Tag Archives: Spiritual Formation

The Mission of the Church

The Church is Alive! Indeed it is!

Despite what reporters claim based on national and international surveys, regardless of impressions, some might want to create, notwithstanding the ongoing secularization of the world, the Body of Christ – His Holy Church – is Alive.

Go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

A priest I knew once and a mentor of mine said that the greatest fear of modern times is that Jesus actually meant what He said. And right there in the Gospel according to Holy Evangelist Matthew, He gave us our marching orders.

Here’s the truth: at baptism, you and I are given a mission. This is our baptismal call. We are all entrusted with a sacred purpose to do for others in Christ’s name.

Our mission is to take the many gifts that God has entrusted to us and build his kingdom on earth. The primary gift we are given is the love of the Holy Spirit. That love sanctifies us as we share it with others.

The word “mission” means “sent.” To be on mission is to know that, with the love of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we are to live each day as bearers of the Gospel. A mission is always a movement toward others and for others.

As announced by Metropolitan Antony, the Strategic Plan of the Church is a planning initiative designed to help us discover how best to be on mission in this present moment of the church.

At our baptism, we received a number of powerful gifts from the Holy Spirit to equip us for this mission. The first of these are the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which unite us to God directly. These virtues enable us to make a heroic difference as people of grace. We become
a gift to others.

We are called to be an anointing upon the world. This is expressed by charity, the radical gift of self. We can love in this way because we have hope in the promises of God. And we have hope because we have faith in God’s mercy.

At our baptism, we were also given the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, reverence, piety and courage. Each of these enables us to serve others in making God known. Often it seems that our world has lost all sense of the sacred. The gifts of the Holy Spirit make us a means for people to encounter the sacred.

Each of us is also gifted with “charismata” designated for a specific purpose. The Holy Spirit empowers each of us to build up the body of Christ in some special manner. Some of these gifts are teaching, prophecy, healing, administration, leadership, mercy, etc. What are your gifts and how might God be calling you to serve the Living Church of Christ – our Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA?

This is the question we are asking ourselves together – every member of this Metropolia during this time of prayer and study of our Strategic Plan of the UOC of the USA. What gifts has God given to you and me, and how can we use them to advance the mission of Jesus Christ?

Do you believe you have a mission from Jesus? As a bishop of the Church, I want you to believe this. It is a mission to “learn Christ, love Christ and live Christ.” We are to live out our baptismal call of love in whatever ways the Holy Spirit leads us.

And that puts us on our “mission from God.”

+Daniel,

By the Grace of God your bishop and brother in the Lord

Living In A Secular Culture

We live in a secular culture.  As Fr Alexander Schmemann describes it our culture isn’t “necessarily anti-religious.” In fact, American culture is “both deeply religious and deeply secularistic.” But instead of being the over-arching framework that also permeates the whole of life (what the sociologist Peter Berger called a “sacred canopy), religion is seen as merely a part of life.

We are often quite sincere in our affirmation, Schmemann says, of “the need for religion” and we even “give it a place of honor and cover it with many privileges.” But while we look to religion (including the Gospel) to “supply life with ethical standards, with help and comfort, we often fail to expect the Gospel to “transform life” to transform us and those we love.

As a practical matter, this means that as an Orthodox Christian I can believe “in God and in the immortality of the soul” even pray daily “and find great help in prayer.” But when I go to work (or in the case of Orthodox young people, school), everything that I do, is done without any reference or discussion of “the fundamental religious realities of Creation, Fall and Redemption” (you can read the whole essay here).

And not only are we all generally accepting of this state of affairs, many of us even advocate for it because we live in a “pluralistic” society.

For our young people, school, extra-curricular activities, social media, and the entertainment they seek out, almost the whole of how they spend their day, happens without reference to the Gospel. This leads to the situation in which they don’t so much reject Christ and the Gospel as they simply drift away.

Spiritually, it’s like what happens when children are raised only playing video games and never going outside to play. To a large degree, we are seeing the fruit of young people being raised to be spiritual couch potatoes. Or what the fathers call the sin of sloth (acedia)

In Liturgy and Life: Christian Development through Liturgical Experience, Schmemann touches on a theme we have seen before. Orthodox Christians, like our Roman Catholics (here), Evangelical Christians and Mainline Protestants brothers and sisters, are struggling with forming young people as disciples of Christ. We know that telling young people about God isn’t enough. They too need to meet, know and love God.

What we are talking about is broader and deeper than religious education; we’re concerned with the spiritual formation of young people.

This is a task that belongs to the whole Church. This is why we need to look not only at young people but also ourselves. Why? Because “We cannot teach what we do not practice ourselves” (Life and Liturgy, p. 14).

Even when they rebel (and this is next week’s topic), young people do so using the emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual toolkit adults gave them. This raises three fundamental questions for us as youth ministers.

  • How are we failing to provide young people with the tools they need to discern and live out their vocations? In other words, how are we failing to help them rebel against the world by following Christ?
  • How are we succeeding? What are we doing well to help young people to live out who they are in Christ? Or, how are we helping them rebel against the world by following Christ?
  • Mindful of our weakness, how can we build on our strengths to help young people live life as disciples of Jesus Christ within the context of the Orthodox Church and their daily lives?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh on Humility

Humility in Russian means a state of being at peace, when a person has made peace with God’s will; that is, he has given himself over to it boundlessly, fully, and joyfully, and says, “Lord, do with me as Thou wilt!” As a result he has also made peace with all the circumstances of his own life—everything for him is a gift of God, be it good or terrible. God has called us to be His emissaries on earth, and He sends us into places of darkness in order to be a light; into places of hopelessness in order to bring hope; into places where joy has died in order to be a joy; and so on. Our place is not necessarily where it is peaceful—in church, at the Liturgy, where we are shielded by the mutual presence of the faithful—but in those places where we stand alone, as the presence of Christ in the darkness of a disfigured world.

Read the rest here: Spirituality & the Role of the Spiritual Father

What Spiritual Formation Isn’t

Looking back at what we seen about spiritual formation (here) and my life as a member of the Church (here), it should be clear that spiritual formation isn’t same as my prayer life (here). Yes, I should pray—and pray daily. I should read Scripture daily since “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, as St Jerome reminds us. Likewise, it is important that I receive Holy Communion often and with proper preparation. “Unless you eat My Body and drink My Blood, you will have no life within you” (see John 6:53) but I must examine myself first since “he who eat and drinks unworthily condemns himself” (see 1 Corinthians 11:29). This is why it is so important that I go to confession; “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). Finally, a sound spiritual life requires that I take part in the other liturgical services of the Church and “not neglect the assembly” of the saints (see Hebrews 10:25).

Service to others—especially the poor—is also essential. “[F]aith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). After dismissing faith without works as the faith of demons (v. 19) the Apostle James says that works perfect our faith (v.22). But just like I can confuse spiritual formation with prayer, I can likewise simply as a kind of “baptized” professional education. Clergy, lay ministers and those who are professionally engaged in the care of others are especially prone to this. Like Martha we become “worried about many things” forgetting that “there is only one thing that is needful” (see Lk 10:38-42).

Prayer and philanthropy are the fruits of a consonant Christian formation. The more I become who I am in Christ, the more I will spontaneously reach out beyond myself to God in prayer, and my neighbor in charity. And because what I do is prompted by the Holy Spirit there will be a flexibility, a peacefulness and a gentleness to my prayer and to the assistance I offer to others. This will be especially the case when the situation is grave and I feel pushed beyond my limits.

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how or what you re to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).

Prayer and philanthropy are not just the fruit of a proper formation. They an essential part of my spiritual formation; they help me come to understand better who I am in Christ. Prayer and works of service also shape my character, they reveal hidden facets of my personality and challenge me to be the person God calls me to be. Maybe my favorite examples of this are two parts of the Divine Liturgy that we’ll look at this in my next post on formation.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory