|The Sweet Mystery of the Parish|
Every aspect of our faith, each thing in it is concrete and tangible.
This is true also of the mystery of the Church. The Church is not
something theoretical and unclear, rather it is concrete and tangible.
The infinite and unseen God manifests Himself and appears in that which
is concrete and tangible. He did not ask that we love mankind, an
abstract and unapproachable idea, but that we love our neighbor, a
specific person, a definite individual that we can see before us. The
Church is not some ethereal idea, lost in history and eternity, rather
it is a specific congregation or synaxis of persons known to one
another. They come together to worship God, as Christians have always
done, in a specific temple, surrounded by the holy icons. Their worship
is led by their bishop, as a descendent of the apostles, or by his
designated representative, the presbyter.
The sweet mystery of the parish is the specific, concrete local
church. And this specific local church or parish is the whole fullness
of the Catholic Church. In our Orthodox Christian vocabulary, the
Catholic Church is the whole fullness of
the Body of Christ and catholicity is the fullness of God's gift
of grace. Thus, in that specific, small, local church (parish), the
entire treasure of the grace of God exists, with nothing missing. The
parish is not simply a part or piece of the Church, completed by
connection with other parishes, but the fullness of the Church itself.
Any other Orthodox parish, whether near or far away, is not simply
another part, a "completion" of the first parish, rather it is
an identical replication of this fullness in space and in time.
In each small parish, a person is catechized and learns the faith
of Christ. In it, he is baptized, communes the Body and Blood of Christ,
he confesses the faith and is sanctified. There he finds the triumphant
Church in the sacred icons, the holy relics and in the commemoration of
the saints. What is missing then, from the grace and blessing found in
this small parish? Nothing is missing, for the parish is the catholic
Church in the same way that a specific person is a human being. In each
individual person, the totality of the human nature is to be found, and
not just a part of it. Any other person is equally a human being, with
nothing of the human nature missing. They are both composed of the same
nature, and they together do not make the human nature bigger or more
complete. Whether there is one human being or a thousand, each one is
the complete human nature. The same pertains to the mystery of the
Church. Each parish is the Church of Christ, complete and in all its
In the parish is to be found the fulfillment of the very purpose
of our creation - for us to live participating with equal honor in the
life of the Holy Trinity. The life of the Holy Trinity is the life of
love. The same is also the life of the parish. There is no life or love
among persons who do not know one another. In the parish all are known
and loved by one another according to the measure of their personal
sanctification. The parish is the workplace of love and its activity is
not restricted to worship alone, but extends to all aspects of life. All
rejoice with him who rejoices and all grieve with him who is grieved.
Each one helps the other spiritually and materially. Each one forgives
and tolerates the other and all try to make sure that no bitterness and
misunderstandings grow up among them. Every member of the parish
struggles together for the faith, studies the holy father is order to
insure that they hold and profess that faith which the Church has always
In the first century of Christianity, the great majority of
Christians were conscientious and the boundaries between parishes were
obscure. In our days, however, one can no longer be indifferent in the
choice of which parish one will worship in. There are many parishes
which are Christian and Orthodox in name only, and even where Orthodoxy
is professed , the people are often strangers among themselves, hardly
even speaking to one another. In such instances, our consciousness of
the mystery of the parish has become diminished or vanished altogether.
The principal reason is the lessening of the bond of love among the
people and the gradual loss of an understanding and consciousness formed
by the Church. Under such circumstances, the meaning of the Church
becomes a theoretical abstraction. The concrete, tangible meaning of the
Church as a parish is not found.
Orthodoxy cannot actually be lived without the parish. The
athlete cannot compete outside the stadium, and if he were to compete
outside, he could not receive a crown or award. The parish is the
stadium of Orthodox life and even in monasticism, the monastery is the
parish. The Christian life is always centered around the community where
the Christian strives to love his neighbours as distinct, concrete
personalities, with all their virtues and their faults. to accomplish
this, he must confess the same faith in concord with them, both
forgiving them and seeking forgiveness from them.
Most of the parishes today center on the priest and the parish
council. The parishioners who circulate around them are often
disconnected and nameless. The few who are truly pious are lost in the
indifferent crowd. How can the Christian life be attained under such
circumstances? Where is the communion of love and the brotherhood of the
soul? Is this not the reason why so many Orthodox people are lured into
sectarian and non-Christian organizations with such sorrowful
The person is found in the parish from the time of his birth.
Even as an unbaptized baby, he absorbs the first impressions from the
chanting, the candles and the icons. His childhood experience is blended
with the life of the Church. There are his parents, his brothers and
sisters, children of his own age. Rich and poor, children and seniors,
educated and uneducated, strong and weak, clean and unclean, stand and
pray side by side, equally bound before the impartial, eternal truth.
The parish is the family in Christ, and it is here that each
person grasps and understands that he is related to another person
precisely because in the veins of each, the blood of the risen Christ
circulates. In the same way, each household is a church in miniature,
and this family unit, this small church, is a cell in the body of the
Between any truly Orthodox parishes, there are bonds of love and
common identity. Each one is fully the Church of Christ and while the
persons are different, the essence is the same.
"In this they will know that you are my disciples: that you
have love for one another" (Jn. 13:25). Love among the members of
the parish, love among the parishes: this is the only way in which the
life in Christ has flesh and bones. It is not possible to live in Christ
as only a visitor or casual attender in the Church. We must truly be
members of the body of Christ.
the journal EPIGNOSIS, Issue 68 - Winter 1998-1999
from the Greek by John Kalomiros