The earth today represents a great field, given to man for cultivation. This field is divided among many nations, to each its own parcel. A plot is also given to us, to our parish. Its good cultivation depends upon us, acting with God’s help. The Church and the parish is not merely our personal, private matter. Through them we join in the overall life of mankind.
If our parish life flows peacefully and well, if we possess the spirit of truth, good will and love, then through these we participate in the betterment of life on earth.
We have a church, a parish, parishioners. What can we do, that we may also have life?
All around us is a sea of evil. However, every person is a treasury of good. Often that goodness is hidden, unused, forgotten, covered with dust. We must uncover that goodness, gather it, use it, and with it inundate the sea of evil.
The Church, the parish, must be the center and expression of that goodness. Each of us must strive to uncover his own treasury of goodness. Each of us must strive to see and uncover the treasury within his brother.
Let each of become a seeker and doer of good. Let the Church be its center. Then the concepts: faith, church, parish - will become life to the parishioner.
In external appearance, the church building resembles a ship. Why is this so? Our life, especially today, is a turbulent sea. The waves of our worldly life buffet us from every side. Where can we turn? Where is salvation? The external appearance of the church has already shown us: Here is the ship, here is salvation. Truly, this is salvation for every believer.
Living within the Church, we, even without realizing it, draw nourishment from the spring of living water. Why then does it sometimes happen, that someone abandons the House of God, leaves the Church?
There are many reasons for this. Among them are the following: “I heard something bad about the priest, or he intentionally or unintentionally wronged me. I am offended, and will no longer go to church”. Or: “I am offended by one of the parishioners. Being in his presence interferes with prayer - so I have left the Church.
In this there is great error. For we come to the Church of God, not to the priest, not to the warden, not to the parishioners. We come to pray to our Lord God, to receive His blessed help. After all, this is the most important thing. The priest, the warden, the parishioners are all secondary. We enter the Temple of God in order to board the ship of our salvation. If we are drowning, and are seeking salvation on a ship, we don’t ask ourselves who is the captain, who are the sailors; we only know that this is the ship of salvation.
It is wrong to substitute the secondary for the primary. Of course, it is nice to have a good priest, but, should a priest in some way offend us, or should he be taken from us and be replaced by another, we should not cast ourselves into the turbulent sea. Should a priest in some way offend us, we should not judge him; rather, we should more fervently pray for him. St. Theophanes the Recluse tells of a woman who noticed something bad about her priest. Returning home, and standing before the Icons, she told the Lord that she would not cease fasting and fervent prayer until the Lord corrected the priest’s shortcomings. This is how one should behave upon
being offended by a priest or by any person in the Church. Not by leaving the Church, not by casting oneself into the worldly sea.
Let us remember: We enter the Temple of God in order to pray and to participate in the blessed life of the Church. This priest or that priest, these failings or those failings or insults, should not confuse us and become conditions for our attendance or non-attendance of Church.
We would like to serve our Lord and the Church. But what can we do in the setting in which we live, in this vanity, fatigue, in this environment so often far from God and even inimical to Him?
First of all, we must not pose ourselves any great problems. We must strive to do the littlest of things, those most possible. In our attitudes to our personal lives, we must clearly determine our direction: toward good or evil, toward sin or piety.
With respect to Church life: we must acknowledge ourselves to be members of the Church family, not guests of the Church, or visitors when in the mood or when misfortune occurs, but truly members of the Church family, for whom nothing in the family is alien, who take responsibility for the life of the family, who help it when possible, and who, when misfortune strikes them, calmly and simply accepts its help.
How good to be a member of the Church family! How simple it then is to help and receive help. For you to God and receive from Him.
Parish Life, October 2019,
Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist