The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark 8:34-9:1
In our reading today we hear these powerful words “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for
My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” We always think about these words of Our Lord as teaching to the individual. But this teaching can certainly be extended to larger units such as the family unit and even the Church or individual parishes.
I was hoping to share some of my thoughts with you regarding this church and the life of the Church in general. I have shared many of these things with the parish council over the course of the last few years and by the grace of God the Lord has given us an opportunity to talk about some of these things together.
Father Alexander Atty of blessed memory once told me that the problem in many of our churches is that they don’t do what churches are meant to do. What does this mean? It means that they are quick to lose focus from what is essential to the life of the Church and instead they direct their efforts, their energies and ultimately their love to matters that are non-essential to the life of the Church.
Specifically, what is essential to the Church? What is it that the Church does that no other organization on the planet can do? The Church prays. The whole goal of the Church community is to raise prayers to God, to communicate with Him, to unite with Him through prayer and communion. Whenever we see churches struggling, it may be a sign that the community is aging or that people have moved away from the area or that the priest has not been warm and kind. But often it is the result of a long spiritual decline that began rather innocently.
Our goal as a church has been to avoid getting entangled in busy work or fundraisers that take too much time and attention away from the greater tasks of the Church. Even with the festival, we have to be careful because we can gain the whole world and lose the soul of the Church as Our Lord Jesus Christ mentions. If we value the spiritual life of the Church then we make intentional decisions that put the prayer life of the Church first. But if we value the financial aspect of the Church or if we fear for the finances of the Church with an unhealthy fear, then we are already on the decline. It is not the fear of bankruptcy that should motivate the Church, but the fear of God.
This is applicable to the Church as a whole and to your family life, your little home Church. We want our kids to have everything that will make them more marketable to colleges and universities, but what about the things that make them more appealing to God and vice versa?
If we take a look at some of the local area churches we would see that the ones that are thriving do so without fund raisers of any nature. That is not to say that fund raisers are bad or that we should stop doing all of them. It means that we need to be careful to maintain the integrity and the holiness of the people of God and the house of God.
Another part of the soul of this church is the atmosphere. The reason our services are all in English is to reach the people of this land with the message of Orthodox Christianity and to make all people feel welcome in God’s house. We never try to make one ethnic group the priority over others. In Christ there are no ethnic groups, we leave all the things that divide us and we unite in Him alone. What business does the Church have with dance parties or haflis? These are activities that should be done by cultural or social societies and not attached to the blessed name of the great martyr St. George.
Each one of you is an ambassador for Jesus Christ and for His Church. How do we react when we see new faces on Sunday? Are we friendly? Does our friendliness depend on how others are dressed, or what language they speak, or their general appearance? Likewise, when we complete the liturgy, do we take the time to reach out to those who may be sitting by themselves or do we simply go and sit in the same place each week? We might be surprised that we are the ones who benefit most from reaching out to others. We thank God that He did not reserve salvation for only one group of people. He warmly extended this grace to all of humanity.
We continue to do everything possible through prayer and humility and love, to extend this grace of God to the people of Central New York. This is how we fulfill our mission. This is how we become well-pleasing in the sight of God. This is how we receive new life, daily, as the Church. And Glory be to God forever AMEN.