THE MEANS TO SALVATION AND OUR BASIS FOR MISSION
Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. In His person He reconciled man to the Creator of all. So great was His love for those whom He fashioned in His image that He Who is God, “made himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). In the history of the world no greater act of love has ever been performed.
Christ Who is both perfect God and perfect Man, being an actual historical figure, was the only One in the history of the world who ever revealed the truth about God and human existence, and who could testify how it is that man is to relate to his Maker and to his fellow man. Jesus Christ is the only means whereby God and the meaning of life may be fully known, not merely one of many means. Thus, for Christians our Lord is the key to salvation. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” (John 17:3) Christ is the Source of this saving knowledge of the One, Truly existing God.
All that our Lord accomplished during His earthly life was for the salvation of the world, and that because of God’s boundless love for man. Jesus taught that God is love and that man, being created in His image, should reflect that divine love. The central theme of all of Jesus’ preaching was love.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (22: 37-39)
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven …” (Matthew 5:44-45)
And then, St. Paul, who was chosen as the Apostle to convey our Lord’s teachings to the whole world, who understood so deeply the importance of Christ’s Advent, says in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing … And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” (13: 1-3, 13)
The message is clear enough. Though we have faith and hope, if we have not love, we are nothing. Or to put it in personal terms, related to daily responsibilities: even if we have “our Church” and faithfully perform all that is required of us by the local community; even if we serve long vigils and pray day and night; even if we develop worthwhile ministries and projects within parishes and dioceses; even if we keep all of the fasts and observe every Church holiday; if we do not have love, but rather, are filled with hatred, resentment, pride or arrogance, our efforts are for nothing. We may even profess to have the True Faith, but if love is lacking our efforts to propagate that faith sound like the ravings of fanatics, to those both within and outside the Church.
Love is not only that which saves us and the content of the Christian life, but inasmuch as it is that it also constitutes the basis of all Christian endeavor including missionary activity. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). In recent years the Orthodox Churches in America have seen the publication and production of thousands of Orthodox books, audio tapes and the like, in English. Resources that our forefathers in Christ could only dream of are at our fingertips. Computers and the Internet have opened up even further possibilities. As a result the faithful have become more aware of their own faith and of their responsibility to share it with others. Coinciding with this progress has been the (re)introduction into daily vocabulary of terms such as: “outreach,” “church growth,” “evangelism,” “catechumens,” “church planting,” and the like.
These changes reflect an incredibly positive turn of events. The tools necessary to accomplish our various tasks as Orthodox are at our disposal. But how shall we use them? Again, Christ provides the key. All is given out of love so that it may be distributed freely out of love. Our work as missionaries ultimately must have no other goal but the salvation of the neighbor, sought after out of love. Numerical increases in our census reports, apparent successes of various Church programs are important, and can be indicative of real spiritual advancement within the Body. One should continually be mindful, however, that these “measurable” signs of growth mean little, if anything, when love is absent. For we strive to bring people into a fellowship of love, reflective of the perfect divine love and unity existing between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When the call to “love as I have loved you” becomes firmly ingrained in our minds, when we begin to comprehend by God’s grace, the depth of those words, then not only will our missionary efforts be successful, but the term “efforts” will seem, in a sense, a misnomer. Joy, radiating from genuine love for those around us, will be at the heart of our missionary endeavors and will make light the burden of our efforts.
From The Dawn
Newspaper of the Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America