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An Orthodox Handbook

by Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos


Chapter 18 - Our Parish

1. The catholicity of the Parish

We mentioned that the Church is assembled and revealed with the event of the divine Eucharist and our participation in it.  The divine Eucharist is the mystery that transforms a community - such as the parish - into a Church (1 Cor.10:16-17).

Where Christ is, there the catholic (whole) Orthodox Church is - as we have seen Saint Ignatius telling us earlier on -who also proclaimed that it is an  inner catholicity and not an external (geographical) one that characterizes a parish. The reason for this is because with the divine Eucharist, Christ, the Head of the Church, is in the parish, as is the whole Church.

This place of the parish is fully based on Paul's teaching in the Holy Bible. «...when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you [...]  Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God [...]? For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat ...» (1 Cor.11:18-23).

Here, we notice that the Apostle uses the term "Church" (ecclesia), not in a static sense but a dynamic one, and relates it to the congregations of the Christian community in Corinth for the purpose of performing the divine Eucharist.  In other words, every time that Christians of a parish come together for the performance of the divine Eucharist, they become a Church - the whole Church (cmp.Rom.16:23). That is why the Apostle so categorically condemns every division in those congregations, stating that every thing that upsets that mystic unity constitutes an offence towards the body of Christ and a disregard towards the whole Church (cmp.1 Cor.11:17-34; 1:13).  The fact that a parish is the expression of the life of the whole Church is also revealed by the parishioners' lives in general, which are realized within the framework of parish living.

A parish has Priests, who come under a canonical Orthodox Bishop of that region and who guarantee the presence of Christ in the liturgical life as well as unity with Him. In the parish we will find holy Baptism, holy Chrismation and all the sacred mysteries. We also find the mystery of mysteries there: the divine Eucharist.  Every time that parishioners congregate for the performance of the divine Liturgy, they must be conscious of the fact that they are convening "in Church" (1 Cor.11:18); that they comprise the whole Church (cmp.Rom.16:23). Each member of a parish belongs to the Catholic (whole) Orthodox Church.  Thus, a parish does not comprise a segment of the Church but the whole Church, whose catholicity - as we saw earlier - is determined internally, with the presence of Christ in the divine Eucharist.

During the divine Liturgy of a parish, the Bishop is "present", signified by the fact that his name is commemorated by the officiating Priest.  Also present are the Presbyters, the Deacons and all of God's people. Also present are all the angels, along with the Most Holy Theotokos and all the Saints. The Father is also present, Who sends forth the Holy Spirit Who transforms the bread and the wine into into Body and Blood of Christ. Present also is all of Creation, which is assumed into the divine Liturgy and is transformed into a new Creation "in Christ": they are the bread and the wine, which become the Body and the Blood of Christ; they are the waxen candles, the holy icons, the Cross, and all of the material objects that participate in the divine Liturgy. It is the water, the oil, the incense, the palm fronds, the flowers... all of God's creations are united in the divine Liturgy, rediscovering that which had been lost with man's Fall - that is, the inner union, the proper relationship with God, which is a eucharistic (thanksgiving) one; a relationship of offering on the part of man (cmp.1 Chron.29:14-16).

In the divine Eucharist and in the liturgical life of our Church everything relates and is offered to God, so that He once again becomes the centre of the world. The divine Liturgy of a parish - just like every divine Liturgy - thus becomes Paradise - the Kingdom of God - and all who actually participate in it, and also get a taste, even from this life, of the commencement of the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


2. In peace let us go forth!

The event of this unity is what all the members of a parish are invited to experience.  We are all invited to transform the life of our parish into a miniature Paradise, where we can once again experience the lost unity with Christ, the Head of the Church, and with all of Her members - all of our brethren.

That which we are so intensely obliged to experience in the divine Eucharist - that is, the One Bread (1 Cor.10:17) - we are also required to experience outside the divine Liturgy, in our daily lives with our brethren, so that our whole life becomes a continuing Eucharist (thanksgiving).  This is the reason the Priest tells us at the end of the divine Liturgy that we must go forth in peace.  "In peace go forth!" he says.  What he means is that the sense of brotherhood we experienced with holy communion should be continued in our everyday life as well, throughout the week.  That is what we should "go forth" towards!

We must admit however that most times, we do not have this sensation - not during the divine Liturgy, nor after it, in our everyday associations with other members of our parish. We do not sense the Divine Eucharist as a mystery of communion with Christ and with our brethren, and that is why we do not feel the consequences that this has on our daily lives. That is the reason we cannot understand how we can have a foretaste of the Kingdom of God during the divine Eucharist.

The holy communion interests us, in the sense that it is a way to be united with Christ, but we forget that it is not possible for us to be joined to the head of a body if we are not joined simultaneously to all the members of that Body.  «There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all... », as the Apostle underlines (Ephes.4:4-6). Whoever dorgets this basic truth cannot be joined to Christ.


3. Charismas in the life of our parish

Not all the members of a parish have the same fervent faith or the same love for God and their brethren. So, it is only natural they will not display the same zeal for the Church.  However, it is the aware members of the parish who comprise that spiritual leaven which - albeit minimal - is destined to leaven all the dough (Matth.13:33; 1 Cor.5:6).  Salt is likewise minimal, but its effectiveness is tremendous, but only if it preserves its ability to be salty and is not «unsalty» for seasoning (see Mark 9:50, cmp.also Matth.5:13, Luke 14:34). This means all the charismas must be utilized «for the edification of the Church» (1 Cor.14:12). «Let all things be done for edification» (1 Cor.14:26). This should be kept in mind by every faithful.  Each faithful has received - as mentioned earlier - the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit (Eph.1:13-14 and 4:30;. 1 John 2:20 and 27). He has received various charismas (gifts) which should be activated within the parish's life of worship and its entirety of activities. According to the Apostle, «But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:  for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit [...]. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.» (1 Cor.12:7-13).

«But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary» (1 Cor.12:20-22). «For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another» (Rom.12:4-5).

«But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually» (1 Cor.12:24-27).

Saint Gregory the Theologian says that all the members of the Church have received the gift of the true light: both they who hold high ranks in Her Body, as well as they whose opus is the lowlier labours.  All are joined together within the common Body of the Church and all brethren serve the other brethren with their individual ministries. «Let no-one believe», he says, «that he possesses the gift of the true light as his personal possession alone… Other members help the body to see the light of day, but they don't lose their contact with the soil at all. Although the eye may be turned towards the light and should protect itself from dust so that it is not blinded, the foot fulfils its own mission when it is not afraid of becoming dirty from its contact with the soil. Thus all the members of the body are united by the precise fact that they serve one another mutually.  Because the foot runs while serving the eye and the eye sees in order to light the path of the foot.  The same happens with the members of the Holy Church: they should be discerned by their individual roles, while being joined together through love, so that the more "refined" individuals show the way to those who are more inclined towards the things of this world - much like the foot being guided by the eyes. What they do however - when utilizing their activity on their own part when preoccupying themselves with worldly things - they should do so, for the benefit of those who offer loftier services, so that the foot does not walk only for its own sake, but also for the sake of the eye, which shows it the path... It is not only those who hold the first ranks in the Church that receive the gift of the light, but also the humbler members which, despite their own desire to ascend to those heights, nevertheless remain amid those humble occupations on account of the service that they provide».

We cannot therefore isolate ourselves from our brethren, nor "bury" the talent in the sight of God - the talent which we received and was given to us to be utilized for the edification of our brethren. If we do that, we are not "faithful servants" but rather, "evil servants" (Matth. 24:45-51, 25:14-30, Luke 12:43-46, Luke 19:12-27)

It is our obligation to participate, actively and responsibly, in the life and the activities of our parish, in accordance with the talent that each one of us has received. We do not have the right to refuse our services when we are asked to. «As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ» (1 Pet.4:10-11. cmp.also 1 Cor.14:16-19).

«Come, ye faithful, let us work willingly for the Lord; for He distributes to His servants the wealth, and accordingly let each of us multiply the talent of Grace:  let each one of us be adorned with beneficial works, let the other perform a function of  splendour; may the faithful commune by word with the uninitiated, and another, scatter wealth to the poor... for thus we should multiply the loan, and as faithful stewards of Grace be made worthy of the Lord's joy. Make us worthy of that (joy), Christ our God, as the philanthropist that You are.» (Troparion of Great Tuesday).

Come, all you faithful, let us willingly cultivate the gifts out of love for the Lord, Who so richly distributes them to His servants.  Let each one of us strive to multiply the talents that He gave us.  Let the one impart wisdom through his virtuous deeds. Let the other offer his splendid services to the whole of his community. Let whoever has become familiar with the faith transmit it with his words to those who are ignorant of it, and let another scatter his wealth to the poor.  In that way, we will be multiplying that which God loaned to us and as faithful stewards of God's gifts, may we become worthy of the Lord's rejoicing.


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Article published in English on: 3-4-2013.

Last update: 22-4-2013.