Expectations of Members of Holy Protection Orthodox Christian Church
As detailed in the commandments of God and the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, we are called to approach our lives not as “me-oriented” but as God-oriented. Presented to the Holy Protection Annual Parish Assembly of 2016 and unanimously accepted as a summary of the duties of faithful Orthodox Christians and members of the parish.
Every member of the parish is expected to live the life in Christ by:
- Entrusting ourselves, one another, and all our life to Jesus Christ. We as Christians of “straight belief” and “right worship” (Orthodox) are to put God first, as He put us first. Since God put us first, we expect every member to reciprocate, and consequently reject putting themselves first (autotheism), and putting idols (the things we create as important) first (idolatry--oh, there are many idols, including ideologies and personalities in politics, movies, tv, radio; pornography and gambling, and the like). Christianity is where our opinions decrease, and our Creator's all-knowing and all-loving plan for us increases. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and certainly knows what is good for us far more than we know it for ourselves. We have as a guide the teachings of the Holy Spirit found in Scripture as well as the rest of the deposit of the Faith given to the Holy Church.
- Recognizing that the Church is God’s plan for humanity, uniting people with Himself in the grace-filled Sacraments of the Church that He might live with them and in them, and they in Him. A person does not "belong" to the Church as some sort of attachment, but rather the faithful ARE the Church, the Body of Christ, being engrafted into Christ Himself in the sacramental life in Christ. God established the Church not just for people of certain backgrounds, but for people of all backgrounds.
- Striving, through study in the faith as individuals, as families, and together, to understand and live out the expectations that Christ has for you as His disciple and as one of His people as revealed in Scripture (the Bible).
- Understanding that Church membership is about getting right with Godand living right with God. Christians look at their actions and judge them based on God's standards, and apologize to others when we offend them, and seek to make things right as far as possible from our part. When making moral decisions we must not act based on emotion, nor based on human rationality, both of which are limited, but rather based on right and wrong. Emotions are good when they follow revealed truth and are kept “in check,” but outside of that can be deceptive, and we must rely on revealed truth or else we go astray. We are often led astray by various fallen emotions and impulses such as lust, envy, pride, sloth, greed, gluttony (excessive desire for food, alcohol, or other substances), and course, wrath (excessive or unrighteous anger). As fallen creatures, often we can deceive ourselves, so we look to do what is right in God's eyes as revealed in the Gospel of Christ, not each person "doing what is right in their own eyes." As Scripture says: "You shall not do what we are doing here today, each one doing what is right in his own eyes" (Deut. 12.8). Also: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Eph. 4.26). “My dear brethren, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for human anger does not bring about the righteous life than God desires” (James 1.19-20). “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: wrath, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Col. 3.8). We also go astray with entertaining other fallen emotions such as lust, envy,
- Entrusting our lives to God daily, which also means praying daily—communicating with your Creator throughout the day. This may be through silent or vocal prayers, short or long, at home, work, recreation, and travel in between. One should also pray before meals, even if it is a short silent prayer in the mind. One must also teach their children to pray regularly, to read Scripture (read it with them when they are little), to learn and practice the Faith that Christ has given for the salvation of the world.
- Dedicating each Lord’s Day (Sunday) to the One whose day it is, starting the week out making God a priority* and teaching our children and grandchildren to do the same. “Remember the Sabbath” is a commandment of God, and at the Resurrection, Sunday superseded Saturday, “the Sabbaths having ended, as the first of Sabbaths began…” (Matt. 28.1). This involves attending Liturgy regularly, every Sunday possible. The ordinance to honor the Lord on the Lord’s day is a commandment. If there are legitimate reasons why we cannot be in Church either here or at another parish on a Sunday (work obligations, hospitalization, illness, recovering from childbirth, being out of town or at a great distance of a church on a given Sunday, etc.), then we should be finding other ways to accomplish this commandment, either by going to a midweek service, praying Sunday prayers, etc. If you are camping in the woods, bring your prayer books and everybody pray even while stopping at a beautiful spot along a hike. If a person does not attend Church for more than three weeks without a just cause, according to canon law they must go to confession prior to going to Holy Communion.
- Living a life of charitable action by aiding people whom we encounter throughout the day in small or large ways, by a kind word or gesture, by holding doors, by looking for ways to make a small difference in someone’s day, a word of encouragement, helping someone carry something to their car, etc.
- Responsibility to one another. Christ said "love one another as I have loved you." The members of the parish are expected to care for one another, to visit one another (either in person or by note, electronic or otherwise, or phone, etc.) in illness or affliction (loss of loved one, trauma, etc.). Also, there is the responsibility to tell the priest and our fellow Church members when things happen that may cause our absence. It is not their job to chase after us to find out why we are absent, but our responsibility to contact them. When Lazarus fell ill, the Bible says that Mary and Martha took responsibility to contact Christ on behalf of their brother: “So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.'” (John 11.3-4). Likewise "when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples…" (Matthew 11.2). Again, if we are sick or in trouble, we are to “call for the presbyters of the Church” (James 5.14). Please don't keep the priest or fellow members guessing as to what happened, or wait for them to call to ask what happened. "Send word" as is the Biblical responsibility of all of us. Think about if someone did this to you--just did not show up and did not tell you why! Think about it if the priest did not show up on Sunday for Liturgy because he wasn’t feeling well and didn't tell anyone, but just expected them to call him!
- Periodic confession. At any time of major sin, of prolonged or addictive sin, one should partake of the sacred mystery of Repentance (Confession), because it is there to help arrest the growing of sin in one’s life. Beyond this the Church has put forward the four periods of repentance (Great Lent, Apostles after All Saints, August Dormition Fast, and the 40 days before Nativity, so that during these periods or at least once during the year, we confess sacramentally. One must take confession and do penance (abstention from communion) at times of major sin, of prolonged or addictive sin, as Scripture warns us that to partake of Communion in an unworthy manner is to eat and drink condemnation to oneself. An Orthodox Christian should confess not less than once a year, and especially everyone should take confession during Great Lent in order to be properly prepared for Holy Week.
- Preparing for Communion and partaking of it regularly (fasting from all foods from about midnight of the night before unless pregnant or sick, prayer, abstention from ungodly things). If you are not able to do so for various reasons, please talk to the priest about it. Please see Guidelines for Communion for more specific information.
- Regularly contributing to the parish Christ told us that where we put our money, there will our hearts be also (Matt. 6.21, Luke 12.34). The spending of money is a religious action (sacrifice), but very often goes to darker purposes. Giving to the local church should be a part of our tithe, which is money owed to God (tithing or biblical stewardship with a proportion of tithing). Likewise, the local church giving to the diocese is also a basic principle of orthodox Christianity (1 Cor. 16.1-3). While tithing was a ritual element of the Law of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron, it was also a principle of the Priesthood of Melkizedek (Christ’s priesthood). This includes the priest-husband and priest-wife who do a full tithe (10% of the Priest/Pani income) as an example to the rest of the parish. As Scripture states, giving should not be done "grudgingly", nor mandatorily, but rather freely and cheerfully.
- Continuously learning about the Faith, and not making excuses not to. One can simply do this by paying attention to the Liturgy, paying attention to the sermon, self-study, attending Bible study, attending class in the hall, reading Scripture, reading books on the Faith, listening to online podcasts or videos on the faith (including your own Priest’s podcast “Made to Be a Kingdom”, looking at the information on Christian Education websites, etc.
- Periodic fasting according to one of the levels or schedules of fasting. This will vary based on the health, work conditions, and spiritual level of the soul, but some effort must be made.
A Few Related Notes:
We must understand that anything we do for Church is not doing God a favor. God needs nothing and has no favoritism--He has given the Church for our benefit as a gift for us to properly take care of. Nor is doing something as a member of the Church in the Church “doing the parish” a favor or “doing the priest a favor” (favors expect something in return, gifts are a thanks to God for what he has already done, and expects no "thanks" in return). If the priest or the parish council or some other church leader asks you to do something for the church, that is not as a personal favor, but for you to do you share in the church’s ministry.
Is doing the dishes in your own house doing the others a favor or is it doing your part? Rather, when we give to the Church it is taking care of our own house, the stewardship to which we are all called. As such, we are doing our duty for God according to our calling, but not doing a favor for anyone (favor expects something in return, duty finds the very action to be the reward). If you view it otherwise, it is best that you don’t do it at all. Again, Church membership is about one thing and one thing only, and that is building our relationship with God in the Church that He gave us as a gift. If we do what we should but expect something in return, we are not credited by God as have done anything except selfishness without reward (Luke 6.34). Rather, according to Christ, we are to give freely and with the attitude that we are only doing our duty, and that all that we do cannot possibly be a return for what God has given us, and therefore are to be cheerful and thankful in what we do and give (Luke 17.10).
Holy Protection Church rejects any notion of consumerism within the Church. The Church is not about me and what I want. The Church is not about you and what you want. The Church is about God and what HE wants, because He alone knows what is best for us and alone has unselfish motives for what is beneficial to us in big (eternal) picture. While we may do fundraising to help with charitable projects external to our parish, we reject "fundraising" as a source of Church revenue, and believe that the Church can only live out its existence by proper God-centered investment as a member of the Body of Christ, with stewardship and the commitment to God's standards of giving from every member. Any fundraising that is done should only be done so that the church has money to give away charitably, or to spend on outreach, not for internal use. Tithing is for internal expenditure. We also hold that it is unfair to rob God when we are not here, and must not punish the church by failing to give simply because we are absent. For example, if the priest goes on vacation for a few weeks, he is expected to still give his tithe for each week, not because he is the priest, but because he is one of the faithful. We ask you to add the Church to your bills if your attendance is not regular. We need every member to be committed to reliable contribution to the Church, and not "just when you come." The electric company still needs paid when you go on vacation for your home light bill. Same with the Church, we have bills to pay whether you are here or not, and it is not fair to put the burden of the bills on those who attend more often!
However, Biblical giving is not just about stewardship, but about doing the right thing as a child of God and building up His House. Stewardship "pays the bills" here and now, but it does not build God's Kingdom in the Church. Only tithing does that. Holy Protection has a vision where all of its members either tithe or move toward tithing so that we can build the Church up and its ministry, outreaching to the community, making it possible to actually afford to hire people for other reasons other than just maintenance. We can hire them to do ministry work on behalf of the Church, to organize activities that bring us out into the community, and God will send us people in return. We can feed the physically and spiritually hungry, do better at visiting the sick, etc.
Likewise, part of "consumerism" is seeing the priest as an "employee" or as a “chaplain” or as "the hired help" rather than as their spiritual father, and seeing the priest-wife (Matushka, Panimatka, Presbytera) also as a sort of “servant” instead of being the spiritual mother of the parish, as traditional Orthodox Christianity holds. All have different personalities and for this reason it is good for us to communicate our personal needs.