Saturday, July 2, 2016

Met Saba (Esber): "Little Churches"

Arabic original here.

Little "Churches"

The family is considered to be the believer's first church. In it, he learns the first steps of faith, piety and virtue. The big church, the parish church, is just a collection of these little churches. To the degree that our home churches are faithful to their life of faith, they will put forward men and women filled with love, zeal and piety and so the Church of God will be strengthened and produce saints and martyrs, zealous workers committed to the fields of God and society.

In the Church, believers experience sharing one faith, which makes them one body-- that is, one family. It is supposed that believers will become acutely and delicately aware of their spiritual closeness and that they will live it, since Christ is given to them in the mystery of the Eucharist. He abides among them as a bond stronger than the bond of blood or tribe.

This communion of believers must be manifest and truly lived among them. If an offense mars this communion, the Gospel demands refraining from approaching the holy chalice and from offering sacrifice until this communion is regained. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).

Thus, in pastoral teaching, there comes the concept of the parish, which calls for one temple for a group of believers located in a single area, since when a believer prays in his parish church, he necessarily establishes ties and spiritual relationships with its members. His commitment to his parish strengthens his commitment to his brothers and sisters in it and so he grows his churchly sense of the importance of Christian communion, his responsibility toward his brothers and sisters and their responsibility toward him. It is likewise assumed that this experience will become a way to extend brotherhood to include all humankind.

Currently, this sense is weak. Among the reasons it is weak is that fact that not all believers practice their group prayers with understanding, those who pray are content to fulfill what they regard as their religious "obligation" and a spiritual consciousness of embodying this faith and this communion in daily life is absent.

Likewise, a tyranny of the spirit of ritualism and celebrations at the expense of personally living the spiritual communion that must exist between the believer and God and between him and other believers and thus with the rest of humankind, contributes to confirming the absence of this spiritual consciousness.

From this comes the importance of forming small groups made up of a few families that share one concern, goal or service. These are prayer groups, first of all, and then they come together for a specific humanitarian or spiritual service. Since they are brought together by a single concern that they seek to embody in their life, the relationships between them will strengthen and deepen. They will experience, if they base themselves on sincerity, living the spiritual dimension of the Gospel and their spiritual closeness and they will be strengthened by this.

Emphasis on the experience of communion in a small group is considered the most important thing brought about by the Antiochian Orthodox Youth Movement. The Movement undertook to live churchly communion among the brothers and for many this was a way to discover general churchly communion. Many of those who lived in the Movement experienced the sweetness and beauty of churchly communion. Like the first Christians, they shared in bearing each others' burdens. They understood-- in action, not just in theory-- how the Church is truly God's family.

In our own time, which elevates the spirit of individualism over all values, man lives in society in a deadly loneliness. He has neighbors or colleagues at work or school, but what he is missing most is a solid relationship of the heart with other people, a relationship on a spiritual basis, where one feels the group that supports him and himself shares in supporting it. Even authentic friendship has become rare in our contemporary world. Some sociologists use the expression "isolation in the crowd" to describe the loneliness that contemporary man is suffering from.

In the 1970s, the Communist newspaper Pravda recounted the following story in the context of a broad investigation about the reasons why Russians were returning to the Church after reaching retirement age:

The manager of a large factory was referred for retirement and after receiving honors and an award, he went back to live by himself. He and his wife had divorced several years before his retirement and his two sons worked in regions far from where he lived. He started to frequent the neighborhood cafe to read the newspaper and sip coffee, and day after day the signs of sadness and depression grew on his face. Another retiree like himself noticed him and asked him the reason for his preoccupation and sadness. The man responded honestly about his loneliness he was suffering from. He said, "Come to church and you won't be alone anymore," and this is what happened, since he was surrounded by people praying with care who established friendships with him.

Is not the presence of the warmth of concern and care for the person what attracts many to some of the Protestant churches that are small in number but newly active?

Many seek this concern from the Church, but limit it to the person of the priest, forgetting that their love for the Lord requires them to also love each other and to embody that love in care for each other. Not everything is required of the priest alone. The church is not his personal garden, but the Church of Christ and all His children. In Orthodox churches especially, performing prayer services, in houses, takes up all the priest's time, while social, pastoral, and humanitarian services are provided by the faithful.

Effort on the part of the faithful to form small groups in which they share, in addition to the faith, a common concern that the cooperate in order to realize, has become necessary and urgent matter. How great are the needs and the services required, especially in this difficult time! 

You will sacrifice if you stay with your concern, but you will bring forth green shoots and flourish, if you join with brothers who share in it with you and you work together with them under the guidance of a spiritual father, to bring joy to others. Then you will rejoice in the measure that you bring joy to others. Then you will experience the warmth of communion, the joy of giving.

What is needed of the faithful is for them to form groups for prayer and work, to spread the joy of Christ's resurrection in this tormented world. Groups based on prayer and meditation on the word of God that strive to embody it in daily life and in the society in which they live, and to embody it before all else in their personal life.

These "little churches" will become a leaven for a more effective presence of Christ in our life, our family and our society.

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