The old saying goes “No man is an island.” And we are all quick to agree and embrace this sentiment, up to a point.
You see, our culture prides itself on its commitment to “rugged individualism.” So much so, that this culture, this modern, affluent culture now has a real problem with isolation and loneliness, especially in men. A recent study came out and showed that the average American male has two or at the most three close friends, and a large minority of men had no close friends at all! As I’ve said before, all social problems and illnesses are ultimately theological issues at their heart. This feeling of disconnectedness from one another has real and lasting consequences for our society and our souls!
Look at our lesson today in Philippians 2:24-30:
BRETHREN, I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself shall come also. I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditos my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy; and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your service to me.
These faithful at Philippi were a good group of people. They had sent an offering to St. Paul to help him and the believers in Jerusalem by way of their bishop, St. Epaphroditos. And while he was with Paul, he got deathly ill. But God spared the bishop’s life and Paul wanted the faithful back home to know about their bishop’s close brush with physical death. Of course this news caused the faithful to be very worried and the news of their concern upset Epaphroditos because he was a good bishop who loved his people!
But something else is revealed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and this revelation uncovers two very important insights into our own spiritual lives and our ability to be Orthodox on Purpose.
First, what Paul writes reveals our interconnectedness as Church. All too often we treat our local parishes as a “club” or a “hobby” rather than the center of our lives as the scriptures reveal the Church to actually be! St. Paul says that God sparing the life of Epaphroditos was a blessing to him as well. You see, God intends to knit our hearts so closely together that when one part of the “Body” is hurting, we all feel the pain. And when one part of the “Body” is honored, we all rejoice together. This interconnectedness is at the heart of the Church’s understanding as the Lord’s Body. In another place, St. Paul says “Can the hand say to the eye ‘I have no need of you.'”
Next, what Paul writes reveals our responsibility FOR one another. Listen to the Liturgy next time and hear the priest say “Let us commend ourselves, ONE ANOTHER, and our whole lives to Christ our God.” Whoa! “One Another?” Yes, one another. Our calling as Orthodox Christians is to have such love and care for one another that “brother” and “sister” or “Father” become more than habits, but actual confessions of our devotion to one another. This Orthodox Faith is suppose to create for you and your family a new family that is tied together with a power even stronger than genetics or “blood.” This Faith, becoming the center of your life and my life, means my connection to my fellow Orthodox are deeper and stronger than time, space, or even physical death. The Church will be around long after all our nationalities are forgotten!
Today, are you connected to the faithful in your parish, or is it just a place you go occasionally for some nostalgic trip down memory lane? Is the Church the center of your life to the point that the people you take the Eucharist with feel more like your family than even your own family? I can tell you from personal experience that there have been converts to the Faith that have had their physical family disown them because of them becoming Orthodox and these converts have been “adopted” by their parish. They have a new family that will last forever. What are the barriers that keep you from being that connected to the Faith, to the Church? What’s stopping you from being Orthodox on Purpose?