The Confident Life of a Disciple: Believing and Belonging—Part Eleven

The Confident Life of a Disciple: Believing and Belonging—Part Eleven

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Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.

ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19-20

I Believe I Need the Church

Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”  Matthew 16:18

Good morning Prayer Team!

In one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We live in an age where many people are disillusioned with organized religion, where they “don’t believe in the church.”  Or don’t believe they need a church. 

I’m not sure I would say that “I believe in the church” but I most certainly believe in the need for a Church.  Why?  Because the Church was instituted by Christ Himself.  Christ gave clear instructions on what we are to believe, and how we are to behave.  He told us specific things such as we must love God and love our neighbor.  He taught us how to pray.  He instituted the Eucharist for us and told us to offer it in remembrance of Him.  Christ was not haphazard when He spoke.  He spoke in ways that were orderly, methodical and succinct. 

How could we be expected to learn what He taught, understand it, remember it and practice it in an orderly way without some direction?  The fact is that He doesn’t expect us to.  That is why He chose His disciples, and commissioned them to spread the faith, to lead the Church.  This is why He chose Peter as the “rock” on which to build this Church. 

There are five important aspects of our Church that are captured in one statement of the Creed.

One—The Church is supposed to be one united body.  Christ would never approve of what the church has become.  There are now some 38,000 Christian denominations.  This was certainly not His intent.  The Creed was written at a time when there was one church, before the church fractured.  Back in 325, it was the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”  There were on Greek Orthodox, or Roman Catholics, or thousands of Protestant denominations.  Every time there is some kind of “protest”, a group forms another denomination.  This not to say that there haven’t been saintly people in the various denominations of Christianity, because there most certainly have been.  This is not to say that the Orthodox are the best examples of Christians, because in many ways we are not.  The intention of Christ, however, was for a oneness, a unity of faith, not the division we see today.

Holy—To be holy, as we have discussed many times, is to be set apart.  The Church is supposed to be a holy entity.  It is supposed to be unlike anything else we know of in life.  It is not supposed to be a place of commerce.  There then becomes a real spiritual problem when churches are known more for their festivals than their spirituality, when several months of the year are dedicated to preparations for the festival and distracted from the true mission of the church (growing in holiness) and when endless fundraisers make our churches look more like swap meets than sanctuaries.  The Church has a holy mission—to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to lead all people to be set apart for Christ, to lead all people to salvation.  At times, all churches to a larger or smaller degree, lose sight of this.  A large part of our pursuit of holiness includes sacraments like Holy Communion and Confession, which are possible only in the Church.  Worship occurs only in the church.  Ordained priests are called by God to teach His Word and to encourage the faithful.  Churches are supposed to be sanctuaries from the world, where we come to recharge and refocus.  Without the Church, speaking personally, my life would lack spiritual order.  I can be in total chaos but if I commit to go to church every Sunday, I have the opportunity to refocus on a weekly basis.  Not going ever would make my spiritual life chaotic, disorderly and ultimately destroyed.

Catholic-The use of the word “catholic” in the Creed does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church.  The word “catholic” means “universal.”  The Church is for everyone.  Everyone is welcome to join the church.  This doesn’t mean that every idea is welcome in the Church.  It doesn’t mean that the Church must adapt to every idea of every person from every walk of life.  To belong to the Church means that we accept Christ’s standard of how we are to live.  All are welcome to accept this.

Apostolic—This means that our Church was founded by Christ at the time of the Apostles.  In the Orthodox Church, bishops have what is called “apostolic succession.”  This means that they can trace their lineage to the time of the apostles.  It also means that someone can’t just proclaim himself a bishop or start his own church.  In the Orthodox world, we are all interconnected.  I serve as a priest because I was ordained by a bishop, who has apostolic succession.  Thus my ministry and the church I serve become part of an unbroken line leading back to the time of the Apostles.  We could start a new community, build a church, put up icons and celebrate Liturgy but if we are not under a bishop, if we are not connected to the rest of the church, not only are we not Orthodox, but we are not “apostolic” according to the Creed.  The Church is from the time of the Apostles, not just something we are making up on the fly.

I confess one baptism for the remission of sins-One joins the Church through the sacrament of Baptism.  Anyone can be baptized, but to belong to the Church, one must be baptized.  In the Old Testament, God required His people to have a mark on them, and this was the mark of circumcision.  We no longer mark ourselves in this way in order to join the Church.  Rather we are “marked” with the water of baptism.  Baptism, however, is not an end to itself.  This is why at each baptism service, the Gospel of the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20) is read.  It reminds each person that through baptism, we are joining the church, with not only the privileges but the obligations expected of those who belong.  Each person who belongs is expected to join “the army of Christ” which includes worship (personal growth), repentance (personal improvement), service (helping others), and evangelism (spreading the Gospel to others). 

Taken all together, this one phrase of the Creed reminds us the need to belong to the Church, and reminds us that the pillars of our Church are that it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and that we join by baptism. 

Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my groaning. Hearken to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to Thee do I pray.  O Lord, in the morning Thou dost hear my voice; in the morning, I prepare a sacrifice for Thee, and watch.  For Thou art not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with Thee.  The boastful may not stand before Thy eyes; Thou hatest all evildoers.  Thou destroyest those who speak lies. The Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.  But I through the abundance of Thy steadfast love will enter Thy house, I will worship toward Thy holy temple in the fear of Thee.  Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of my enemies; make Thy way straight before me.  For there is no truth in their mouth; their heart is destruction, their throat is an open sepulcher, they flatter with their tongue.  Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against Thee.  But let all who take refuge rejoice, let them ever sing for joy; and do Thou defend them, that those who love Thy name may exult in Thee.  For Thou dost bless the righteous, O Lord; Thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield.  Psalm 5

We believe in the Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  We also believe in the need for a Church to help us grow in and express that faith!

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”