Being Disciples: “Stewardship” = Active Partnership
Aside from Christ Himself, the most oft depicted icon in Orthodoxy is the Theotokos holding the Lord as a Child. The Birth of the Theotokos near the beginning of the Ecclesiastical Year sets the pitch as to God’s purpose and destiny for humanity. She was given the responsibility of raising Jesus to maturity in order to accomplish the goal set by God for Him. The Virgin understood and fully accepted God’s purpose (though the fuller picture would come along later). This Child was her responsibility, doing even many menial and very challenging things (as any parent knows) that would allow and encourage Him to grow. It was not “well, if it doesn’t work out with Jesus, I’ll get another child.”
An apprentice (“disciple”) was responsible to work with the Mentor to complete His (the mentor’s) task/project.
The Church-the Body of Christ expressed in the local Eucharist Community-is the network of relationships that proactively partners with Him to bring about the Kingdom of God “on earth as in heaven” to completion. The New Testament refers to the followers of Jesus as disciples. While some translate the word in terms of “student” (usually a full time commitment), a disciple (used in the New Testament describing all followers of Christ/members of the Church) is even more. The word disciple (Greek “mathi te”) was also used for being an “apprentice”- one being trained by a skilled person to be able to eventually perform the same tasks as the teacher. While in this capacity, an apprentice (“disciple”) was responsible to work with the Mentor to complete his (the mentor’s) task/project.
A Disciple of Christ means being an Apprentice of Jesus Himself
A Disciple of Christ means being an apprentice of Jesus Himself. Church is where this “training” (“askesis”-asceticism), this apprenticing makes us into “co-workers” of Christ Himself. Here the Gospel is proclaimed and applied to our life as a parish as well as personally, to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28: 19). The Holy Spirit is given to us to make us into Christ and work with Him to complete what He achieved through His death and resurrection. Entrusting ourselves (real meaning of “faith”) to Christ means learning to do what He does. “The one who believes in Me will do the works that I do…”(John 14: 12). “These signs will accompany those who believe…” (Mark 16: 17). This is not about “power” in the way the world understands it (the Gospel is about the Cross, the “giving up” of power). This means that God’s power is unleashed whenever people will do “whatever it takes” to learn to be a community that uncovers the life of Christ to the world.
The Parish, its deliberate intent as a whole (not just a “pocket of core people”) is clearly to be about being Disciples (Apprentice) of and becoming Christ.
Being a Disciple flies in the face of today’s religious consumerism where church is determined by “meeting my needs” as one is passively present. The theological frame of reference and whether the environment challenges us to genuinely work at dealing with our issues by participation in are negligible. Church is often a matter of convenience (e,g, “Its close by,” “the nice and attractive facilities,” “speaks our kind of ethnic, political language,” often even “a babysitting service,” etc). And “if one doesn’t work out, we’ll find another church”…as if one were speaking of a country club or parking space. There is nothing wrong with nice facilities, etc. in and of themselves, as long as the systemic structure of the Parish, its deliberate intent as a whole (not just a “pocket of core people”) is clearly to be about being Disciples (Apprentices) of and becoming Christ. This is far different than the passive attendance common to churches. There is a difference between auditing a course versus the hard work of a student for credit (all the more when claiming to be a “disciple” of Jesus). Church is not only the place to get healed, but also then to become healing for others.
Religions have become very corporate institutions today where often structures are maintained for their own sake, even at the expense of the spiritual life of its people. This is part of the reason many can have a “take it or leave it” (if “things don’t work out”) consumeristic attitude when it comes to Churches. The significance of a parish like St Matthew’s, however, is its vibrant, renewed liturgical life, the sense of Community and catholicity (integrating people from all backgrounds in Christ), its outreach and ministries (especially in proportion to our size), and depth of learning are seen by the impact in terms of repentance and healing. But healing (like St Peter’s mother-in-law in Mark 1: 30, 31) is reflected to the degree a person takes responsibility (like the Theotokos) for serving the Lord – being a disciple. We are all responsible for St Matthew’s. The life of renewal parishes doing missions is vital for not only them but in encouraging other communities that “this can be done.””
Being a “communion” of churches means a shared, reciprocity as opposed to a congregational isolationism.
The Lord (with the prayers of St Matthew, I’m sure) has invited us (and is inviting others) to partner/apprentice to bring this work to completion (e.g. Col. 1: 24). St Paul collected money for the Church in Jerusalem from the Churches he planted and pastured. Being a “communion” of churches means a shared, reciprocity as opposed to a congregational isolationism. People outside of St Matthew’s can be of help, whether it be financial, becoming a member or even just visiting on a regular (e.g. monthly) basis, as well as through prayer (done from this end with other parishes).
Being a disciple means proactively arranging priorities and schedules as an essential versus “extracurricular” activity.
This means making the time (as well as the “talent and treasure”) through participation in worship primarily and then other learning situations and means of service within the Church. Our Book Fair will take place September 26 and our Nameday Weekend will be celebrated November 13, 14. Also, Saturday, December 11 will be our presentation of “Eastern Christian Gifts for Western Christians” at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Wernersville. We look to do other fund raisers (e.g. “gyro fests” on perhaps at least a quarterly basis). Keep checking our website for updates. We need first the support of those in the Parish but pray that others would come to help. This will be a real “work year” for St Matthew’s, but being a disciple means proactively arranging priorities and schedules as an essential versus “extracurricular” activity that “may or may not fit into our schedules.” But this comes out of the awareness of the priority God Himself places on us, that it was essential that we be fully joined to Him. And the tuition for this “apprentice program” was paid in the blood of His own Son.
Wishing all a blessed Ecclesiastical New Year.