Christ is Risen! Χριστός Ἀνέστη!
Given the activity and intensity of the Lenten season that encompassed us the previous month, you would think that May would be a time of relaxation and recovery in the life of the Church. Instead, as I look at the calendar, this month seems to be even more busy than the last. From the retreats and activities of the first weekend in May, all the way through the Jr Olympics at the end of the month, every week has some major activity going on. In a way I think that is because we curtail our social and fellowship activities during Lent, and now in the light of Christ’s Resurrection, we cannot help but run to embrace one another in joy and camaraderie.
In my reading this past month, I came across two passages that gave me a moment of pause. Both were related to Church “activities”.
“The Church becomes secular when it is downgraded to a social organization, like so many other organizations in society.”
“Secularism in the Church is directly related to the loss of Church’s true objective.” (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agios Blassios, Secularism in the Church, Theology, and Pastoral Care)
“What is the Church here for? What is the distinctive and unique function of the Church, that which the Church does, and which nobody and nothing else can do? Surely the least incomplete answer is to say: the Church is here to celebrate the Eucharist. The Church is a Eucharistic organism, which becomes truly itself when offering the Divine Liturgy.” (Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Forward to The Orthodox Liturgy by Hugh Wybrew).
These passages taken together have posed some questions that I have been mulling over since stumbling upon them in quick succession. If the loss of the Church’s objective leads to secularism, and the objective of the Church is to celebrate the Eucharist (and by extension all liturgical worship), when we busy ourselves with non-liturgical activity, do we downgrade the Church from Church to social organization. When, in our minds, we think of our Church, do we think first of social activities, educational ministries, even philanthropic work, or do we think of worship? If the Divine Services of the Church are not our first thought, then it would seem that the Church has lost its purpose. As a parish do we have a worship first mindset, or is it secondary to the other activities and ministries we have?
Do not take this to mean that there should be no other ministries beside the services of the Church. That is not what I am saying. Even Metropolitan Hierotheos would not say that. He has developed a thriving summer camp program for the youth of his Metropolis that is a model around Greece. But the point being made is that these ministries come from the prayers, hymns, and mindset of the services. Without the context of the Divine Liturgy to give purpose and meaning to the Church’s other ministries, they could easily be the offering of any other social organization. Fellowship ministries are ministries because they are grounded in the community that is formed in the Divine Liturgy. Philanthropic ministries are ministries because they embody God’s mercy, which we experience when He sends down His Holy Spirit upon us in worship. Educational ministries are ministries because they articulate the illumination of knowledge and piety that we receive through the visitation of the Holy Spirit in prayer.
Again, I want to temper these thoughts and questions by stating that I do not think we should run away from or reduce our ministries. Instead, as we think about these questions, we should be asking how can we better ground the ministries of the Church in it’s worship? How can we better express our worship in our ministries? How can we develop and nurture a worship first mindset? The first step may be to continue to prioritize worship and participating in the Divine Liturgy through the summer months, when our other ministries slow down. So, I encourage you to be active, participate, and enjoy all the activities of May, and when June arrives to continue to be present in the liturgical life of the Church.
Truly He Is Risen! Ἀληθῶς Ἀνέστη!
+ Fr. Panagiotis