From The Blog

Mission Monthly – September 2008

“A [parish assembly] can only be the Church if her experience is such where all ages, genders, professions, cultures, etc., meet, for this is what the Gospel promises us to be the Kingdom of God: a place where all natural and cultural divisions are transcended.”

John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion

I have been fascinated as of late by thoughts of the miracle of parish life. The whole notion of what it means to be a parish, what holds a parish together, is awe-inspiring in its very nature. God's Church is holy, catholic (universal), apostolic, authoritative, inclusive, decisive, defining, demanding, judging, reconciling, merciful, loving, and beautiful. Her members are called (see John 15.16) and yet we are free to choose to stay or to leave. Her life is as full as her people are willing and able to serve and share in it. She gives everything and yet she is completely dependent upon her members to do anything. She is perfect in Her divine nature and yet she is covered with all manner of bruise and stain from the brutality of her human nature. Her Eucharist is one and is offered for the reconciliation of the entire creation, and every remote parish in every canonical corner of the world completes this offering in its fullness. She is one at the Eucharistic table with all the right-believing and yet she is splintered by self-interest and sin. She is a complete blend of any and all diversity (correctly understood) and yet there is absolutely no homogeneity in her broad character. She demands unity of belief and yet allows a wide variety of expression. Accountability is a cornerstone of Her stability and bishop to baby are equally held to the highest of standards. Her name, Orthodox, is defined by those who claim Her, and those who claim Her cannot define themselves with any other name. She is freely chosen, but once chosen Her freedom is defined by obedience.

Without getting too far from my initial thoughts these thoughts do fascinate me in their great implication on our lives, first of all because of how thankful I am for the beauty of our parish, our little oasis of God's grace, given, received, and built up with all the promise proclaimed in “the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19); and secondly, if we as individual Orthodox Christians are to take seriously the meaning of our name. Here is the main question I am asking: What is it that holds a parish together? There exist many views of Orthodox Christian parish life, some to extreme ends: those who see the parish as a little monastery and those who see the parish as a place to go only when there is a need. Of course neither of these extremes are acceptable or healthy “parish” expressions of the Kingdom of God, and while they do exist my experience has shown me that neither are purposeful in presenting a far-reaching encounter with the Church's life, liturgy, stewardship and “koinonia” (truly close fellowship).

In the best of circumstances I believe the primary reason a parish remains whole and intact is because of God's grace and its very nature as the body of Christ. Most people know this and have an innate sense of it at the very core of their being and conscience. Fierce individualism wages war against this sensibility and yet people most often see the isolation spawned by radical individualism (or feel its consequent sad loneliness) and learn to seek answers to their questions in the only place where True Life can be found. In the worst of circumstances I have seen, over the last thirty years, the Enemy work his way into the very conduct and composition of a parish. These occasions of drama may temporarily cast a shadow over the life of a parish, but they never overshadow the vast and deep faithfulness of the majority of men, women and children committed to Christ through their local church. And somewhere in between there is the lukewarm parish, maybe even with seemingly higher levels of commitment, content with doing “just enough” but ultimately doing it half-heartedly. Oh the miracle of the parish. A place for all God's people to fail and be lifted up with renewed hope for today and for eternity. A freely chosen home where persons of all types, backgrounds and interests genuinely belong for one united purpose: Eucharistic life in the Body of Christ.