The Parish and the Priest

BY METROPOLITAN METHODIOS

     Why is a Parish established? What is expected of a Priest? I bet most of you are wondering why I bother to pose such questions, the answers to which are so obvious. Yet, we sometimes fail to remember that a Greek Orthodox Parish is established to proclaim the salvific message of Jesus Christ-the message of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation. Too often --- for some individuals--- parishes are centers "of godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." (1Timothy 6,20).
     St. Paul teaches us that "The Church is the Body of Christ and we are members of that Body." A Parish is a Christian Community, not a secular club, not a fraternal organization. It is not governed by the ways of the world, but by the ecclesiology and tradition of our Church as defined by the Fathers of the Church in the Ecumenical Synods and local Councils. It is an ecclesiology and tradition nourished by the blood of the Martyrs. Every Community in our Metropolis must be a modern day Jacob's well---a refreshing oasis where life's travelers may quench their spiritual thirsts.
     Every Community must be a beacon of faith, concern and commitment, reaching out as Christ demands in the Gospel "to these, the least of my brethren." To those who are homeless and hungry, to the hopeless and the destitute. The philanthropic concern of the Church must not be limited to Thanksgiving, or Christmas time, but every day of the year.
     What is expected of a Priest? Priests are commissioned to lead the community they serve. They are expected to dedicate their Priesthood towards bringing about a spiritual renewal. Their every effort is Christ-centered.
     A Priest is the head of a Community responsible to exercise the priestly function. His ministry is to shepherd the flock entrusted to his care. His task is to direct in an orderly fashion the entire life of the Parish, to preserve the unity of the Faith, to see to it that the Parish is faithful to its purpose which is to keep and proclaim the Faith and traditions in conformity with the doctrine, canons, worship and customs of the Greek Orthodox Church. The diakonia of every Parish must be the proclamation of the message of Jesus Christ.
     Every Priest is assigned to be the leader of the Parish, not an employee. Leadership presupposes a willingness to serve. Christ said that He came "to serve, not to be served." He told His disciples, "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first, must be your slave." Every Priest strives to follow the example of our Lord and Savior. To remember His words: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10, 14-15)
     Leadership presupposes a willingness to serve. It also requires the courage to stand for what you believe.... Rather what the Church believes, what the Church proclaims. A Priest may be misunderstood; he may be reviled. During those difficult times which are bound to happen, a Priest must pray all the harder, and remember what our Lord said to His disciples, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you are of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.......If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also." (John 15, 18-21).
     Every Priest is expected to teach the Faith pure and undefiled; to defend the Faith. The Church can never sacrifice on the altar of expediency what She stands for, what the Saints have taught. She cannot compromise Her principles. If She does, She is not worthy of the blood spilled by the holy martyrs in defense of Truth. Let us remember the words Saint Paul wrote to the Christians living in Rome, "I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissension and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of many." (Romans 16, 17-18)
     Priests work cooperatively with the laity and utilize their individual gifts to build the community, the Church, the Body of Christ. Those who serve with them must be men and women of good repute, of deep faith and commitment, who live the sacramental life of the Church, who attend Services, who are liturgically alive, who are knowledgeable of their Faith. They must be men and women who, by their sterling Christian family lifestyles, provide an example for other laity to emulate. Through the cooperative efforts of clergy and laity, I pray that all of our Communities be beacons of our Faith.