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HOW EACH OF US CAN AND OUGHT TO SERVE THE CHURCH

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    HOW EACH OF US CAN AND OUGHT TO SERVE THE CHURCH Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky If we love the Church, if She is dear to us, then how can each of us serve
    Message 1 of 1 , May 8, 2005
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      HOW EACH OF US CAN AND OUGHT TO SERVE THE CHURCH

      Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

      If we love the Church, if She is dear to us, then how can each of us serve
      Her? And if someone were to ask you: "How have you served Her?" what
      activities can you boast of?

      When this question was put to the holy Apostle Paul and he had to defend
      his authority before the Corinthian Christians, he answered in this way: I
      will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities (II Cor. 11:30).
      Glory in our infirmities? Without question, the humble realization of our
      infirmities is beneficial for each of us, but how can we serve the Church
      in this way? At the same time, the holy Apostle insists on his answer and
      explains: For when I am weak, then am I strong (II Cor. 12:10).

      Then, this is no paradox, no play on words, no contradiction. The Apostle
      shows no trace of being "imaginative" or "witty." He writes from the
      fullness of his heart, from deep conviction. His meaning is direct. He
      speaks of the Christian principle of life.

      Christianity upset the usual concepts dominant in the world, and in
      particular the concept of power. According to Christianity, power is what
      "seems" to the world to be impotence, what appears to its short-sighted
      view to be a contemptible weakness. Christian power is meekness. Meekness
      is the law of the new life and action, under whose banner the Gospel
      declared war on the world: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are they
      that mourn. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The
      poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek - is this not infirmity (weakness)
      in the usual human understanding?

      Yes, "in the world," without Christ, without faith, outside the Church and
      apart from Christianity one cannot pit meekness and spiritual poverty
      (humility) against the mighty, against all that has power and authority in
      the world; nor can they oppose the proud power of the will, so often
      brutal, hardened, and harsh. They cannot stand against sheer physical
      power, the power of naked force; nor can they withstand the power of a
      refined and clever mind or the power of the simple majority. How is it
      possible to take up arms against the entire arsenal of this world armed
      only with the weapons of "meekness and temperance, purity and chastity,
      love of brother and the poor, of patience and vigilance," as we hear, for
      example, in the prayer to St. Job of Pochaev, one of the strugglers for the
      life, rights, and dignity of the Orthodox Church in Western Russia against
      Roman Catholicism.

      But He of Whom the prophet said A bruised reed shall He not break, and the
      smoking flax shall He not quench (Is. 42:3), Who bore His obedience, being
      obedient even unto death, even to the death on the Cross: He, our Lord,
      stated even before His sufferings on the Cross, Be of good cheer, I have
      overcome the world.

      The meek Christian virtues are a mighty power in God's world - they are an
      artery by which the power of God comes down into the world. In order to
      understand this, we must pull back the veil from our own personal
      world-view. A veil usually hangs before our mental eye that limits our
      thoughts and our actions in earthly life. But when we pull back the veil,
      before us open perspectives of eternity, with faith in the immortality of
      our soul, with faith in God, with faith in the radiant kingdom of eternal
      life. In the face of eternal life, concepts are completely changed: much
      that is great becomes of no consequence, and the insignificant becomes
      great. He who believes and beholds the Kingdom of God with spiritual eyes
      is like a giant whose head reaches the heavens. Who has strength enough to
      throw him down? They can slay his body, they cannot kill his soul and
      spirit. The words of St. Paul can be applied to such spiritual giants: For
      I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor
      principalities, nor powers, not things present, nor things to come, Nor
      height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us
      from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).
      Here there is an authentic feeling of his power, which the Apostle
      expresses in the words: We then that are strong ought to bear the
      infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves (Rom. 15:1).

      And so two contradictory laws of life stand against one another, two
      kingdoms: the kingdom of the meek and the kingdom of the powerful. The
      kingdom of the meek is forced to wage war against the kingdom of power
      while located in the midst of it and surrounded on all sides by the kingdom
      of power and force.

      The struggle continues. It is difficult for the Church. It is not
      surprising that the human powers of the Church weaken towards the end of
      the struggle. But the end has been written beforehand in heaven: victory is
      on the side of the kingdom of the meek. And should it not turn out this way
      by the laws of logic? For the Church has been standing against the kingdom
      of the world for two millennia now. If meekness were not power, then how
      could she have survived for even the shortest time in the struggle? Still,
      there come moments in the history of the Church when Her powers, exposed to
      popular view, weaken in the struggle. Why? Is this because the meek
      Christian weapons turn out to be useless or insufficient? No! This happens
      when, under the influence of discouragement and weakness of faith, those
      who serve the Church forget their true armament and adopt a foreign kind.
      The evil world urges its own weapons on them: worldly power, force, deceit.
      If those who serve the Church yield to the enticement, they weaken and
      bring Her internal sufferings as well. History gives us sufficient examples
      of this sort.

      The world creeps into the Church by an even simpler method: by human
      passions, self-love, and ambition, love for the first place, insistence on
      one's own will. The world of the proud creeps in with the wish to submit
      the Church to one's own plans, to make her an instrument that is political,
      national, even partisan. It creeps in through indulging our weaknesses of
      the flesh, through replacing authentic virtues with seeming ones; in a
      word, through the help of those powerful, poisonous means which are called
      the spirit of flattery (or deceit).

      By nature the Church is meek and it is easy to insult Her. If we
      attentively read the history of the Church, we can see how many have
      insulted Her from within, entering into Her very heart and thus all the
      more painfully wounding Her. But it is insufficient to say that there have
      been offenders: it is more grievous that so-called scientific history
      attributes the actions of those offenders to the Church and blames and
      blasphemes Her for these actions.

      We should all remember this when our thoughts are directed to the Russian
      Orthodox Church Abroad. Someone may think: this is a peculiar little
      handful of Orthodox scattered over the far ends of the earth. What kind of
      social force do we represent? If the numerically, materially, and morally
      powerful branches of historical Christianity are withstanding the powers of
      this world with difficulty, then what are we to think of our Church? In
      answer to such a thought, we must remember that the power of the Church is
      not in numbers. Rather that in order to preserve inner, spiritual strength
      one should stand apart, and such is the situation of the Russian Church
      Abroad. Thus, if we are children of the Russian Church Abroad, if we are
      devoted to Her, if we love Her and wish to see Her internally mighty and
      glorious, then how can each of us serve Her?

      Of course, the fullest form of serving the Church is for a person to give
      himself to Her completely for his entire life as a pastor or in another
      life of service, close to the pastorate. But we must not feel that only the
      ordained servants of the Church are called to be Her soldiers while the
      others are only observers - some sympathetic, others critical. Each of us
      has a place in the ranks of the soldiers of the Church, and the forms of
      participation in service to the Church are varied. The Apostle writes: Let
      every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called (I Cor. 7:20).
      Translating this quotation into contemporary concepts, we can say that
      there does not exist a constructive, honest profession and a social
      position where a good person could not at one time or another contribute
      his good mite to the work of the Church. Look at how the fruits of pagan
      higher education were used to great advantage by the great hierarchs Basil
      the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. What a precious
      heritage they gave to the Church!

      The Church is meek. For this reason She is in need of protection and
      defense. Only they must be good means for her defense. In the past, both
      the Byzantine and Russian Churches had external defenders: a governmental
      system, the emperors, the tsars; although one must admit that there were
      times when this defense was worse than none. Times have changed. Now the
      care of the Church is entrusted by the Lord to the people of the Church
      Herself, and so to each Orthodox Christian. In this regard we are returning
      to the times of the first Christians. Our times call us all to a conscious,
      constant sacrificial "stand for the Church," each with his talents and
      means. However, the principal power of service does not lie in our
      knowledge, abilities, and callings. The principal power is in the
      "infirmity" through which the power of Christ comes to abide. It is in our
      morality, in our living according to the law of the Gospel, according to
      the law of the Church. How we are to bring this about in a practical way is
      taught by the most perfect example of the holy martyrs and ascetics; it is
      demonstrated also by I the Orthodox monasteries, the builders of Russia,
      such as the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, the Optina Hermitage, the Lavra of
      Pochaev and others that existed before the Revolution. But since all this
      remains in the past, in order to find an example in the present, let us
      look at least to the handful of modest monastic communities of our Church
      in the corners of the Russian diaspora - to these small groups of people,
      both men and women, who have given themselves over to the law of meekness
      and obedience. Concerning them we can say rightfully with the Apostle: For
      ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh,
      not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but God hath chosen the
      foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the
      weak of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things
      of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and
      things which are not, to bring to nought things that are (I Cor. 1:26-28).
      The quiet, meek, laborious life of the monastery sheds such a beneficial
      and varied influence far beyond its own physical limits! And what a good
      result is granted just by contact with this world, as many different
      persons can testify! Of course the same can also be said about the Orthodox
      monasteries that are not of Russian background.

      Those who think that prayer, fasting, temperance, ascetic labor, and the
      struggle with vices have only the goal of personal salvation and thus those
      who practice these good works, as it were, conceal in themselves a subtle
      spirit of egotism, are gravely mistaken. Rather, internal work on oneself
      is an investment in the Church. This is a gathering in of the powers of the
      Church, a collecting of the Church's wealth, which does not consist in the
      number of persons, not in large and opulent church buildings, not in
      sonorous choirs, not even in impressive statistics about philanthropy - but
      rather in the moral life of Her members.

      One must serve the Church as the one body of Christ, a single organism, a
      single substance. Each one's personality is the plot of land entrusted to
      him for him to labor over, clean up, and produce fruit on. In working on
      ourselves, we work for the whole, for the entire Church, for Its Head, the
      selfless Saviour. In letting one's plot grow over, neglecting it,
      condemning it, we bring harm not only to ourselves but also to the Church.
      By not gathering for our own soul, we scatter what belongs to the Church.

      Our service to the Church consists in this: that through our personal
      Christian life the spirit of the Gospel values flows into the life of the
      world, thus putting the enemies of the Church to shame. In our personal
      qualities lies the pledge of the internal unity of the Church as a whole
      and of the parish in particular; from this source come mutual
      understanding, obedience, unanimity in goals, friendly labor for the glory
      of God and the glory of the Church. Thus a completely unique Church
      atmosphere is established. In such an atmosphere a person feels that he is
      in a special world, which gives rest and joy to the soul, refreshing and
      renewing it. One strives to come to it as if to a new earth, the earth of
      the meek. In it one feels the beneficial power of the Church within
      oneself. It is easier in such circumstances for the soul to open up to the
      reception of the breath of the Grace of God that abides in the Church. But
      if this spirit is absent; if within the groups of the Church there are
      divisions, discord, the struggle of ambition and self-love, then can one,
      in such circumstances, speak of the power of the Church.?

      Therefore, to the question of how we can serve the Church, the answer is
      simple: by active obedience to Her. Active obedience to Her is a life
      according to the rules of the Church, observance of moral laws, zealous
      attendance at church services, prayer at home, a Christian foundation and
      direction in home life. We can say then, in general, that for us it
      consists of the joy of belonging to the Russian Church Abroad as a true
      confessor of the Orthodox Catholic faith and a herald of righteousness, and
      a corresponding attitude in our personal life which worthily reflects that
      membership.
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