What Does It Mean To Be The Church?

Crumbling Church.jpg

Do you care whether or not we have a healthy, vibrant parish? Does it matter to you if our beloved Saint Basil parish is being the fullness of what the Church was called to be in the world? Do you care whether or not you’re living in participation with what Christ called us to be as the Church? Because, if we don’t care, and we’re not actively involved in repentance toward the fullness of what God calls us to be…then the picture on the right, of an abandoned and crumbling Church building, is a trustworthy symbol of our lives and of the future of our parish.

That’s not a punitive statement. Rather, it merely expresses the very real consequences of choosing to put other things over the things that give us life. It’s essentially the same message that John the Baptist gave to his Jewish audience who had embraced lifestyles that gave too little significance to the spirit of what God required of their lives. They were seeking the lowest common denominator, asking, “What’s the least I have to do to get to heaven?” So, John the Baptist gave them something to think about, saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew3:8-10). If he were here speaking to us Orthodox Christians today, he would likely warn us with something similar, ‘Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Saint John Chrysostom as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up other children of Saint John Chrysostom. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“What?!,” you might say, “God would never allow His Church to fall!” While that sentiment certainly reflects a cosmic truth (that our Lord’s Bride, the Church, ultimately finds its place and fulfillment in eternity), God always allows each of us to have free-will…and He also allows each of us (and our parishes) to suffer the consequences of our refusal to follow the fullness of Christ’s teachings. The fact is. That photo above was once the spiritual home of a people who cared enough to invest their various resources in building it. It was once a place shining with so much hope for a future fulfilled in Christ. Eventually, however, the people of this parish stopped being the fullness of what Christ called them to be and their parish found its logical end in a crumbling ruin. It’s a safe bet to say that their personal lives most-likely reflected the same spiritual decay. There are former parishes all over the United States today who eventually found themselves in the same boat. Their parishes are closed down now too. God actually lets that happen because He loves each of us enough to give us free-will to embrace what gives us life…or to embrace the things that bring ruin upon us. So, God help us, that we may choose to be and do the things that bring life to us…and to our parish.

So, what does it mean to be the Church? What does it mean to live in participation with what Christ called us to be as His Church? First, I’ll offer a statement with the five characteristics of what it means to be the Church. Then I’ll unpack it a little. Examine for yourself: As you read the five characteristics in the next paragraph, can you honestly say that you’re actively involved in living out all of what brings life to yourself and to our Church?


We are only being the Church when we WORSHIP regularly…in spirit and in truth, have Christ-centered FELLOWSHIP, are actively pursuing EDUCATION towards spiritual growth, when we are offering a WITNESS of Christ, and offering a tangible SERVICE of love towards God and others. When any of us try to leave out any of those things, we're rejecting God’s teaching on the things that bring life to us and to the world…and we’re inviting the deterioration and eventual collapse of our lives and of our parish.

So, reflect upon your own life, and ask yourself: Do I really WORSHIP God regularly…in spirit and in truth? Do I turn to God each and every day in my prayers and honor Him through my daily prayers and personal worship? Do I worship God weekly in community, coming to the Divine Liturgy regularly, on time, and participating fully each week? True worship means serious effort and work. It’s not for the fainthearted. It’s not easy. It takes effort, concentration, and participation. But when you truly worship, you enter into the presence of our Living God! You encounter God and invite Him to enter fully into your own life! True worship is truly a blessed, exciting, life-changing experience! And the more we worship – every Sunday for Divine Liturgy, weekdays for special saints’ days and holy days, and during the special seasons of the year – the more we worship communally, as well as the more we connect with God in our daily prayers, the more we will be filled with God’s presence through the Holy Spirit!

How about Christ-centered FELLOWSHIP? In the Church, we want to create an atmosphere where we all offer love…cherishing, honoring, and making people feel special…offering the same experience that people had when they were in the presence of Christ. Are we giving of ourselves in this manner in the Church? How can we get more involved in the Christ-centered fellowship of the Church? 

Third, there is the need for Christ-centered EDUCATION. What are each of you doing to grow in your Faith? What are you doing to learn new aspects of the rich treasure of Orthodox Christianity? Are you reading the articles I send in each week’s eBulletin? Are you attending my WHYs of Orthodox Christianity Class I teach each Wednesday night from 7-8PM? How much of the rich treasure of Orthodox Christianity do you really understand?

Fourth, are you offering a WITNESS of Christ and of our faith in Him to others? How many of us actually talk about our faith with those outside the Church? When was the last time you told a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, a colleague about what your faith means to you? Can you invite one of these people to come to our Church on a Sunday? Invite them to come to a WHYs of Orthodoxy class with you. Don’t be shy to talk about your faith and love for God. This is a central part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We all, each one of us, need to share God’s love through our actions and with our words. Of course, one of the main reasons why many people feel unsure about witnessing their faith is because they don’t think they know their faith well enough! Well, this means we need to take the time to learn our faith, and then share what we learn. Each of us can begin by simply talking about what Jesus Christ means to us personally. Begin with that. And then tell them who Jesus Christ is, and what He can mean for them in their own lives!

Finally, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about SERVING God and each another. Jesus said, “I did not come to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). And then our Lord set the example for His disciples by washing His disciples’ feet. And He expects each of His followers to do the same. To serve one another. That means being the one who’s always ready to help and serve here in the Church. Let’s be creative and think of other ways we can serve the larger community outside the Church. What can we do to help others, to serve others, to bring God’s love in concrete ways to those in need all around us!