The first time I heard this, it hit me like a ton of bricks! “Let us commend ourselves, ONE ANOTHER, and our whole life unto Christ, our God. To You, O Lord.” “One another?” How do I “commend” someone else to “Christ, our God?” Aren’t they responsible for themselves? What does this mean?
Well, of course, each of us is responsible for ourselves, but, from the very beginning when Cain asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” we humans have struggled with the balance between personal responsibility and our connection to those around us. And you may be surprised to hear me say that this struggle is good and necessary and there isn’t necessarily an end to this struggle. The struggle IS the point!
Just look at our Lesson today from Acts 2:38-43:
IN THOSE DAYS, Peter said to the people, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
The book of Acts, written by St. Luke, tells the story of the earliest community of believers in the Risen Jesus Christ and His Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Our lesson tells what happened after St. Peter preached his homily on the Day of Pentecost after the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to be witnesses to Christ and his message starting in Jerusalem, just as the Lord promised would happen! After Peter preached, the people who heard him asked: “What do we do now?” And Peter said what St. John the Baptist said, what the Lord Jesus said; Repent! Enter into a new way of life. Not “change your religious philosophy.” Not “join our movement.” No, repent. Start by admitting what is already true. You MUST realize you need to go in another direction!
Peter also told them to be baptized. They didn’t just need an inner transformation but they also needed to make a visible choice. That’s the way of the Christian Faith. We do both, not just one or the other. We don’t merely ask for a change of heart. We also insist on a change of action. They go hand in hand. Because you are more than a mind, a philosophy, or a feeling. You are a whole person, physical and spiritual, so your faith needs to be both too!
And look what happened. On that Day of Pentecost, 3000 people entered the fledgling Church! But there’s more. They didn’t just get baptized and then go about their business as usual. Look at what constituted the first community of believers, of Orthodox Christians: They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ Teachings; to “Koinonia” (not just “fellowship, but building deep connections with each other); to “breaking of bread” (more than just eating dinner together. This is the Eucharist); and “the prayers” (this is the rhythm of the liturgical life together). And that’s how normal Orthodox communities have behaved ever since!
The results are a community that knows how to BALANCE personal responsibility AND my responsibility to others! So, not only do I commend my own life to “Christ, our God” at every Liturgy; I also commend all those around me to “Christ, our God” as well BECAUSE I am part of a community that is sharing the Body and Blood of Christ together AND I am always aware that this community is also a community that is in communion with other communities who are sharing the Body and Blood of Christ together AND I am part of a community that is in communion with all of the other communities that have EVER shared the Body and Blood of Christ together! I never pray alone!
Today, are you aware of your connection with your fellow believers? How does that affect your prayer, your behavior, your participation in the life of the Church? Little awareness of our connectedness usually equals a lack of awareness of our desperate need to gather on a regular basis to pray together. As one saint has said, “The first sign of a weakness in faith is the inattention to gathering for worship!” Let’s allow the wisdom of our connectedness to produce a healthy practice of being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You prayed before You gave Your Life on the Cross, that we would be one like You and The Father are one! This struggle to embrace, maintain, and grow unity is the point of Your prayer for us. I know, Lord, that if I ask You for the grace to stay attentive to my responsibility to myself and others, I will be humble enough to both repent of my sins AND serve those around me. But I have to be open to this reality and I have to constantly keep my attention on You and keep on fighting, not to end the struggle, but to embrace it as the way You are going to keep me aware of my need for Your grace and strength! Amen.