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”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
This morning’s reflection begins by defining three Greek words. First is the word “ekklesia” which is most commonly translated as “church.” This word, however, does not refer to the building, but rather a gathering of the people of God for purposes of worship and service. “Koinonia” is most often translated as “fellowship”. “Theia Koinonia” is translated as “Holy Communion,” or perhaps more correctly, “Fellowship with the Divine,” since Holy Communion is where we have fellowship with the Divine God. “Koinotita” is most often translated as “community.” Obviously “koinonia” and “koinotita” are related. The most important activity in the “koinotita” is “Theia Koinonia”—the most important activity in the community is Holy Communion, as we stated in the last reflection.
However, it is important that people who receive “Theia Koinonia” are also involved in “koinonia” in the “koinotita.” And there are, sadly, many people who are not. There are many people in each community for come to church to worship and to receive the Eucharist but who do not take part in fellowship, and who are not really a part of the community.
Why is it important to belong to a community? Why is it necessary? First, we only enjoy “Theia Koinonia” in the context of “koinotita.” We can only enjoy the Divine Fellowship in the context of a community in which we have fellowship. This is because the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. We cannot separate the two. We cannot do one without the other. Thus, we can’t participate in the Eucharist (expressing our love of God) without participating in the life of the community in which the Eucharist is being offered (expressing love of our neighbor).
In today’s Scripture verse, St. Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) While the primary identity of the church community is a Eucharistic identify, the secondary identity comes from this verse. In a community, we bear one another’s burdens. We also are supposed to share one another’s joys. We are also supposed to listen, empathize, encourage, help and lift up others. If one comes to worship but does not engage in any other part of community life, he or she will be unable to listen, empathize, encourage, help or lift up. In short, he or she will not be able to fulfill the law of Christ because he or she will not be in the position to bear the burdens of the others.
While it is certainly wrong to come to church on Sunday and go straight to the coffee hour and bypass worship, it is also not correct to leave immediately after the service and bypass any fellowship with anyone. Because through fellowship we build community. And through community we serve those in the community who are in need, in the small church community and in the larger community in which we find ourselves living. It is in the small church community where we muster the forces to go and contribute to the greater community. It is in the church community where we assemble those who will teach and help (sing, administer, clean, etc.) in all the ways that are needed to keep the church moving forward and for the Gospel to be preached to all the nations.
While the Divine Liturgy might be the first encounter someone has with a church community, the involvement shouldn’t end there. There is a challenge, however, and this challenge is real. For the first time visitor to the Divine Liturgy, who likes what they see, but doesn’t know anyone, it is a challenge to break into the fellowship circle of the community. I don’t know how many people and families at churches throughout the country have gone to the parish hall after the Divine Liturgy, find no one to welcome them, have no one to sit with, and who never find their way back to the church. Because while they may have enjoyed worship, they don’t feel welcome to the fellowship circle of the Church.
It is incumbent on each “ekklesia” each church community to have as part of its ministry, a welcome ministry, where first time visitors are welcome, and connected not only to worship but to fellowship. We have an innate desire for both worship and for fellowship. We all have an innate desire to serve others, and we all have an innate need to be helped by others. A sense of community fills both desires. It gives us a place and a context in which to serve. It gives us people who will help us carry our burdens.
Through the welcoming ministry we have in the parish in which I serve, we make an intentional and purposeful push to welcome new comers, to make sure people who have worshipped with us know they are welcome in fellowship as well.
When we know the pains of others, we can lift them up and help them. “Community” also gives us a place to practice “Evangelism” which is bringing the Gospel to others, something that we’ve discussed at length that is an expectation and a commission we all share. We don’t necessarily have to go out to the streets and lanes of our cities to find people and grow our churches. If we were able to retain everyone who came in the doors and inquired about who we are, we’d be growing steadily.
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the Lord, the Most High, is terrible, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom He loves. God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is highly exalted. Psalm 47
Encourage all who partake in “Theia Koinonia” (Holy Communion) to share in koinonia (fellowship) in the “koinotita” (community) that is a vital part of our “ekklesia” (gathering of Christians).
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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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