Staying Connected To Our Spiritual Family: Our Parish Church
This article is an adaptation and revision of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR)i President’s Message 2014 04. I would pray that all readers who are not Society members would be “friends” of the Society because we are commanded by Christ as is mentioned below that we “all may be one.”
All the members, associate members and friends of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR) know the great importance of assiduously praying and working to conform ourselves - and all of our Apostolic Churches and Christian ecclesial communities as well - to Christ’s priestly prayer to His Father at the Last Supper: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (Jn 17: 21).ii Though St. John records Our Lord using the phrase “may be one” three times in His discourse (in verses 11,1, and 22), I have chosen verse 21 because in this prayer Christ tells the ill consequences of separation and the blessings of unity: “. . .that the world may believe.” Separation is a scandal that disparages Christ and His Church. It sows the evil seed of mockery of His message. It is as if onlookers could say: “If those who call themselves Christians cannot get along, how credible are any of Christ’s teachings?”
How are we to go about doing the opus dei, this work of God, “that the world may believe”? It has to be grounded in all of us being actively committed and attached to our local Apostolic Eucharistic Community: our parish church. Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon tells us in The Eucharistic Communion and the World (2011, p.16)iii that “. . . the term ‘Church’ is used for a specific place . . . a convocation of all Christians of that place in a single gathering . . .” Metropolitan John also says that it must be a “concrete gathering of the local community.” (p.109).
We know that the elders who were ordained in Apostolic times - in today’s term’s the priests as ‘pastors’ and ‘assistant pastors’ of their parishes - were ordained by the Holy Apostles and their successors to serve their local geographic communities. In writing to Titus, St. Paul says: “. . . that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee.” (Tit. 1:5) In the early church, the Christians were bounded to their local assembly (church) by the limits of the geography of their location. In today’s world, where ‘local’ has been exponentially expanded, no such geographic limits exist. It is so easy for some to parish, or pastor ‘shop’ or ‘hop’ indefinitely rather than choosing (though this may take a short period of visiting and discernment) a specific Apostolic Eucharistic community in which to consistently worship, serve and be spiritually shepherded.iv With this in mind, it is so important that our Apostolic Christians be committed in mind and heart to their local pastors, be united with them. To this end, I pray that Christ’s prayer for unity can be brought to fruition by our Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region members, associate members and friends.
i The Society of St. John Chrysostom — Western Region is an ecumenical organization of laity and clergy of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches.
It works to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christianity, and for the fullness of unity desired by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [http://lightoftheeast.org/]
ii This from the Priestly Prayer of Christ that He gave to His Apostles at the Last Supper, which is read in all Orthodox Churches during Thursday Evening of Holy Week [Service of the Twelve Passion Gospels], which is Orthros of Holy Friday by anticipation.
iii Zizioulas, J.D. (2011). The Eucharistic Communion and the World. London, England: T&T Clark.
iv The teachings of some communities who use the name of Christ in their designation is particularly scandalous to the outside world and is in need of prayer and healing. I recently came across a teaching that goes against the entire tradition of the Apostolic Churches and ancient Christian practices. The basis of the teaching is an individual interpretation of Scripture alone (sola scriptura), not realizing that scripture was canonized by the “Church” centuries after Christ’s Ascension and the Holy Spirit descending on the Church at Pentecost and is thus Sacred Scripture is but one part of Holy Tradition. Does not St. Paul tell the Thessalonians: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.” (2Thes 2:14)? It must be recalled that Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ’s teachings were passed by tradition, first orally, then written, from the apostles to their successors, the bishops and priests of today: St. Paul wrote, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” (1Cor 11:2). And St. Paul told the Ephesians: “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. . . .” (2: 19, 30). St Luke wrote: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, [the original name for bishops and priests in Sacred Scripture] to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son." (Acts 20: 28).
The scandalous teaching was that we are not to pray to the saints to intercede for us. The author specifically writes: “There is not one verse that I am aware of where He told us that we could also pray direct to dead saints. If God the Father wanted this possibility as an option, then I believe Jesus would have specifically told us so in the New Testament – but He did not!” [http://www.bible-knowledge.com/praying-to-dead-saints/]. This individualistic scandalous teaching is entirely opposed to historical Church practice, history and more importantly the Mind of Christ and His Church [Morelli, G. (2010, November 25). The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis: The Mind of the Orthodox Church. [http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/view/morelli-the-ethos-of-orthodox-catechesis].