What is the value of the Church to us? Why do we go to church? Why do we profess to be Orthodox Christians? Is this just a social connection, or is there more to it for us?
The Apostles, who established the first Church communities, following the “Great Commission of Christ” (Matt. 28:19-20), empowered by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and equipped with both the “message” and personal conviction, stood bravely in front of tyrants and the learned men of the time preaching the power of Christ over death and His promise of eternal life. They moved from town to town proclaiming the “Good News” to all who would listen, baptizing those who would accept the “message” and teaching them how to observe those things which Christ had commanded them. The Apostles established Christian communities which continued to proclaim the “Good News”, adding more and more members to those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47). For them, the Church was the vehicle of salvation for those who embraced “the new faith”, “the new philosophy”.
The main concern of the Apostles and the leaders of the Early Church was not the establishment of communities and activities for their members, but the salvation of human beings by bringing them to the Faith in the Risen Lord and attaching them to the Church (the Body of Christ). Their life as a community was simple, centered around the teaching and preaching of the words of Christ and the joining together in the “Agape Meals”, the Eucharistic dinners where the more affluent brought food for everyone and they all shared in a meal before they received from the blessed bread and cup — the Body and Blood of Christ.
The Early Christians were characterized by the love they had for God and the affection and kindness they showed to each other. This dedication to God and others became a major factor in the growth of the Early Church; as people of the surrounding community witnessed the authentic love of these Christians, they joined the ranks of the Church as followers of Christ.
In the 21st century, at a time when Christianity is being marginalized, we have much to learn by looking at the Early Church. The Roman society, in which Christianity emerged was very similar to ours. People were self-centered and hedonistic. Their moral values were based on their desires. Yet, the Christians did not conform to that, but broke the norms, living as Christ taught.
Christians proposed a message contrary to many of the norms of their society. Yet, their message became attractive to the people who felt the pain and suffering of life, to those who were looking for the life beyond this temporary world, those asking for redemption from their sinful existence, those looking for forgiveness and peace.
The message of Christ remains the same. He still offers peace and forgiveness, redemption and eternal life. This is the purpose of the Church, to offer this opportunity to people seeking, to offer Christ Risen from the dead and His Kingdom, forgiveness, peace and love that are authentic.
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