We’re told by holy Apostle Paul, that having descended into the earth – that is into the depths of Hell itself – that our Lord Jesus Christ ascending on high bore in captivity slavery itself captive, and that he gave gifts unto men. The gifts that he gave are the gifts of the holy spirit. They are the presence of God in our lives and they are given to us for two reasons: They’re given to us as signs of God’s presence with us individually, and they’re given to us for the building up of the body of Christ. Now, there are profound misunderstandings about the nature of the Christian vocation, of the Church, and of salvation. People understood from almost the beginning that the church is a community, that salvation comes in communities and that everything that is given to us by God is communal. That doesn’t mean that we are communists. But in the early church, when in Jerusalem there were five thousand Greek speaking Jews converted at Pentecost who then decided to stay, and then sent letters home asking for their house and their property to be sold so that they could maintain themselves, the Christians in Jerusalem sold what they had and then gave it to those people. That’s why we have the deacons now: because the apostles one day realized that the Greek-speaking widows, the Greek-speaking virgins – young women – were not getting their proper share of food and of care from the church. So they appointed these men, these economists of the household, caretakers of the house, or in plain roman parlance, these butlers, these household servants. They were responsible for making sure that everyone was cared for rightly. In our time and in our age, the church is just the same. There are enormous churches – there are churches with five hundred or a thousand people – these are all in the United States. In Europe, there may be a thousand, or two thousand, or five thousand people at a service in church, but the parishes are not that enormous. The church there is a place you go to, and you may go to this church this week, and that church the next week. But here our communities are modular – it has good points. It allows us to be more like the early Christians in that we know the people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It allows us to set up an operating mechanism the permits us to run the church in a way that is appropriate to God’s desire for economy. On the other hand, it allows us to know each other to well, to offend each other, to make one another angry, and to become political. None of these are good.
It says that God gave this diversity of gifts to us; it means that you, and I, have received from the Holy Spirit at least one charismatic gift, at least one special blessing from God given to build up the body of Christ, to make the church stronger, healthier, more effective in the teaching and preaching and the charitable work of Christ. And since St. Paul says to pray for the higher gifts, it means that we who have received some gifts are capable of receiving more. And although the gifts are diverse, yet they are not qualitatively different. Therefore the priest in his location in the altar is not a better person than lady wipes down the tables and scrapes the floor in the hall, or even the one who cleans out the toilets, or those who cook in the kitchen, or those who vacuum. The diversity of gifts are given for the health of the whole, entire body, and as St. Paul says those members of the body which are not the most attractive, those not given the most attention, we clothe our ugly parts.
And so it is that ascending into heaven, Christ has poured out on us the Holy Spirit, which in Jordan the father poured down on Him. We have become recipients of that grace, but we can’t talk about it as my gift of the Holy Spirit, or my salvation, or my personal savior because Jesus establishes his relationship with the church, his body. It’s not that you and I each have our own little salvation that we can go out to Aurora and take with us. It is that salvation is through Christ in His body, the Church.
Today we’re going to install Parish Council members and officers, and there are different attitudes toward this. At one time, with the assistance of Bolshevik mentality, parish councils got the idea that somehow or the other they were supposed to be the opponent of the priest; that the priests were going to get uppity; that the priests were called servants of the cult – they were paid a salary, they were supposed to do a job. But the parish council ran the church and they were sure as heck going to tell you who was boss. In other places priests resented the councils and they argued with the people and they said, “I’m the priest here. I have all the power. Who do you think you are anyway?” And both of these are directly from the devil, both of these are directly from Satan. We’ve had splits in the Syrian, and the Russian and, the Ukranian church that, thank God are in the process or have already been healed, that primarily sprung from the question of “Who’s boss?” But I’ll tell you what. Jesus Christ is boss and none of us are put here to boss each other around; we’re put here to work together for the building up of the Body.
Whenever I let somebody goad me into pushing somebody around I always end up sorry, and somebody ends up angry. I remember, about 10 years ago, one of our parishoners said to me, “Father you’re a bad priest because you let people cross their legs in church and my grandmother always said that was a great blasphemy.” So I was out here talking one day and I saw one of the older young people with his legs crossed, and I said, “Uncross your legs.” I shouldn’t have said that. It wasn’t my job to do that then. I did it because that other person had gotten me riled up. And you know, it took people a long time to forget that – that I had singled out that person and criticized them. Parents should never correct their children in public. I tell people that if your kids are being bad, take them out, put them in a corner, have them face the wall and say, “Are you bored yet?”
When the people take their vow today they’re going to pray and they’re going to promise to promote the peace, unity, and tranquility of the church. And when you say that it sounds like you’re saying the same thing over and over again. Let me remind people who are going to take the oath today that this is a promise and that when they don’t keep that promise that they’re lying to God. Now, not if they’re not able to keep it. It’s kind of like if I decide I’m going to give 10% of what I have and it’s going to be this much, and then I lose my job. I can’t do that. It’s the intention that matters to God. But if I go in there lightly and I make big promises to God and I don’t intend to make the effort to fulfill them I am lying to him. I am foreswearing myself. The peace of the Church is not, as I have told you many times, simply that people aren’t fighting. The word peace in our vocabulary means the full integrity of everything. It means that the Kingdom of God which is here, which Jesus preached in the Gospel this morning, is at hand, and which is coming in its fullness should be present in the church. It means that everything is here needed to make this church work. It means that everything is here necessary to do the job that we have to do as this part of the body of Christ. And that we have to make sure that all that is here, that peace, that completeness, that fullness is used, is called upon, that all the gifts of all the people… Now sometimes people come to me and say, “There are so many people that don’t do anything.” Well, to me that’s like having people criticize my kids. My kids didn’t always do everything they were supposed to do either. It’s kind of like, “What am I supposed to do about it?” What they’re really saying is, “I want you to notice me, I’m doing a whole lot. You know, there’s other people not doing as much as I am.” That’s too bad. Find a way to get them to do it. It’s good for you – you’re getting to do great things for God, you’re getting to do extra things for God. That’s a special blessing, that’s a joy. If you resent doing anything you do for God or his body, don’t do it, because you’re not getting any blessing out of it and no good will ever come out of it, okay? Anything you do with resentment, with anger, withholding in your heart your full willingness to do it, anything you’re doing like that no good will come from it, it will be a waste of time, and it will be a burden on your soul. When people first join the church, they say, “What do you want me to do?” I say, “Stand and pray, then something will come along. Either God will tell you to do something or somebody will ask you and you’ll know it’s the right thing, and you’ll do it.” One thing I especially appreciate about Xenia: I give her a lot of odious tasks - I ask her to clean this, or to vacuum that, or to remove was from that – and you know she says, when she’s done, “Thank you, Father, for letting me help you with that.” As long as she keeps that attitude, as along as it’s sincere, she’ll receive two blessings for everything she does. So the peace is the completeness of the church.
It’s unity has to do with us not breaking up into parties and fighting about issues. Every institution that gets over 100 people – whether it’s a tribe, a clan, a church, or a club – every community that gets over a hundred has the temptation to form parties and fight with each other. And that is a blasphemous sin. It’s like tearing the arm of the body of Christ, or cutting the body down the middle. What we should do for those with whom we disagree is to pray more fervently, to set an example. I had a young priest who was beating the people up, and the bishop said, “If you want a transfer, I can get you one in about a year.” So he got up and he said, “The bishop is POed with you, he’s mad at you, and he’s going to move me somewhere else, and you’re not going to have a priest” – he told them that – “because you don’t come to confession enough, you come to communion when you shouldn’t, you don’t fast right, you don’t attend weekday services, you don’t come to my classes.” You know, I used to plan classes, and I’d plan them out myself and there would be three people, and the next week there would be three people but two of them would be different. So I decided, if you’re going to plan classes, make every lesson independent and don’t worry about who comes – the people who need it will be there. Anyway, he told them this stuff, and the bishop wrote back and said, “Father, your job is not to change your people. Your job is to change yourself so they will want to be like you are.” That’s a lifelong task. I haven’t even begun to start to accomplish it. But the unity of Christ comes from our all following one good shepherd who is Jesus, and the priest is the visible image of the one good shepherd on earth.
Peace, unity, purity: that means that the faith can’t be diluted. We can’t water it down. We can’t say on respect for life Sunday, “We’re not going to talk about abortion because it’s a controversial issue.” It’s not a controversial issue for the Orthodox church: it is destruction of human life.
And tranquility: You know, peace and harmony are one thing; tranquility is another. You can have things not in a riot, people working together, but people agitated, upset, nervous. So the church has to be a place of tranquility, and that means that you guys – guys? – you have to not rile the big people when they’re praying. Be quiet, pray. What you don’t know people is, some of these kids are prayer warriors – they’re in church five or six times a week some weeks, and they can pray five or ten minutes and the rest of the time they’re zoned out because God lets you enter into the kingdom and forget where you are. Some of them pray everyday, they’re at liturgy, they’re at vespers. I won’t tell you which ones, but it’s not just my own grandchildren. But it’s your guys’ job not to upset the big people – don’t run, don’t jump, don’t dance in church, and especially don’t tip candle stands over on your heads because even though it’s red, we’ll have to cut it up and burn it. God has given you, by your chrismation, the gift of the Holy Spirit and he’s continuing to send you new gifts. But what you need to do is keep opening up the gifts that God gives you, ask what can I do that I couldn’t do before, and then open it up, look at it, enjoy the precious stone that he gives you, and then ask, “how can I use this for the building up of the body of Christ, for the edification of the saints, my brothers and sisters?”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!