Can Man Satisfy Man?
Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
Jeremiah 8: 22.
Life seems to abound with repeated problems. Perplexities stare us in the face. Physical ailments plague us. Death comes near us. We search for answers to satisfy ourselves, but we so often seem to draw a blank. In the spiritual life what seems so obvious appears to elude us.
The humanistic and secular culture around us claims it has all the answers and we too many times agree with its conclusions. Personal injury lawyers offer their services from billboards. High tech medical advances promise cures. Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups offer solutions.
Of course, some of these may have beneficial insights and help. Why are we so eager to accept the answers the world offers and neglect the insights for sustained spiritual growth and soul-life sustenance provided by our blessed Church? Often we are ready to fall for hollow promises and artificial aid. Can a man satisfy all of man's needs? The disciples ended up where most of us do when we look all around us for answers.
Thus our Lord is constrained to correct them. "Do you still not see or comprehend? Are your minds completely blinded? Have you eyes but no sight? Ears but no hearing? ... He said to them again, `Do you still not understand'" Mark 8: 1: 17, 18, 21. Their approach to the Lord reflects despair and doubt. "Keep your eyes open! Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod" Mark 8: 15. How could there be a source of help to satisfy 5000 people? Five loaves divided by so many people surely did not promise satisfaction! "No", they must have been thinking, "We have no source from which to supply the needs of all these people." So it is true no parish can spiritually provide for a soul once it physically moves from its intimate embrace.
But in their midst was a man who actually could satisfy man. He could take of the paltry efforts and resources that man possesses and wondrously multiply it to complete satisfaction. He was, in his own words, "...the living bread who comes down from
heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever" John 6: 51. Christ, through the Church can continue to serve the needs of the soul moved away from the security of its old parish by means of missions to assure the affiliation and care of venturesome souls.
Why do we so frequently forget as the disciples did? Have we hardened our hearts to the rich resources of heaven? God forbid! Let us look to the only Man, Christ Jesus, as our first and primary source to satisfy the deep needs we experience, lest we sink in despair at the inadequacy of other men such as ourselves.
The inadequacy of man is first highlighted and then satisfied by the true man, Christ Jesus.
Recently, we established an evangelization and mission apostolate in the diocese to look - after the needs of souls who move away from their parishes into new territory so that their souls can continue to receive proper spiritual direction, sustenance and care. Unless all we do is in conformity with the will of our Creator, all that we attempt will fail. We cannot expect our God to bless that which is in opposition to his will. Initially we must emphasize the spiritual truth that Orthodoxy is a neighborhood and community faith. Orthodox believers belong to the parish in their area, not one at a distance. The practicality of this approach is obvious.
We can always be sustained in prayer life and community example if we are proximate to the parish church. We have no excuse to claim the church is too far distant or the weather is forbidding, so we cannot be present with the faith community. Orthodox believers are bound in spirit, conscience and soul to be part of the worshipping community each and every Sunday and holy day. If distance is an obstacle, a new solution must be found to overcome the threat to soul-salvation which inevitably occurs when our place in the pew is always or even occasionally empty. It is foolish to be traveling across state lines, even county boundaries if a local parish is available.
Reality teaches us we can force our children into a continued affiliation with an older at distance parish, but when they are more mature, they will not travel the distance and if they are not associated with the parish in a new location, are inevitably lost to Orthodoxy and become Romans and Protestants.
We have people living miles away from their parishes and seem to think that by keeping up their former parish dues and sending in an occasional offering, they are doing something praiseworthy and thereby purchasing burial insurance for the inevitable day. They thus satisfy their conscience erroneously that if they were closer, they would attend, but distance forbids regular worship. For emotional reasons, they wish to maintain membership in the church of their parents.
We cannot stay or remain focused on the past, particularly if we make a conscious decision to move to a new location, but must then concentrate on the continued safety of the soul in the present and future.
The correct approach as believers ought to be to register in the local Orthodox parish of our diocese and of course, attend and support it appropriately. Pray and worship where you live. Give witness of faith response in your own community. Support with your earthly treasure that local parish which primarily feeds, nourishes and sustains your body and soul. Whenever the prayerful desire arises, go and visit in your home parish to renew associations and prayers with former neighbors and parishioners. It is altogether not necessary to doubly pay dues to the former parish simply to be buried in their burial grounds. Being a member of any parish in the diocese qualifies a soul to be buried from any parish church or cemetery as long as Christian faith is genuinely lived and upheld. Certainly those expenses involved with lot purchase and grave opening are borne by those requesting such services.
Isolation from Christ for whatever self-imposed emotional reason is not acceptable to the believer, nor should membership in a parish be based on what can easily be misconstrued for ancestor worship and respect. Orthodox believers sustain themselves by faith in Christ, not what the warmth and camaraderie of friends does for them. These can be found and nurtured in any parish. Our soul is sustained by faith, not feelings.
Our faithful are moving about in untold numbers and will be lost to Christ in time if we remain indifferent or apathetic. Reality teaches us that before we can evangelize others, we must evangelize ourselves. We must be possessed of genuine faith. Before we can attract non-Orthodox to our blessed faith, we must be certain we are genuinely Orthodox. And it is the responsibility of all believers to be concerned about the salvation of mankind, not alone our own soul. If we are serious and wish to save our people from spiritual oblivion we must demonstrate own seriousness by faithfully adhering to the precepts, practices and teaching of the Church. "Better for us to obey God than men" Acts of the Apostles 5: 29. Actions speak louder than simple words. Missions are being founded and already exist, but they need support from local Orthodox residents. Before we can call upon the sacrifice of others, we must sacrifice ourselves, for our own spiritual benefit and the good of our own souls. "We testify to this. So too does the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those that obey him" Acts of the Apostles 5: 32.
We cannot give to others what we ourselves do not possess. Attempting to live a faith life from a distance is not only futile but a waste of misplaced effort. Souls who have moved away from their home parish, should pursue the grace of the Holy Spirit and begin worshipping at a local parish of our diocese. Let us not be guilty of the sin of omission, failing to the do the upright and moral thing when God has placed us in circumstances for us to act in concert with the mind of the Church. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and prayer" Acts of the Apostles 2: 42.
Particularly in cases of families with small children does the thought never enter into the minds of parents that they, should drive back to the local schools in which their children were comfortable. In moving to a new community we are eager to become integrated into all it offers for our betterment. Why should the Church be an exception? If there is a local parish of our diocese in the new area, it should be supported, attended faithfully and accepted as our new spiritual home provided by the grace of the Holy Spirit. "It was to you and your children that the promise was made and to all those still far off whom the Lord our God calls" Acts of the Apostles 2: 39.
As your father in Christ, I call upon each communicant of the diocese, priests and faithful alike to take seriously our admonition in regard to the mission apostolate, to assume personal responsibility and heed its timely advice, make the necessary adjustments and contribute to the stability, growth and development of precious faith in our midst. "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over you as men who must render an account. So act that they may fulfill their task with joy, not with sorrow, for that will be harmful to you. Pray for us; we are confident that we have a good conscience, wishing as we do, to act rightly in every respect" Hebrews 13: 17.
We must recognize if we are not part of the solution, we become part of the problem we are attempting to overcome. We are inspired by the words of Gamaliel revealed to us in Scripture for times such as these. "If their purpose or activity is human in its origins, it will destroy itself. If, on the other hand, it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them without fighting God himself" Acts of the Apostles 5: 38,39r.
Let us not be approaching our peers or others in faith, particularly at a distance from our living place to sustain our faith. Fellow believers cannot save our souls, only Christ can if we submit ourselves to fulfilling his will. The purpose of worship is to adore and praise our God, not to renew friendships or visit with relatives. If we are to grow as parishes, as a diocese, as individual Christian souls, we must uphold the teaching and proven understanding advanced by the Church which makes us grasp we cannot be Christian without the sustaining and nourishing faith of the local parish faith community.