Source: All Saints of North America Russian Orthodox Church
Recently, I met a pastor of a local independent, Protestant church. He was curious about Orthodoxy and had a lot of questions. He asked me how many times a year we held revivals. For those who are not from this tradition, a revival is a series of emotionally charged services meant to bring a new excitement about personal salvation and a greater degree of commitment to Christ. Revivals use an evangelist and a lot of emotionally charged music to bring about results.
I tried to explain to him that Orthodoxy has no need for revivals because the structure of Orthodox life is a constant challenge to "revitalize." Orthodoxy demands constant vigilance, prayer, fasting, am& attendance, and good works. I'm not quite sure that he understood me.
Yet, isn't it fair to say that sometimes our parish needs to be revitalized? The answer is yes, and our annual meeting considered this issue and many good ideas were proposed. You will hear more about them later.
In 1985, Archbishop Anthony gave a report to the Council of Bishops, entitled "On Methods of Revitalizing Parish Life and Piety." Since we are beginning to address this issue, I thought that it would be good to consider what His Grace, Archbishop Anthony, had to say.
"The great majority of saints ... attained their success in sanctity through the indispensable condition of attentively reading the Word of God and the writings of the Holy Fathers, which drew them to the other essential virtues: prayer, fasting, self-denial, patience, and love of God and neighbor."
To reinforce this idea, His Grace quotes St. Ignaty Brianchaninov: "All the holy ascetic writers of the recent centuries of Christianity affirm that... the study of the Sacred Scriptures... and the writing of the Fathers, and careful and steadfast direction according to them is the only path to spiritual success." His Grace also quotes St. Nilus who holds that frequent confession is also necessary for salvation.
St. Ignaty used this method with great success in four different monasteries where spiritual life was suffering or almost dead. "The number of monks increased, in some cases by four times; a large flow of pilgrims began; there arrived resources with which the churches and buildings were repaired, and new cathedrals were built..."
In case we are thinking that this is fine for monastics, but impractical for us, he quotes St. John Chrysostom: "I have always suggested and will not stop suggesting that you not only heed what is said in church, but also constantly occupy yourself in reading the Divine Scriptures at home ... Let no one say to me those words, cold and worthy of all condemnation. I am busy with public matters, I practice my trade, I have a wife, I am raising children, I manage a household, I am a layman; it is not my job to read the Scriptures, but that of those who have renounced the world. No, it is your job more than theirs; because they do not have as much need of the help of the Divine Scriptures as do those who turn to them in the midst of many tasks.… It is not possible for anyone to be saved who does not constantly practice spiritual reading; for if, receiving wounds every day, we will not constantly practice spiritual reading, then what hope have we of salvation?"
His Grace makes this conclusion: "There can be no doubt that if any pastor of a parish of our Church succeeded in interesting and attracting parishioners to the reading of the Word of God and the Holy Fathers ... the results would be real and tangible."
In the month's ahead, we will begin to implement some of the ideas put forward at the Annual meeting. Fundamentally, we want to build a stronger sense of community and fellowship with one another. We also hope to be a greater witness of Orthodoxy to the surrounding community, and finally to improve the financial health of our parish.
All these are worthy plans and goals, and if we commit our plans to the Lord, He will direct our paths. It is vital that each of us finds our place in Body of Christ. It is important that we draw closer together so that we can bear each other's burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ. It is our hope that the new projects and programs will help to accomplish these goals.
While the communal aspect of our Faith cannot be neglected, we should not forget the words of Archbishop Anthony. Certainly, by themselves, no amount of projects or dinners or programs will revitalize a parish. Each of us must individually and for our own sakes seek revitalization. We need to recommit to frequent confession, the study of the Divine Scriptures, and the reading of the Holy Fathers. This would energize us to embrace with greater depth the disciplines of prayer, fasting, witness, and church attendance.
I try to avoid the ofttimes maudlin philosophy of our society, but this one does apply. Years ago, a popular song contained this thought: "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." In the same vein, if there is to be a renewal or a revitalization in our parish and in our piety, it has to begin with me and it has to begin with you.