What distinguishes us from the secular world around us?
Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock ~ Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission
Gospel - John 10:22-38;
"What distinguishes the Orthodox position from that of the secular world around us?" asks OCA priest Fr. John Breck in a very interesting article, "Cultural Wars and Orthodox Christianity," written this month (November 2002) and I quote:
".it is [our] ascetic/spiritual/liturgical quest for holiness. God is holy, meaning "set apart," manifesting from His very being qualities, attributes or virtues such as goodness, justice, righteousness, beauty, love. It is by virtue of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom we receive at baptism and through the sacramental life of the Church, that the divine attributes can actually become our own. These attributes are forms of power: they radiate from God as "divine energies," communicated by the Spirit with the purpose of leading each of us along the pathway of holiness that comes to its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, in a true and eternal participation in God's very life (referred to by Holy Tradition as theosis or "deification").
"Orthodox values and Christian Tradition in general are threatened, more severely than ever, by the secularizing mentality of contemporary American society and Western culture in general. These pressures stem from a mentality that exalts hedonistic values of consumerism, pleasure, self-fulfillment and autonomy, while it denigrates traditional Christian values of self-sacrifice, ascetic struggle and worship of God.
"Each of us is called to live in the "real world" around us, however great its pressures and however distorted its perspectives. We are called to be witnesses to God's presence and purpose at home, at the office, in the shopping mall or in the hospital. It is there, in the little things and inconspicuous places of everyday life, that we live out our primary vocation to pray for the world, to live and die for the world's salvation.
"We are called to be holy. This does not mean that we isolate ourselves from the ambient culture, making ourselves "separate" in some physical or psychological sense. It means that we seek holiness in the midst of an unholy world, in the hope that through our faithfulness to God and our witness to Him who alone is holy, we might touch the lives of others aroundus and help restore the world to the One who is both its Creator and its Lord."
As Christ says in the Gospel today verses 34-36 "Is it not so written in the law, "I said you are gods?" he called them gods because the word of God was with them." It is in our adoption as children of God that we are enabled, by the grace and mercy of God, to work toward the illumination of theosis.
We are at the Sunday of Dedication as today's gospel begins, "Then came the feast of dedication at Jerusalem." The Greek interlinear says "the feast of renewals" - So even as we are dedicating ourselves anew to the work of Eastern Christianity today - we are also renewing ourselves in the life of Christ. This is also the feast that has come to be known as Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for "dedication" and is used in the Old Testament to refer to the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This and today's epistle remind us that Jesus Christ maintained honor of festivals that integrate the past; of tradition and culture - yet, through the new covenant and revelation of the crucifixion, offering insight through the light of the cross that make all things new and present. Where is forever? When is eternity?
The gospel is not just known in the past, but also in the present. Just before the gospel the priest says "these things just came to pass" as though it was a moment ago. Gospel Verse 38 - "If I am doing them [the works of my Father], even though you do not believe in me, believe in the works; so that you may know [Greek adds "and continue to know"] and believe that my Father is with me and I am with my Father."
As adopted children of God the Father through Holy Orthodoxy let us dedicate and renew ourselves and our lives to Christ our God, who is mystically the whole Church, holding us in His hands so that none of us is lost.
As sheep, let us commit to following our shepherd who will tend to us even if one of us is lost.
As followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace, we dedicate our efforts to peace in ourselves, in our families, in our communities, in our world.
As followers of He whose love is without boundaries, we dedicate ourselves to loving others, whether they are friend or foe - stranger or neighbor.
We dedicate ourselves to our personal improvement and spiritual development, so that we may become better servants of our Lord.
We dedicate ourselves to good and holy work wherever we encounter it, as Mother Teresa of India has said, by "doing even small things with great love."
Today, we dedicate also this chapel and all the fruits of our labor in this ministry to God to whom all glory is due. As our great Thirumeni, Paulos Mar Gregorios (of blessed memory) said - "Without Divine Aid, our human efforts can bear no significant fruit." So we bow our heads and pray:
Christ God, this is Thy ministry and we are Thy servants. We ask for Divine Aid. Bless this space with Thy presence; with the presence of Thy holy angels and of all the saints. We ask for an increase of all good things so that we may continue to be instruments of constructive good. We ask for a removal all curses and stumbling blocks so that our human flaws and weaknesses, as well as our enemies and naysayers, are not impediments to fulfilling of Thy divine will. This we ask according to Thy infinite mercy and loving-kindness; together with the Father and the Holy Living Spirit now and forever. Amen.