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What is Ministry in the Church?
By By Rev. Andrew Barakos
Dec 27, 2010, 10:00
Source: The Orthodox Oasis: Newsletter of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church
The word ministry has many connotations. Often it is only associated with the job or duties of a parish priest. In looking at the tradition of the Church, however, it is clear that there is no ministry in the Church other than Christ's ministry. This means that every aspect of Church life is the ministry of Christ. The obvious implication is that the clergy and the laity are called together to fulfill the ministry of Christ in the world.
Fr. John Zizoulas, as professor of theology, once said, "The Holy Spirit realizes the ministry of Christ as the ministry of the Church."
The realization of the ministry of Christ within a given community has a lot to do with the members' willingness to engage in it. We all have received by virtue of our sacramental entrance into the Body of the Christ a calling to bring Christ's ministry to the world. The ministries that Christ enables us to do are the fruit of dying to oneself and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead our hearts. Having taken the "ego" out of the picture (we can never say ‘my ministry is...') allows Christ to work through us - personal pride and agendas taint the purity of our good works. In summary, each member of the Church is a servant of Christ's ministry.
The Problem of "burnout"
The pitfall of parishioner "burn out" is the result of losing sight that the empowerment to do the ministry of Christ comes always from Him - not us! When things do not go well in the Church and one feels abandoned, if Christ is not at the center of one’s life the solution is escape. Trials, afflictions, and tribulations are part of being a disciple of Christ. Without His grace and power trials often overwhelm parishioners and they leave one community for another. Staying and working through the afflictions allows for spiritual growth that many opt not to engage in. Christ is the Anointed One and we have become sharers in Christ's anointment by being joined to His Body (Fr.Alexander Schmemann). This is what empowers us to become victors and not victims. Christ has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father (Rev 1:6), which means that we are never left alone to fight the good fight. At our Chrismation, we receive the Holy Spirit as a Gift, which makes us temples of God; consequently, the purpose of our life is to share in His life, in His holiness, and in His sanctification. We share these gifts with the world to accomplish His ministry, not ours.
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Christ makes us kings who are called to die daily
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ruled creation by remaining obedient to God. In the fall, they disobeyed God and lost their role as kings and became slaves. Christ restores in us our kingship in baptism by becoming partakers in the death and resurrection of Christ. By taking up our cross daily and following Christ‘s example, our kingship in Him is fulfilled – He leads us so that we may lead others. We are called to die daily to the notion that this world as an end in itself and to have every decision focused on living for the Kingdom which is present in the church and is to come in its fullness when Christ returns. His Kingdom is present NOW in the Church, it is in fact, the gift of the Church.
Sunday is the Lord's Day
On Sundays, we assemble as the Church to manifest ourselves as kings of the King. Great care ought to be taken so that the distractions of our lives do not hinder the precious gift of our undivided attention that the Divine Liturgy deserves. Sunday, is the "Lord's day" it belongs to Him and it requires of us the greatest respect. For whatever reasons it has become acceptable to arrive at any time during a Liturgy -- this is fundamentally wrong. The text of the Liturgy implies that we are all present to give our "Amen!" to the priest's first words, "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages." If we find ourselves anywhere else but in Church on Sundays, we have allowed the world to enslave us and make us its servants.
Christ makes us Priests
Another consequence of our sacramental entry into the Church is that Christ restores in us our priestly nature. As Christ has shown, one's priestly nature is fulfilled in offering and sacrifice. Christ has offered Himself once and for all upon the cross. His disciples are called to also become living sacrifices. This offering is to be done communally and comprehensively as in the Liturgy: "Let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole lives unto Christ our God." Every decision of personal life and the communal life of the Church becomes subject to the will of God. Consequently, our concern grows for sharing and witnessing the truth of Christ to others because no longer are we examples of worldly Christians following their own wills.
The "Me Generation"
Fr. Schmemann used the word "consumer" as the best expression of NOT realizing one's priesthood in Christ. Adam was the first consumer by taking that which was not offered. In the same way, adults and children are led by marketing companies to become the "best" consumers possible. The lie being told by marketers is that possessing things leads to happiness. True joy, wholeness, peace and love are found in God and not in the false gods of consumerism. God invites us to His table for all that He has to offer and warns us to avoid the table of food that perishes. The shallow consumerism ethic has produced a "Me Generation" that is characterized as egotistical, selfish, and prideful consumers. God did not create us as consumers of
the world but as consumers of His Grace which in turn creates people who can only then offer Christ back to those around them.
Christ makes us Prophets
The Prophet is the one who knows the will of God, can discern life's events and situations with divine Wisdom, and is not fooled by the deception of the world and sin. The prophetic role of church members is fulfilled in having the "eyes of Christ" to see the injustices of the world and the "legs" to put into action solutions. Injustices like that of poverty, orphans, widows and homelessness become central concerns for a Church with “eyes to see.” We become prophetic having the "ears of Christ" to hear the pains and struggles of each other so that by listening we bear one another's burdens. We become prophetic having the "mouth of Christ" learning selfcontrol and instead of setting fires with our tongues, divine grace is heard extinguishing the anxiousness of others. Having the "mind of Christ", we can direct our personal talents for the building up of God's kingdom. Our time, talent and treasure finally become gifts back to Christ as we allow ourselves to fulfill the ministry of Christ in the world.
To Him be given all glory, honor, and worship. Amen.
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