has allowed us to confront is the “screen” of our perception of Christ. Prior to the pandemic, many of us saw Christ as more of a philosophy or an idea. Perhaps we saw Him as a historical figure, perhaps as a social revolutionary or a teacher; and, even if we did seem Him as God, it was in a removed sense. We saw the divinity of Christ as a distant reality that did not touch us intimately or unique based on our circumstances.
This separation was not caused by the Pandemic, but brought into focus. Communities that had a relationship with Christ did not flag or suffer any harm during the pandemic. Rather, they flourished in growth as their already vibrant ministries did what they had always done: connecting to Christ through His people. Conversely, communities that had a tenuous relationship and treated their communities as a mere fellowship centers suffered losses in membership and revenue.
I would like to share a story I heard recently of a Rescue House off the coast of New England. The mission of the rescue house was to send boats to rescue sailors from shipwrecks and man the local lighthouse. Because this mission worked so well and people spoke of the heroic workers of this Rescue House, donations came flooding in. With all the money, they upgraded the boats to better serve the mission and more money came in. So they upgraded the building. People became proud of the building and began to have social gatherings at the beautiful edifice. They became so enamored with the building that they began to make it into a club that required membership. As this progressed, the members stopped going on rescue missions and instead hired sailors to do the mission, while still promoting themselves as an organization that helped.
It wasn’t long before the members became uncomfortable when shipwrecked sailors would be brought inside. They dirtied up the building with their presence and they interfered with club activities. My friends, by this point, the Rescue House had lost sight of its purpose and mission. Instead of being an organization based on helping others, it had morphed into a country club with the smallest possible connection to its mission.
Naturally, many found this abhorrent and asked the Club Leadership to return to the previous practices when they had been a simple and humble Rescue Organization. They were told if they did not like it, they could leave. So they did.
The individuals traveled down the coast and opened another Rescue House that became famous because it pushed the mission of Rescuing Sailors. People gave readily and freely to this new organization and for a number of years it kept to the mission, until it fell into the same practice of the previous Rescue House and again a group split off to form a new Rescue House.
This is why there is an abundance of these “Rescue Houses” along the coast of New England that are elegant venues for weddings, baptisms, and the like with rich members and Yacht Clubs. All of these edifices no longer help anyone except their members and many cannot even recall the reason the building and organization were founded in the first place.
How many of our Churches have followed this same pattern of mission to help people and then devolved into country clubs more concerned about the building than the very people they came to serve? All too frequently this has transpired across Christendom.
This happens because Christ has been allowed to devolve into an idea instead of a Person to be encountered. Jesus Christ is not meant to be found in the page of a book or the screen of a computer. He is meant to be encountered in the people. The Church is His Body and we are called to be active members of it. We cannot be active members if we are spectators from our living room only. Even if you cannot physically come to Church, there are ways to participate and help. What are we doing to fulfill our mission?
Our mission statement developed by the St. Basil Parish Council is that we are
“A community connecting to Christ and one another through our Orthodox Faith.” Everything we do in this Church MUST be guided by this simple principle.
Is what I am doing connecting to Christ? Is Christ the forefront of the initiative? Why not? This first metric is critical to the continued success of our Parish, both for the blessings of God and so that we do not lose our way.
Is what I am doing connecting me to the rest of the community, both parishioner and non? What is our community? Does the initiative connect people or sow division? We cannot grow if we look at anyone as “other.”
Is what I am doing in keeping with the Orthodox Faith? Does the initiative deviate from the Dogma, Canons, and Traditions of the Orthodox Church? How do we exercise our Orthodox Faith in our Worship, Fellowship, and Outreach?
By fulfilling the Mission of the Church, we bring Christ out of the page and screen and into the lives of not only the people we seek to serve, but into our own lives as well. Christ is risen! The Light of the Resurrection must be spread to all people and fill us all with the love that God died and came back from the dead for you personally.
I remain your priest who feels so incredibly blessed to serve you and love you,