As we take leave of the Paschal Liturgical Cycle of Lent through Pentecost, I want to take this opportunity to reflect upon a book I re-read during this period: Christ in Our Midst by Father Theodore Stylianopoulos. The book was written in 1980, and I was familiar with it when I was putting together the Chapter on “Spiritual Renewal” in the OCL publication “Project for Orthodox Renewal”. You can read this work online on our website.
The discussion and insights presented in Christ In Our Midst, which was written by Father Ted as he worked on the Commission on Spiritual Life and Renewal of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), are useful and can be applied to the work of the bishops and the commissions of the Assembly of Bishops as they move ahead to create a blueprint for a unified and self-governing Church in America. They also apply to the clergy and laity who are praying for the success of the blueprint the Assembly is developing. We must all work and pray together with a joyful heart, freshness of spirit, inner strength, a sense of well-being - all characteristics of renewal. The work of the Assembly is about renewing – really making new – the Church in America as a unified entity. The presence of Christ in our midst is love which will make renewal and unity a reality. Divine love, which is the cornerstone of the foundation the bishops are building, is patient and kind; not jealous or boastful; not arrogant or rude. “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in right. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:4-8, 13). It makes all things possible.
The ministry of Christ is full of examples of how love transformed and made possible so many changes in the lives of so many. Divine Love as the focus of the bishops can transform our ethnic churches into territorial churches which are canonical. We have a recent example with the agreement reached by Bishop Antoun and Metropolitan Alexios in uniting Holy Resurrection Antiochian and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox into one Orthodox Christian Community to serve the faithful in the Johnston and Bluff City, northeast areas of Tennessee. The first unified Divine Liturgy will take place on the Great Feast of Pentecost, June 23, 2013. The process would have been better served if the laity of both communities had been involved and brought into the discussions, because they too are capable of understanding reality and are also created in God’s Image and capable of being motivated by divine love. Working in synergy, hierarchy, clergy and laity with the Grace of the Holy Spirit is the Orthodox Way!
In moving ahead to develop a renewed, unified, self-governing, territorial Church, all members of the Body of Christ need to work together for continual growth and mission. At Pentecost and with this magnificent example of unity in NE Tennessee, let the Assembly of Bishops and each of us be motivated by the fact that “ …His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
George Matsoukas, OCL Executive Director