Work with One Another
by Fr. James C. Meena
I sometimes feel like the Armenian Priest in California who was officiating at the wedding of the daughter of the richest Armenian in the country, a man whose success was so well known that they couldn’t use the tiny Armenian Church for the wedding but had to use the facilities of the largest Episcopal Church in San Francisco. On the wedding day that Church was jammed full of people of all nomenclatures, from every background with whom this man was associated. The Priest, seeing the gathering of so many people, interrupted the wedding ceremony and began to preach a sermon lasting more than half an hour. Afterwards, when the father of the bride began to berate him for having taken advantage of a captive audience, the Priest said, “My friend, don’t blame me. I seldom get a chance to preach to so many people in one place at one time.”
Well it often appears that, as our struggle with the temptations of society seems to be going against us, this is the case with us. The only time the Priest has a chance to preach to a really large gathering of people is on Palm Sunday or some special occasion where there might be several memorial services at one time. Seldom do we have the opportunity to preach to a large congregation on a Sunday morning anymore. Seldom do we have the privilege of hundreds of our people coming together with enthusiasm and zeal to be involved in the life of the Church and to learn how to be true disciples in a world of chaos. More and more we hear petty complaints, gripes and agonizing about picayunish things and less and less do we witness the virtues of tolerance, forgiveness and patience.
I realize that most of you are the Faithful of the Church and maybe I ought to assail those who are not active in our fellowship. Yet almost everyone, at one time or other, has thrown his or her hands up in the air and said, “I give up. I’m not going to have anything more to do with them.” What a terrible sin we commit against our own commitment when we do this because, first of all, we fail to realize that the essential requirements of Christianity are forgiveness, patience and tolerance. Christ has been all these things to us. Secondly, we fail to admit that our discipleship requires service and energetic commitment for its fulfillment.
Beloved, St. Paul appealed to us not to allow our differences to divide us but rather that we should be united by the love of Christ and that love of Christ should bring us to love one another. (I Cor. 1:10-11) I realize that there are differences among us. Each of us is an individual with individual ideas, concepts and beliefs which mold our personalities and our convictions. It is not possible, I am sure you will admit, for us to cater to all of those beliefs, concepts and ideas. We’re all very fond of saying, “you can’t please everyone,” yet some of us really expect others to try to please everyone and it’s not possible. Nor can we always be pleased when we are working in this Family of God with others who have their own individual ideas and opinions. Sometimes we need to acquiesce, to follow the leadership of others, especially when we are not willing or able to provide that leadership ourselves. Metropolitan PHILIP once said, and I am very fond of quoting him, “The problem with some of our people is that they can’t lead, they won’t follow and they refuse to get out of the way.” Surely you won’t want that to apply to you!
Many of you do have leadership qualities in one area or another. Most of you have supportive qualities to give to some phase in the ministry of the Church. If only we would reach out to find our potential, our function as disciples of Christ rather than leaving it on the shoulders of those few conscious people who understand that discipleship means labor, work and zeal. But all of us must realize our limitations.
The 90th Psalm says that “a man’s life on the face of the earth is seventy years and if by reason of health, he might live to be eighty.” You know that still applies although that phrase was written almost three thousand years ago. Even though we talk about increased longevity and statistics tell us that we are living longer, we certainly aren’t living much longer than they did in the days of the Psalmist. We witness our lives passing us by like pieces of wood on the surface of a stream. We must decide if those years are going to be worthwhile, if they are going to be dedicated to the glory of God or if they are just going to slip by, frittered away by our own casualness and by our refusal to work with others who are supposed to be committed disciples of Christ as well. Shall we allow the differences between us and the disagreements among us to disunite us rather than our love for God and for one another to cement us as one dedicated unit to the glory of God? Seventy or eighty years! That’s our normal lifespan! Make your life count! We shall not be judged for what we didn’t do but rather for what we did.
There are many areas in the life of the Church that need your service and I feel that many are being blockaded by your own stubbornness, by your own sensitivities, maybe even by your own self-pity. Those blockades are preventing you from coming into the full glory of God and causing you to waste your life on small, petty, meaningless things. There is so much that needs to be done, so many ministries that need to be fulfilled, so much leadership required, so many servants needed. I realize that we are living in a society that makes many demands on our time but, Christ doesn’t allow for that. He requires that He be first and if He is not first then He is nothing to us. “He who is not in Me, I am not in him, he has no share in Me and I have none in him,” (St. John 6:52-57). “He who loves father or mother or brother or sister or lands or anything more than Me is not worthy of Me”, (St. Matt. 10:37).
Our dedication to Him must be primary in our lives. We must not be separated from the fellowship of God and of His congregation because of petty differences and disagreements. We show our oneness in Christ by demonstrating our oneness with one another and our willingness to put up with each other’s differences. Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same? But it is in our uniqueness that we are called upon to be united with one another in love, in mercy, in compassion and in a oneness of dedication to the service and the glory of God.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America