It looks like I have my work cut out for me. My new parish has 214 families, averages 25-30 chrismations a year, has a notable number of Albanian immigrants, and projects rapid growth. During “season” (September to May) the parish is full so in a year or two we may have to move to two liturgies. Fortunately four retired priests live here also and help serve every Sunday.
It also has a beautiful Church recently built. (See pictures here: St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church.) It’s quite a change from the storefront Church I pastored in Atlanta, but where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, Christ is among them. The commission to preach the Gospel of Christ and the ministry derived from that commission is the same where ever one serves.
My focus will be on preaching the Gospel of Christ with clarity, directing the community into a greater comprehension of that Gospel, and establishing programs and other efforts in ways that enable us to conform ourselves to that Gospel so that we may encounter Christ who is revealed through it.
The Gospel of Christ is very powerful. I have it seen it heal divided parishes, give direction to young people, comfort the lonely and aged, and more. Just last week I spent hours with a 43 year old man dying of cancer who embraced the Gospel and was thus able to reveal Christ through his suffering in ways that, I am convinced, will bring many others to salvation. In fact, it is already beginning. At his funeral several people who had not attended a church in years mentioned things I can only describe as the first encounters with the Savior.
He asked me what he must do during his final days and I responded that he must obey the commandments of Christ. In his case it meant that one way was to comfort those who came to comfort him, showing them that his impending death was a cross he willingly bore. He did just that. The man was a real Christian. And when the final reward is given, he just might (only God really knows) receive the martyr’s crown.
Never diminish what the Apostle Paul calls our “high calling in Christ Jesus.” When the cross is heavy, find people to help you bear it. Make serious people your friends, those who grasp – even if just intuitively – that this Gospel that we hear does indeed reveal Christ, and that Gospel (again quoting scripture) can turn the world upside down.