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January-February 2018

posted Mar 17, 2018, 8:25 AM by St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church

October 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. During that month, there were a number of articles written about the effects of the Reformation in various spheres of life. One such article (The True Church and the American Church: How Protestant Ecclesiology Got Here, by Fr. Stephen DeYoung) talked about how our understanding of what the Church is has changed. The early reformers believed in the one church, as we continue to profess in the Creed. Yet, as any substantial unity of worship and belief began to fade, this understanding of what the Church is also began to fade. And we end up with a situation as that described by Fr. Stephen Freeman in his Getting Saved on Star Trek where “[the mother] was willing, she said, for her son to be Baptized, but not to “join the Church.” The two were very distinct things in her mind.” 

For the Orthodox, baptism is, among other things, specifically entrance into the body of Christ, which is the Church. In the prayers in the narthex we pray that God make the one being baptized “a reason-endowed sheep of the holy Flock of Your Christ, and honorable member of Your Church, a hallowed vessel, a child of Light, and heir of Your Kingdom.” So, in baptism, we become members of the Church and therefore, as St. Paul teaches us, we become “members of one another” (Rom. 12:5). For this reason, the Church has never viewed salvation as merely an individual pursuit. And it is for this reason that I find the Paraklesis service to be of great importance for a Greek Orthodox parish.

In the practice of other Orthodox churches (e.g., Romanian and Antiochian) names of parishioners in need of prayer (and, let’s face it, we are all in need of prayer) are commemorated during each Divine Liturgy. Since that is not part of the Greek Orthodox practice in the United States unless a bishop is presiding at the Liturgy, the paraklesis service becomes our opportunity to act on the understanding that we are connected to one another, that our salvation is connected to that of those around us, by praying by name for one another. Now, a paraklesis service, unlike a Liturgy, can be celebrated even by the priest alone, but a service without a congregation, while retaining its intrinsic goodness, diminishes the role of both the priest and the laity. The priest is not a professional pray-er, perhaps akin to the wailers that would attend funeral processions in days of yore, and the laity are not merely along for the ride during the services. The prayers of the laity and the priest are meant to be lifted up together – the body of the local church caring in harmony for the salvation of all those commemorated.

Of course, no consideration of us as members of the Church is complete without considering the Church and the Eucharist as the body of Christ. In no other way do we so completely make present the image of Christians as members of a body as when we are united with Christ and, implicitly, with one another, in the Eucharist. The Church takes this union into which we enter very seriously. In the prayers of preparation for Holy Communion, we find this admonition: As you are about to eat the body of the Master, approach with fear lest you be burned, for it is fire.  And before you drink in communion the blood, be first reconciled with all those you have offended; then you may take courage to eat the mystic Food. We have here an echo of St. Paul’s words: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). The Church calls us to a restoration of peace before partaking of the Eucharist. It is for a similar reason that, right before partaking of the divine gifts the priests asks “My brothers and sisters, forgive me, the unworthy priest” – this is never a mere ritual act, but a final attempt, should there be something that he forgot or something to which he was unable to attend, for the priest to be reconciled to the faithful prior to communing of Christ. So, if we have caused someone to have reason not to want to be united with us in the body of Christ, the Church calls us to do whatever is in our power to restore that communion before we come to the divine Communion.

With love in Christ,
+Fr. Peter

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