From The Blog

Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Dec. ’11 / Jan. ’12 Parish Newsletter

  … Meditate On These Things                        Philippians 4:8

  “If there were less of what seems like ease in our lives they would tell more for Christ and souls… We profess to be strangers and pilgrims, seeking after a country of our own, yet we settle down in the most un-stranger-like fashion, exactly as if we were quite at home and meant to stay as long as we could.  I don’t wonder why apostolic miracles have died.  Apostolic living certainly has.”

Amy Carmichael, Missionary to India, +1951

      It has been noted to me that there is a specific definition of the word “Apostle” and what it means to be one.  It is an important teaching which defines the word’s meaning essentially as membership amongst our Lord’s twelve Apostles and the Apostle Paul.  Exploring this definition can help us understand the continuity of the Church’s apostolic ministry.  Each time we recite the Nicene Creed we proclaim our Church to be, “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.”  We proclaim to believe in the Church’s authority in the practice of Apostolic Succession, the authority of the Lord’s Apostles passed on from one bishop to the next in unbroken succession through the laying on of hands AND the spirit of sanctity accompanying the life of a true shepherd of the Church.

“An apostle is one who’s sent” says the refrain of a children’s song written by Kh. Gigi (Baba) Shadid.  This accurate definition of the Greek word “apostolos” (apostolos) brings to mind the notion of the apostolic spirit of “being sent.”  A more complete definition would also include that an Apostle is one who is sent by the risen Lord to “make disciples” and to “baptize” (Matthew 28:18ff).  This is the calling of the “Apostles,” but what does it mean to be “apostolic” in the 21st century and to have the spirit of the apostolic ministry present in the ministry of the Church and in the lives of each of Her members?

I  recently read that there are two fundamental characteristics of an Apostle’s life: 1) love for God; and 2) a truly tender care for one’s neighbor.  These characteristics are demonstrated clearly in the defining moments when the risen Lord thrice asked the Apostle Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”  Upon Peter’s affirming response the Lord definitively commanded, “Tend my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

“Do you love me more than these?” is THE question that has resounded through the centuries, as it did when it was first asked of St. Peter, like roaring thunder.  For St. Peter it was the opportunity to free himself from the three-fold guilt he incurred when he thrice denied Christ.  For each of us it is a bold reminder of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, and the importance of our response in carrying on the apostolic ministry of the Church.

I find this to be one of the most trying facets of my life as an Orthodox Christian and Priest.  I suspect each of us, assuming one is even thinking about life and faith in this way, and no matter what his vocation, would agree.  How do we truly love and appreciate this life we have been given and yet not allow that love to eclipse the love we have for the One who has given us this life?  Fundamentally Orthodox Christians are challenged by this question at virtually every moment of our lives.  Starting with our love for God as expressed in the priority we make for worship, personal prayer, scripture and devotional reading, stewardship, and the turning away from every soul defiling influence; and finishing with our love for our neighbor as expressed in fellowship and in the way we serve others by putting first something other than ourselves (we can fill in the blank regarding the circumstances of our own life).

Amy Carmichael has made a very pointed observation here.  The ease of life that has permeated modern society, including the Church, has greatly diminished the apostolic image of Christ for the world, as the power of the apostolic message has been made lukewarm at best by men’s abandonment of the pursuit of heaven (or at best mingling a tacit pursuit of heaven with a vigorous pursuit of personal interest).  Probably one of the saddest developments of this failure is that some Christians even equate God’s blessings with the acquisition of material prosperity.  I especially grieve for our youth who, while being presented with a skeleton of faith, have also been allowed (and maybe even encouraged) to mingle with the false standard of living proffered by the materialistic and sensual images of American society.  Is it any wonder, as I mentioned in a recent sermon, that statistics show – even in our Orthodox churches – that only 1 in 10 of our children remain in the church (let alone take responsibility for the apostolic ministry of the Church) once they reach college age.  Why should they when they’ve been allowed (again, “encouraged”) to feel “quite at home” in the world and have been shown little by way of apostolic conviction for living as “strangers and pilgrims.”

If we are concerned about the witness of “apostolic living” in the world today where are we to begin but with ourselves?  There are many possibilities for change and many sacrifices to be made.  Beloved, this should be our joy as disciples of the risen Christ and should in no way be considered burdensome.  We are especially privileged to be recipients of the fullness of Christ’s apostolic Church, and we are responsible for what we have been given.  I do not believe that apostolic miracles and living have fully died; but if by chance we think we love God, and love not; if we think we tenderly care for our neighbor, and care not; if we think we have embraced the apostolic ministry, and embrace not; let us now rededicate ourselves to a TRULY apostolic way of life.

(Reprinted from January, 2008)

 

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