Have you ever been in church and looked around to see blank faces of people not participating in the Liturgy, and more boredom than interest in worship? Do you ever wish worship were more exciting or interesting? Now what if I told you that it all depends on you?
In our modern world, we have a tendency towards commercializing life. We shop for what we like, we move on from relationships and churches if they don’t fit our fancy. And then when it comes to worship, we all too easily get bored and find some community that’s more interesting or lively. In contrast to this, the Orthodox Church chooses a more sober approach to worship; instead of being focused on preferences, our worship is based on revelation of heavenly worship.
But apart from the ideal that we aim to, what does worship actually look like in our communities today? What do our lives look like when we walk out of the Liturgy? Are we each worshiping our Lord in spirit and truth, and does that affect how we live our lives afterwards?
This week, I’d like us to reflect a bit on our need for a personal revival. A revival which will in turn enliven our communities, our Church, and society at large.
The first message we hear from St John the Baptist is, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2) This was the same message that Christ began teaching as soon as He began His ministry (Matthew 4:17). The message of repentance, of making a clear break with our old self and of dedicating and committing our lives to Christ, is necessary to live the Christian life.
We cannot expect to find healthy, vibrant, Orthodox communities if we are not communities living out repentance. But each one of us must be living this life, honestly and openly. If we are not going to confession, we have to ask ourselves, “Why not?” If we are not making strides in letting go of our past resentments and struggles, we have to ask, “Why not?” But the Good News is that the Kingdom is at hand! Today is the day of salvation, and today is the day we can make a change and turn to the Lord.
We need a change of heart. When we are in the Liturgy, if we honor the Lord with our lips but our hearts are far from the Lord, we are no different than the Pharisees that Christ calls hypocrites (Matthew 15:8). A change of mind is what we need, true repentance, to bring our hearts close to Christ.
God desires us to live for Him, so our first step in reviving our community life is to live a life of repentance.
2. Get on Fire for Christ
Are you on fire for Jesus Christ? Does your heart burn with joy when you remember how much He has done for you? This is a natural result of repentance. When we admit our own brokenness, and then let ourselves receive the grace that God gives us…how can we not have joy? How can we not get excited when we know that Jesus Christ is risen? This is the fire that the Apostles had; this is the fire that changed the world!
How do we get on fire for Christ? As we live lives of repentance, we will naturally turn more to God in prayer and reading scripture. As we turn to Christ in prayer, we will give our will over to Him, and trust that He will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. When we trust that God is able to guide us, then our lives become less anxiety-ridden as we let God do the “heavy lifting”. And this release of anxiety, this release of the feeling that we have to handle everything on our own, leads to a joy, a fire for Christ. The fire for Christ is a gift of prayer and trust in God.
Last week, we celebrated the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, and the feast of the Synaxis of the Apostles. During the Orthros service on the Synaxis of the Apostles, we read that God showed the apostles “to be second lights of Your eternal brilliance” (Fr. Seraphim Dedes). After receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they were so filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, that they were like lights that took His light to all around them.
When we’re committed to Christ, we won’t choose to be lukewarm any longer. We’ll desire nothing less than to burn with Christ’s love. Like a hot cup of coffee, if we’re filled with Christ, our warmth will overflow and warm those around us. But if we are room temperature, no one will be attracted to Christ because they will see nothing to draw towards.
Being on fire for Christ isn’t about making a choice to be happy or emotional. It doesn’t mean we will no longer have hard days. But it does mean that, at least for today, we will chose to rely on our Lord just like His disciples learned to do after Pentecost.
If we’re aware of God’s grace in our lives, this will bring an even greater fervor to our prayer, a desire to participate in the Liturgy, and a desire to share the hope that we have in Christ.
3. Be Fishers of Men
The last message that Jesus gave His disciples before His Ascension was that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and that they would be His witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Today, the message of Christ has reached nearly every corner of the planet, and through the work of OCMC, Orthodox Christian missionaries continue to do the work of the apostles.
But what about you? Jesus told His disciples, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Each of us has been given such a priceless gift to be a member of the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church. We did nothing to warrant this gift, so what have we done to give back out of the grace that we have received? The disciples went from Jerusalem to the neighboring areas of Judea and Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. What is our Jerusalem? What is our local community, and how can we give back from God’s blessings? How can we share our Orthodox faith with those who do not know it?
At this we may balk. We may be uncomfortable with sharing our faith with others. Then perhaps we need to look back at point 1 and point 2 above. If we are living lives of repentance, if we are relying on God and are filled with the joy that He alone can provide, then how can we not share our faith? How can we not want to invite people to be a part of this great treasure we have?
So often, we assume that priests or theologically trained persons are the only ones who should be bringing others to Christ. But every one of us, baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians, are called by God to be fishers of men.
We aren’t called just to be fish; we’re called to bring others to Christ as well.
At times, we may feel the parish we are a part of looks more like a community center than a community. But we are called to so much more: to be the Church and to bear one another’s burdens. So perhaps our community is ripe for a revival. But first, each one of us needs to personally dedicate ourselves to the Lord – starting with a life of repentance – and to let ourselves be on fire for Christ. Our flame will be contagious in our communities, and our churches will swell with the people who come to hear the Good News that is preached there. But this revival begins with us, personally.
What are you doing to be on fire for Jesus Christ? How would you describe your prayer life: is it cold, lukewarm, or hot?
Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.
Letting Go: depositphotos
Holding Greek Coffee: Alyssa Kyritsis
Fishermen on the Golden Horn: Sam Williams