A Changed Life
For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles – when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. (1 Peter 4:3)
Last weekend we celebrated the Sunday of Zacchaeus, that signal in the Slavic liturgical tradition that preparation for Great Lent is about to begin (the Greek tradition uses the story of the Canaanite Woman, Matthew 15:21-28). The Lenten Triodion (the book of services for Lent) starts next Sunday with the Publican and the Pharisee. This year Lent starts very late, March 18 and Pascha is not until May 5th (western Lent already started on Ash Wednesday last week.)
One of the main points of the Zacchaeus story (Luke 19:1-10) is to give us an example of someone who decided to live radically differently after encountering Jesus. He was not the same afterward, and everyone around him knew it by his actions and by his joy.
Today’s epistle says something similar about the changed life. Whatever dominated our past life—and we may have a different list than Peter’s—it’s time to put that away and refocus on the life in Christ. And in today’s gospel the Lord makes clear what that means.
“The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.
’And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.
And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
(Mark 12: 29-31)
Yesterday was an excellent meeting of OCA administrators: the chancellors and treasurers of most dioceses, and the officers of the Central Church Administration. In addition to learning from each other about what is happening in our respective areas across North America, we tackled difficult issues about how to fund the OCA as a whole, and working toward a workable resolution that makes sense in each of the very different dioceses. There is general agreement that for the long term we need to focus on outreach, mission and evangelism, making the Orthodox Christian message known and planting new parish communities. This, combined with deepening the personal commitment to stewardship needs to shape our basic approach. In the short and medium term, as the dioceses work at different paces, we will also need to find alternative ways of funding the church.
We were all gathered as administrators, and one of the experiences we had in common was the widespread lack of knowledge about what church administration does.
The first purpose of any administration is to foster a sense of identity and connection, whether it is “The Orthodox Church in America” or an individual diocese. Beyond forging and reinforcing a common identity and purpose, every institution needs administration to work in the background to keep the machinery running. Communications, a website. Clergy assignments. Insurance. Pensions. Legal concerns. Meetings of bishops, clergy and laity and visits to other churches to build brotherhood in Christ, to take care of the good order of the Church as a whole and iron-out problems. Administration is also the sewer department that deals with the bad stuff most people don’t need to see. Saint Paul includes “administrators” among those whom God has appointed for the building up of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:28). It’s humble work but should not be denigrated or discounted. We are all—whatever our form of service—working for the same God to build up the same Body.