From The Blog

Mission Monthly – November 2004

“Within the total human community, there is a community which alone is capable of grasping our transcendent vocation. This is the church, a chosen community, whose members are not chosen for privilege but for duty.”

Courage to Pray by Metropolitan ANTHONY Bloom

Words have value and can be used in ways which enrich or discourage. Here Metropolitan ANTHONY has declared a very powerful, profound and mysterious statement. Some might be offended by this statement. I am not. Rather, I am greatly challenged to understand and ultimately live out this high calling, this “transcendent vocation.” As children of God and of His Church it is our primary vocation to be uniquely called out through faith to make God truly present in the world through our intercession (prayer, contemplation, action).

In the Divine Liturgy, immediately following the consecration of the Divine and Holy Gifts, the priest says this prayer: “And again we offer Thee this rational worship for all those who in faith have gone before us to their rest: forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics and every righteous spirit which has completed this life in faith.” Here the Church commemorates all those faithful men and women who in their “dutiful” lives fulfilled their “transcendent vocation.” Here the Church proclaims within her own worship the expectation placed upon those who through the Church, and the Cross, as St. Paul says, “are being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Initially, it was the comparative use of the words “privilege” and “duty” that captured me. Metropolitan ANTHONY’s conclusion is very clear. There can be no notion of rights, dispensation or partiality in our life in Christ. I am reminded of this passage from Scripture, “Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” (St. Luke 17:7-10). Unfortunately the social climate of our day places so much emphasis on the issues of self-worth, self-esteem and self-affirmation that many people are more often filled with feelings of rights and privileges than any sense of duty, obligation or preparedness.

One might expect this sort of thinking in a worldly setting, but in the Church the ideas of privileges or rights are not a part of our salvific, hierarchical order. Duty and responsibility are at the very foundation of servanthood, and we are servants of Jesus Christ. What did St. Paul mean when he said, “Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17)? He is speaking here of his (and ultimately our own) participation in the Cross of Christ, as he then adds, “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (v.14).

Once again we are directed to contemplate the Incarnation and the Cross of Christ. We are directed to ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” We are directed to examine our beliefs, opinions, priorities, choices, commitments, decisions and actions to see whether or not they conform to the standards of Scripture and Tradition. We are directed to assess our lives by the measuring stick of accountability and repentance, which St. John Chrysostom considers to be our primary duty as Christians. According to St. John, without repentance, there is no membership in the Church (from The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom on Repentance and Almsgiving, translated by Gus George Christo). What? I thought “love” was the only basis for a relationship with God? Yes, but what is “love”? Quite simply, love is the Cross. Love is self-denial (1 Corinthians 13), actively learned by humility and obedience, which then cultivate repentance. Listen to what St. John further said about repentance: “It is a weapon against the devil, the means for remission of sins after baptism, a medicine for spiritual wounds and a medicine of piety, a physician sent by God, the means of entry into sainthood and heaven, a change of will and a means of re-entry into Christ’s flock, and the eliminator of the breach between God and man.” Repentance is required of both sinners and righteous men and is wrought by fasting, prayer, weeping for one’s sins, almsgiving, worship, reception of our Lord’s Body and Blood and other “dutiful” means. Truly, there is an inseparable bond between repentance and our life in the Church.

Some might say that seeing our lives in Christ as “duty” is too severe or even “un-Christian”. Maybe if we said it this way, “The only privilege in the Church is not the privilege of honor but rather the privilege of repentance.” Repentance is indeed a privilege; it is our humble and joyful response to the One who has loved us and saved us. We who confess Christ must embrace the duties of righteousness and the innate sacrifices therein by which we will then understand what it really means to “love.” The more we are able to actively conform our lives to the “transcendent vocation” of the Kingdom of God, the more our lives will be transformed into the image of God and only then will we reflect the words of our Lord who said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).