The word of the day is “proclamation.” Those who have spent their lives in the church have heard so many sermons, both inspired and uninspired, that they not longer expect to be stirred by any preacher. Yet in our reading of Romans 10:11-11:2, we find a provocative statement: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the universe” (Romans 10:18). This declaration of the power of preaching applies to the preaching of the apostles (OSB footnote on Psalm 19:4). And so, in the Orthodox Church we hear this hymn on Pentecost, the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, as well as today on the “Synaxis of the Twelve Holy Apostles.”
Today we ask whether this declaration applies to our preaching today. Our reading emphasizes that salvation depends hearing the proclamation of the Word of Life. Today’s study will remind us that if the church is to win hearts and minds to Christ, its preaching must have the same compelling power as the proclamation of the apostles. But who has the responsibility for the sharing of the Gospel that it might be heard? We will find that the responsibility for witnessing to the Christ and the sharing of the Gospel message is not only given to priests and ministry.
Proclamation to Hearing; Hearing to Faith; Faith to Salvation
In our reading, St. Paul teaches that the Gospel is meant to be proclaimed. Indeed, it must be proclaimed. Here is the apostles’ logic. Salvation comes by calling on the Lord for His mercy. And calling on the Lord depends on faith. But faith depends on hearing the message of the grace of God. And hearing the message requires proclamation. This logic means that no one should despise or disparage the calling of preaching. It is essential to the creation and nurture of faith. It plants the seed of the Word in the heart.
Thus, all the apostles that we commemorate today were, above all, preachers of the Gospel. The church recognizes this when it sings, “Their proclamation has gone out into all the earth.” We can translate the thought of this hymn as “their sound,” “their voice” or “their proclamation.” It makes no difference. The apostles were Sowers of the Word of the death and resurrection for Jesus Christ. And the voice of their preaching still echoes around the world. There is no more powerful sound than the Gospel they preached, for by the work of the Holy Spirit the Good News has the power to inspire faith. And faith is necessary for salvation.
Does Our Proclamation Sound Forth?
But what about ourselves? Does our “proclamation” sound forth to all the earth? The Holy Synod [of Bishops] of the Orthodox Church in America published an encyclical on preaching. It declared, God calls on the Church in America to speak with the same “power of the Spirit” in her mission in the ‘New World’… Christ preached to the converted and the unconverted, repentant and unrepentant. Likewise, the Church addresses those who have put on Christ and those who have yet to taste and see that the Lord is Good” (OCA 1989).
The Holy Synod summed up the goal of preaching in this way: “Preaching must feed the flock already in the fold, call to repentance those who stray, and add new sheep to the flock through Holy Baptism” (OCA 1989).
But who has the divine calling to proclaim the message of salvation? Our immediate answer is to point to the sacred responsibility of the priests who are given authority and power in their ordination to “speak the word with boldness.” As Paul instructs the young Timothy, they are to “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Each Member of the Church Is Called To Be a Preacher
But the Holy Synod’s encyclical says that all the faithful are members of the “Royal Priesthood.” Accordingly, the hierarchs say, “Each has been called to witness to Christ in word and action… Therefore, each member of the Church is a ‘preacher’ and cannot but proclaim the ‘tidings of gladness and joy’” (OCA 1989).
The Holy Synod addresses those who deny their call to proclaim the Gospel. It notes that “some feel that it is not their responsibility to speak out to the world, to loved ones and family, to fellow workers and neighbors about the Good News. This kind of attitude has weakened the witness of the Royal Priesthood. But the Lord’s parables about hiding one’s lamp under a bushel, about salt losing its flavor, apply to all of us. Out of pure love for God and in thanksgiving, all baptized in the Lord should not resist the power of the Spirit within, and should bear witness in word and in action” (OCA 1989).
There is one more thing to say. On what basis do those who proclaim the Good News sound forth? On what ground does the preacher stand? Writing about the worship of the early church, Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) reported that who preside in worship services base their message on the “memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets,” that is, on the scriptures. After the reading of selections of scripture, they orally “instruct and exhort to the imitation of these good things” (“First Apology”: NfPf 1, 186).
Good Preaching Thinks “Scripturally”
In the same vein, Fr. Jonathan Cholcer wrote, “Good Orthodox preaching always weaves a tapestry from the language of Scripture. Read the Old Testament prophets, the apostles, and the words of Christ Himself – always alluding to the holy words spoken before. More than that, though, good preaching thinks Scripturally, not just verbally quoting the Scripture, but with the rationale of the Holy Spirit” (Cholcher 2012).
If today’s preaching is to resound throughout the world as the proclamation of the apostles did, it must sound forth the Good News of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for the world’s salvation. Then it must give voice to the Lord’s call to follow Him as His disciples. And the script for this message must, above all, be the scriptures.
Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America. “Encyclical on Preaching.” OCA Website. Holy Synod – Encyclicals – On Preaching – Orthodox Church in America (oca.org)