Χριστός Ανέστη! Christ is Risen!
May 3, 2022
Χριστός Ανέστη! Christ is Risen!
Are We Being the Church?
In just a few weeks we will celebrate the Feast of Holy Pentecost, the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles 50 days after the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pentecost was a Jewish festival, falling 50 days after the Jewish Passover celebration. It commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinaii, following the Exodus from Egypt. If you’re still reading, I encourage you to keep going, and not toss this aside. I know anything longer than a couple paragraphs is likely to lose people’s attention, but the question above has important context. If we claim to be “the Church,” how does what we’re doing here at St. John’s compare with the Church at Pentecost described in the New Testament?
It’s no accident that our Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection occurred at Passover, and the promised coming of the Holy Spirit occurs at Pentecost. Both events are the fulfillment of all that had been promised before. In Christ’s Death and Resurrection, we are freed from the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil. In the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Law of God is written in our hearts, and we become living “temples” of His Spirit dwelling in us.
Pentecost is also traditionally referred to as the “birthday” of the Church, for the Church as the Body of Christ is filled and empowered by His Spirit, to exist as His continuing Presence in the world, bringing to fulfilment God’s plan of salvation.
But what, exactly, is the Church? It’s helpful to start by saying what the Church isn’t. The Church is not a mere human institution alongside others. The Church is not a club or voluntary organization. The Church is not merely a means of preserving old traditions or familial identities. The Church, the ecclesia, is the Gathering of God’s people in Christ, redeemed by Him and empowered by Him to be the means of His salvation. The Church is comprised of all those living and those who have gone on before us, who in faith in the Risen Lord, continue to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to the world.
The second chapter of Acts describes that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles in the upper room. Immediately following, St. Peter, filled with the Spirit, preaches his great sermon, after which 3,000 souls are baptized for salvation. Then follows a description of just what the Church was about in those early days: “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers . . . and the Lord added daily to the Church those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42, 47)
To speak of what the Church is, we need to understand what the Church did. They continued to grow in their understanding of the Apostles’ teaching – to learn more of the Truth of the Gospel as revealed in the Scriptures and the witness of the Apostles who had been with and seen the Risen Christ. They shared in koinoinia, that is, true spiritual community with one another, brought about the Holy Spirit dwelling in them and characterized by the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. They shared in the breaking of bread, the Eucharist, partaking of Christ’s Body and Blood as they gathered together for worship. And they prayed. In all of this, St. Luke writes that “they continued steadfastly.” It didn’t just happen. It wasn’t through osmosis, or lip-service, or occasionally showing up. They continued steadfastly, that is, with great effort, commitment, perseverence, and discipline.
Such is the nature and work of the Church. They learned, they grew, the worshiped and prayed together, they partook of the Body and Blood of Christ, and they shared in community centered around their Risen Lord, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. In short, as the Body of Christ, the Church grew to resemble her Lord, and so draw the world to Him.
So, again I ask: Are we being the Church?
So much of what has come to characterize “Church” in our modern day is a far cry from that which was born on that first Pentecost. But what the Church is called to be hasn’t changed. I pray that as we celebrate Holy Pentecost on June 12, we will answer God’s call to each of us to live into what it means to be the Church here at St. John’s – that St. Luke’s description of the Church in the Book of Acts might be a description that applies to us as well, as by God’s grace we grow in our own commitment to “continue steadfastly” as the Body of Christ.
On Saturday, June 11, we will observe Saturday of Souls, as is the Tradition on the Saturday before Pentecost. All are invited to bring kolyva, and to offer names of the departed to be prayed for at the Liturgy. Following, we will be going to the cemetery for prayers and the graves of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord..