Towards a Clearer Concept of the Church
Sermon by Archbishop Sofrony
….. Therefore, also we, my dear ones, every parish individually, and the entire universal Church taken as a whole is the Body of Christ. Together we are the Body of Christ – every individual parish reflects in itself every day, at every Liturgy, when the Priest performs the Divine Liturgy, every parish commemorates the incarnation of our Lord.
On the Altar Table, at every Liturgy, the Lord becomes flesh under the guise of bread and wine. His Body and Blood are offered to us. In each parish, the Lord is present, not partly, but in full. Every parish, with the Altar table at its head… We are all the Body of Christ – not individually, but all of us together.
The (parish) community is gathered together with one condition – that we have united together in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, so that we would together enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is our only goal in establishing communities, in establishing parishes. Our first responsibility – of every parishioner – is to become the Body of Christ, the Body of the Church of Christ. Therefore we all must be one – we should not each one separately work out our salvation – but rather all together.
This is what we come to Church for – so that we together can fulfill our main task – to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. We do not come here for anything else. We do not come to expound on our relations, to explain what who thinks of whom. We come here because the parish – the Church – is the step to the Kingdom of Heaven. And we are all witnesses of this at every Liturgy, and we all answer “Amen” to the Priest’s exclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and Son…”
This is the beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven, here in the Church, my dear ones…not somewhere else…No other time but at Liturgy, nowhere but in the Church does the Kingdom of Heaven begin. It is the first step to the Kingdom of Heaven. And the first and foremost responsibility of the parish is for us together to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, so that we would together enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
But we often forget this responsibility of ours, and each parish often becomes some sort of external structure, some sort of organisation. And people come to the services, to the parish and it is as if they do not feel that they participate in the Liturgy, in what is happening on the Altar Table.
My dear ones, without your faith, without your love - the Lord cannot save us. For if we have love, if we have faith – only then can the Lord enter our hearts. Yet what is our hearts not occupied with during the Liturgy? What thoughts and what justifications is it not occupied with, instead of the main purpose that is happening at the Liturgy. The main thing that happens is that the Lord is present amongst us. The Lord, the Living God, present on the Altar, looks at our soul and looks at heart, at what it is occupied with.
Therefore, my dear ones, while we live in the vain, sinful world, do not forget what we come together for, why we establish parishes, what we live here on earth for. Remember that each parish individually, all of us together, are the Body of Christ.
We are members of Christ – but look at how we sometimes behave! How unfriendly we are, and how we have some sort of thoughts against our neighbour, against someone. Remember that this person also desires salvation, that for him as well the Lord was crucified on the Cross. Remember that also for this person, who we do not like at this moment, or who does something incorrect in relation to us – remember that for him also Blood was shed…
When we come to Church, we should wholly adore the Eucharist, adore the Lord – and come to Church for Him. We should come to Church and forget about the entire world that exists around us, forget about all the unfairness and all evil that affects us. We should fall on our knees before the Lord and beg for forgiveness and because of our sins, beg because of those offenses which we cause one another.
Remember that we must not come to Church mechanically, because we of habit – we are used to it, we come, and … we should come consciously. The Lord was not crucified on the Cross mechanically – it was not something that just happened – He was crucified because he adored us, because He loved His creation.
But do we adore Christ? Do we love Him? Is He the most important for us in the world? Or is something else? No – often what is most important for us, is what others think of us, or what others say about us – for us that is the main thing.
No, my dear ones – remember that the Lord shed His Blood for us on the Cross – for us all, equally. He loves everyone equally, and everyone is dear to Him. Even bad people are dear to Him, and even good people are evil before Him.
But remember, dear ones, when we come to Church – leave all your maliciousness and all your craftiness outside the walls of the Church, and come with a clean heart, just once a week, to the Church – come to the Living God. The God Who sits on the Throne (Altar), the God Who is given to you on the spoon from the Chalice – the Living God! Come to Him with your mind and heart. Look what exists in our heart, what is hidden in the heart – every sort of falsehood and every kind of obscenity.
My dear ones, remember what we live on earth for. Father Wsewolod, whom we commemorate today, called us to …. only this, he called and taught us to live in the Church, to be with Christ, to be with the Living God. When we commemorate our fathers and relatives who have departed before us, let us remember their teaching – do not only remember, but fulfil it in your lives. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples”, says the Lord, “if ye have love one to another”. If we will have the Love of Christ amongst ourselves, in our behaviour, we will be preaching the Risen, Living God.
But if we, by our behaviour, preach disputes, problems, or anything else that is against God, then we will not at all be preaching of God, but rather, we will be preaching of our passion, of the creations of the devil. It is him that teaches us, and teaches us how to be evil to each other. It is him that has us discover all sorts of evil in another person.
But rather, my dear ones, try to see in that very person, what is most good, most decent, most enlightened. And in that moment, in which that person perhaps has a bad attitude to us, try to see in that very person the most pure, the best in him – his soul, his intention to be saved, his love for God. Do not try straight away to see anything bad in a person – rather, see only what is good, what is pure. And then your guardian angel will open your eyes and disclose to you the person seen from the other point of view – the Gospel understanding. What did the Lord come to earth for? So that we would see each other through the Gospel – through the commandments of God.
After all, we do not see ourselves through the commandments. We forgive ourselves many kinds of deeds, but we do not forgive our neighbour.
My dear ones, let us look at each other through the Gospel, let us rouse ourselves to the love of God. Let us adore the services, the Liturgies – let us worship the presence of God amongst us. For whether we want it or not, the Lord is present in the Church, because He ordained it so, saying: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” His Church – that is us. It is not the walls, it is us, the souls. We are the Body of Christ. Therefore, let us conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the members of Christ. Let less be heard about any kind of disputes taking place amongst us. Let us forget about all disappointments when we come to God. And then the Lord will forget His displeasure in relation to our sins. If we learn to forgive and not notice what is said to us, then God will also forgive our sins. And then God will not turn His attention to our falsehoods.
My dear ones, I call you again to remember that we – the parish, the Church – are the Body of Christ. We have not gathered here for anything else, but to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven together. Therefore, my dear ones, hold every Liturgy dear, whenever it is served, by whomever it is served, and wherever it is served. Remember that on the Altar and in the Chalice God is present. On the spoon, the Body of the Living God is given to us. This is not just some ritual, not some mechanical act, but rather, the Body of the Living God. Think about that, and with fear of God and faith draw nigh to the Body and Blood of Christ. Amen.