Today the Church begins the cycle of Gospel Readings from St. Luke. Now, St. Luke was a Gentile, and not a Jew, and, by profession he was a physician, so it’s not surprising that we see a great number of healing accounts in St. Luke’s Gospel, as well as an emphasis on mission and evangelism, his obvious desire in writing this account of the Gospel being to present it in a way so as to be more effective in the evangelization of the Gentile people- most all of us.
In today’s Reading, we hear that Christ, Who had only recently begun His earthly ministry, was teaching the people about the Kingdom of God, evangelizing them, and healing their diseases and infirmities. Notice the response of the multitude of people around Him- not necessarily their response to His teaching, but rather, to Christ’s actual presence among them, how they reacted to the fact that there was a Holy Man, a Man of God, going about the country preaching, teaching, and healing.
Hearing of Him, vast numbers of people would go out to see Him when He was in their area; some traveled great distances in order to do so. And others were beginning to even follow Him around as He traveled and taught- the formation of His disciples had begun. In today’s Reading, Holy Scripture tells us that the multitude was pressing around Jesus, in order to hear the Word of God. They were hungry for what He had to say, to teach; they were hungry for Him. Something about this Man from Nazareth, about His words, His miraculous deeds, His very presence, lifted them up, however briefly, away from the travails and hardships of everyday life in Palestine two thousand years ago, and showed them that there was something... more. They longed for the opportunity to experience this sense of the transcendent, of God, in their daily, mundane struggle to survive.
I ask you, brothers and sisters, are things any different today? While many things have changed in the past two thousand years, at least one thing has not- we are still Fallen Human Beings, exactly the same, in all of the ways that really matter, as the people about whom we read in Holy Scripture. Our society, our race, is hungry for an experience of the transcendent in their lives, whether they realize or not that it is actually God for Whom they long. People today have seen the disastrous results of secularism- not to say that secularism, and consumerism, do not still dominate our world. But the jaded children that our society has been forming for the last couple of generations are beginning to realize that there is, indeed, something more, something better, than what this Fallen world has to offer.
And this is precisely because, as St. Augustine said, we have been created in such a way that we only know, and experience, true fulfillment when we, by grace, faithfulness and love, dwell in God’s presence, and He in our midst. As the old saying goes, we have been fashioned with a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only He can fill, and until He does, we search in vain for fulfillment in our lives.
Now, the problem, of course, arises from the fact that, today, people will rush to crowd around just about any person coming along who promises some form of spirituality, regardless of the source, or the direction in which it will take them- which is typically, away from the One, Holy, Consubstantial and Undivided Trinity. A quick glance at the NY Times Best Seller List will reveal just how many books are being read about “spiritually”, but how few are actually Christian, let alone Orthodox Christian.
So, that’s where we come in. By the grace of God, we are the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church, the spotless bride, the very Body of Christ. And just as the hunger of the people for an authentic experience of God in their lives has not changed in the last 2000 years, so also has our responsibility, our mission, our vocation as Christ’s disciples not changed- to launch out into the deep and let down our nets for a catch. There are dozens, hundreds, of people, and books, and cd’s and tapes and TV shows and magazine articles out there, trying to tell people how to live a more “spiritual” life. But they do not have the words of eternal life, they do not reveal the path of salvation. By the grace of God, you can.
Now, certainly we don’t all have the gift of evangelization- but we are all called to be preachers, remembering that old phrase, “Everywhere you go, preach the Gospel- use words if you have to.” To preach the Gospel, to teach them to observe all things that Christ has commanded us, requires nothing more, and nothing less, than living Christian lives. It requires that we provide the answer for which so many people today are looking, as they search for some form of spirituality in their lives, and that answer is love. God’s own love, in which we participate, and share with all of His children. “Spirituality”, or the “spiritual life”, has always been understood by the Church to be the actual presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Who is love, in us, in every aspect, every moment of our lives.
However, our sacred vocation also requires that all of us be prepared, as St. Peter instructs us in Holy Scripture, to offer a defense to everyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us. We might not all have the gift of verbally preaching the Gospel; nevertheless, it does behoove us all to educate ourselves regarding our Faith. We should all be prepared to answer people’s questions about Christianity, but, given the society in which we live, we must more specifically be prepared to answer questions about Orthodox Christianity.
When someone asks you about your Faith, and you tell them you’re Orthodox, and then you clarify that you are, indeed, Orthodox Christian, and not Orthodox Jewish, what more do you have to say? People might ask you about what the Orthodox Church believes, and teaches. Are we different from Roman Catholics? From Episcopalians? How? Are you prepared to answer these questions? Because if you are prepared, if you take the time and make the effort to learn about our Faith, then you are showing God that your Faith is of great consequence to you. And, just as importantly, we put ourselves in a position to be used by God, to help others struggle to work out their own salvations.
Because you never know when your answers to a few simple questions that a stranger, or a friend, might ask of you, might make all the difference to that person, where they might be in their own spiritual journey and struggle, where Christ Jesus is in their life at that moment.
And please remember that the place where we might fulfill Christ’s commandment to teach “them to observe all things that I have commanded you”, the place where His teaching may still be found in full, is the Holy Orthodox Church. In today’s Reading, in response to the people’s need, we heard that Jesus entered and taught them from a boat- often a boat is used in Holy Scripture to symbolize the Church. Christ’s teaching was, and today, still is, delivered from within the context of the Church.
Brothers and sisters, I pray that we all remember this sacred responsibility that we bear, our response of love to God for all of the blessings He has bestowed upon us, and that we take the Great Commission to heart, making it a priority in our daily lives- going out and evangelizing the world, baptizing in Name of the Holy Trinity, and bringing them into the Body of Christ. God has given us the incredible opportunity of building His Kingdom in our own communities, and He will see to it that our Temples are filled, and flourish, if we commit ourselves to this task, for His glory, and that souls may be saved.
Our Holy Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA will flourish, for the glory of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, only if we leave our nets behind and follow Him. I pray that we all heed the example set for us by the first-called Disciples, of obedience, willingness to abandon all things of this world in order to follow Christ. That we all commit ourselves to preaching the Gospel with our lives, through our love for all people, and that we all commit to being prepared to offer a defense of our Faith, should we be asked. For this is how we will bring those around us into contact with the spirituality which so many today are seeking- not with just any spirituality, whatever might be on the NY Times Best-seller list at the moment, but true spirituality- life in Christ, in this, His Holy Orthodox Church. And we will all become true fishers of men.
Through the prayers of Holy Protomartyr and Equal-to-the-Apostles Thecla of Iconium, and by the grace of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His Father without beginning, and His all Holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Rev. Gregory Czumak
Four Evangelists Orthodox Mission
UOC of the USA
Bel Air, MD