What We Believe and Practice
The Orthodox Christian life is about living to the glory of God. It is not an “irrational exuberance” and crusading for saving souls. It is doing for His glory what God has given us to do. Souls are saved by saved souls who live out their salvation by thinking and living differently (Philippians 4:8), with a martyr’s resolve, in a world marked by falsehood, baseness, cruelty, nihilism, injustice, impurity, ugliness, misery and mediocrity.
We each ask of Christ, “Lord, what would You have me do?” And then, in response to God, we do what we can best discern we have been given to do. Focusing upon the cross of our redemption, we affirm and proclaim what Christ had said during the week of His passion, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). The driving force of evangelism is the irrepressible desire to communicate the joy of our salvation.
St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 3:20). Who we truly are – our egos – are wonderfully exchanged. It is Christ Who lives in us and we who live in Him.
The wellspring, the charter, and the rationale of evangelism is found in the opening passage of 1 John: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life… We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete (1:1-4).
We are called to be witnesses to the Gospel of our Savior. We are sent out into the world to bear testimony to this Gospel. By definition, the word “apostle” means someone who is sent. We recognize and believe that all Orthodox Christians are sent, for all are, part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. No Orthodox Christian can feel he or she is not implicated in the words of Jesus: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
True, there are apostles by special anointing and ministry. St. Paul writes: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Yet, every Orthodox Christian is involved in the mission of the Church, but high energy evangelizing may not be the specific calling of every Christian. St. Paul’s calling drove him relentlessly to campaign the then-known world to spread the Gospel. We are told, however, to live lives of such lively hope and expectation as will provoke questions, and, with questions, an occasion to bear witness to non-Christians and the unchurched. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
Christ has mandated to His Church the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28: 19-20). When one utters “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer, the opposite is often intended, at least tacitly, “My will be done.” In Jesus the will of God is accomplished on earth as in heaven. Genuine followers of Christ must recognize and fulfill that will. What is needed today are Orthodox parishes that are able to discern and practice the divine will expressed in the Great Commission. Nothing precedes the will of God. The starting point for every church should be the question, “Why do we exist?” Until you know what your parish lives for, you have no directions to follow in fulfilling Christ’s command.
Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” As a MRI provides a map of the human body, so must each parish undergo a test to attain a map of the local body of Christ. How does a parish evaluate herself? Not comparing herself to other churches, but by asking, “Are we doing what God intends for us to do?” And “How well are we doing it?” This mapping process will prepare your church to chart biblical and healthy directions for fulfilling the Great Commission.
Unfortunately, the local church has never had an integrated model, maps and outreach management to understand her harvest field. Directions will assist your parish to effectively:
- understand her mission field;
- build community of discipleship within her membership;
- strengthen visitor follow-up efforts;
- get more people to visit the church;
- coordinate outreach efforts;
- welcome new neighbors into its harvest field; and
- coordinate with other local Orthodox parishes in outreach efforts and mission activities.
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis