For Equipping the Saints; For Edifying the Church

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  . . .  And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…  (Ephesians 4:7, 11-13)

As St Paul makes clear the spiritual gifts bestowed on Christians are given to each so that they might contribute to the building up (the edification) of the Church – for the good of all other members of the Church.  Spiritual gifts are given for “the work of ministry“until “we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God“.  Spiritual gifts are not personal empowerment so that you can lord over other people, nor are they for self-glorification.  Spiritual gifts benefit others, they don’t put the person with the gift on a pedestal.  Anyone who uses spiritual gifts for personal gain, empowerment, career advancement, prestige or to vaunt oneself over others, has totally abused the spiritual gifts.  Though some Christians clamor for power and magic gifts to do miracles, St Paul tells us to desire the higher gifts, especially love (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13).

Sadly, some seek spiritual gifts not so much to minister to others as to become ministers – people with power and position over others.  The other church members then become not the neighbor to whom they minister but the people who are to  stand in awe of the person with power.  It becomes very self-serving and is not love.  It is a temptation not only for people with spiritual gifts but for clergy as well.

But such problems are not new in the Church.  Even in the ancient Church among the desert fathers we see the same kind of problems – people are people after all.

A brother asked an old man, saying, “How is it that there are at this present time men who labor, but who do not receive grace as the early fathers did?” The old man said unto him, “Formerly love existed, and one brother was raised up by the other; but now love has grown cold, and we each drag the other down, and in consequence we do not receive grace.”   (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3846-48)

Love leads us to build up others and the Church.  It teaches us to follow St John the Forerunner’s thought that Christ must increase, but I must decrease.  It doesn’t lead to superstars who become rich and famous.

One of the old men used to say, “Formerly, whenever we met each other we used to speak words of profit about each other, and we formed companies, and were lifted up into the heavens; but now when we are gathered together, we come to hateful converse concerning each other, and we drag each the other down to the bottom of the deepest abyss.”  (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3768-71)

We can build each other up, or we can engage in behavior that is spiritually detrimental to others.  The endless gossip, love of scandal, pointing out the faults of everyone else, self-vaunting,  turning people against each other for our personal advantage – these are all ways that cause the community to decline and to inflict wounds on the body of Christ.  Our task is always to love God and neighbor and to serve others as Christ served us.

The Holy Spirit at Work in Us

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10;  emphases not in the original text)


Every baptized Orthodox Christian receives the Holy Spirit in and through the sacraments of baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist.  How do we show that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives?


Each Orthodox Christian is called to be part of the holy priesthood.  Priests in general consecrate things – to make them into an offering to God.  In the Church, Bishops consecrate Chrism and men to serve as priests and deacons in the church.  Priest in turn consecrate believers in baptism and also bread and wine to be shown to be the Body and Blood of Christ.   But all believers share in a priesthood in which we each are to consecrate the things in our life – our homes, families, children, jobs, hobbies, meals, friendships, thoughts, words, feelings – everything great and little can be consecrated.  We can make everything we do into a holy offering to God.  The meals we cook, the things we build, or memorize, or sing, or think about – all can be consecrated, offered to God.  If we think we can’t offer it to God, perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it.  But what we choose to do, all of these things we should offer to God, consecrate them to God and for God’s own use so that God will deify them.


Everything we have is a gift from God including our lives, our possessions, our blessings, our talents, knowledge, wisdom, the work of our hands.  So what can we offer to God that is truly our own?  What is truly ours are our wills and our decisions.  We can freely opt to co-operate with God.  We can present ourselves to God  in order to serve Him.  Our free wills belong to us and we can work in synergy with God to accomplish God’s will.  Thus every decision, the countless ones we make in our daily lives are each an opportunity for us to serve God – to offer that moment in our lives to God, to direct our energy toward God.  Our choices are a true offering to God –  not something God predetermines in our lives, but what we can freely offer to God.  Our love is something we can choose to offer to God.  It is something God truly values in us and from us.

Spiritual Gifts Multiply Holiness

St. Paul writes to the Church at Rome:

“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”   (Romans 12:6-8)

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says:

“… the gift of the Spirit is a gift of diversity: the tongues of fire are ‘cloven’ or ‘divided’ (Acts 2:3), and they are distributed to each one directly. Not only does the Holy Spirit make us all one, but he makes us each different. At Pentecost the multiplicity of tongues was not abolished, but it ceased to be a cause of separation; each spoke as before in his own tongue, but by the power of the Spirit each could understand the others. For me to be a Spiritbearer is to realize all the distinctive characteristics in my personality; it is to become truly free, truly myself in my uniqueness. Life in the Spirit possesses an inexhaustible variety; it is wrong-doing, not sanctity, that is boring and repetitive. As a friend of mine, a priest who spent many hours each day hearing confessions, used to remark wearily: ‘What a pity there are no new sins!’ But there are always new forms of holiness.” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pg. 126)

Repentance: Opening One’s Heart to Receiving Spiritual Gifts

Ephesians 4:11-16

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.  We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.   But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Athonite Monk Alexis Trader comments:

“According to the Fathers, spiritual gifts are given so that the struggling believer can more fully lead the Christian life by observing ‘all things whatsoever Christ commanded the Apostles to do.’ Saint Maximus goes so far as to define a gift of the Spirit as ‘every capacity for fulfilling a commandment.’[…]God is quiet ready to shed His gifts upon His children, but his children first must cleanse and ready the vessel (i.e., their entire existence: body and soul) in which the gifts can be received. Saint Basil the Great notes that God grants His gifts not only with the benefit of others in mind, but also according to the faith, peace, and purity from the passions of the one receiving the gift.[…]Purification through repentance is required before the believer reaches the stage of illumination in which the gifts are given.[…]Thus in order for a believer to receive spiritual gifts, he not only requires a general purity from the passions, but the good soil of a ready mind or heart well fertilized with the virtue that most corresponds to that spiritual gift. The reception of spiritual gifts, like every aspect in the work of man’s salvation, is the joint activity of (synergy between) the grace of God and the free will of man.” (In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord, pgs. 48-50)

The Edifying Nature of Spiritual Gifts

“I said then, and would say the same now, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are revealed in community. As such, they are for all the community, and so one gift does not quench the other, even when, as happens often, they are opposite. So the analytical does not quench the emotional, the gift of the spiritual elder does not contradict that of the psychologist, the gift of ecstasy does not stand in disharmony with that of calm.” (Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, A Life Together, pg. 15)


A Curriculum Geared Toward each Believer

This is the 2nd blog in this series which began with The Goals of Teaching in the Early Church.   It is a preliminary look into some of the ideas, theory or theology of education that we can glean from the early church fathers.

The Christian community with its full sacramental/mystical life was seen as living proof of the Divine revelation.  For the early Church, education was based on the revealed truth.  This revelation of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit was the content of their teaching.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386AD) says, “Do not believe me unless you have a proof of what I proclaim from the divine Scriptures.  For the saving power of our faith does not come from clever arguments but from proofs from the divine Scriptures… ” (Robert Eno, Teaching Authority in the Early Church, p. 104).  Proofs of the faith were to be experienced and discovered within the revelation of God proclaimed by the Church.   St. Augustine (d. 430AD) exclaimed to his listeners, “Let us hear the Gospel as if the Lord were present… ” (Robert Eno, Teaching Authority in the Early Church, p. 129).    We must teach and proclaim the Gospel in our com­munities in this same manner.   Our congregations should feel the presence of the Lord in our teaching ministry.  It is in this encounter with the Living God that people’s lives are changed.  It is here that we learn the truth of God.

Keep in mind that in the scriptures, the apostles were sent out as witnesses to the truth.   In other words they were to speak about that which they personally experienced.   Their call to faith was not an appeal to believe in something that cannot be proven, but to believe their witness that Jesus is risen and He is the Son of God, Christ and Savior.    Somehow it was their very life that was the confirmation of the Gospel.   In that sense what was on trial was not their message (and could they prove it), but could they live the life that would convince others that they themselves were believers.   The crux of the argument was not abstract issues between faith and reason, but the effectiveness of their own witness (and thus in effect their own lives and lifestyles).   This means for us today in doing our educational ministry, can we convince others that Christ is risen or that Christ is in our midst?

St. Gregory

In teaching this revelation, the Fathers insist that instruction cannot be impersonal.  Christianity is God reconciling each one of us to Himself.  It cannot be taught by creating one lesson plan for all learners.  The Fathers all recognize that each person progresses spiritually at a different pace.   St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 391AD) explains, “It does not belong to everyone… to philosophize about God….  It is not appropriate to discuss God at all times, nor with all people, nor all aspects of the subject, but there is a proper time, the right people, and a sufficient extent.”  (Robert Sider,  The Gospel and its Proclamation,  p. 227).  Each person requires personalized instruction to bring him or her to the full knowledge of the truth.  This is certainly evident in Proverbs where seemingly contra­dictory bits of wisdom follow one after the other (see for example Proverbs 26:4-5).  Christian instruction is lived out daily by each person in a unique circumstance.  Any lesson might prove harmful for a person of a different level of maturity.  This is not to say that ethical truth is completely situational. Truth is truth.   The teacher’s job is to know the learner in order to know what to teach and when.  The learner’s duty is to learn the lessons and to learn discer­nment – the wisdom of when and how to apply the lesson.  As Matsagouras notes:

“The educational task according to the Desert Fathers, was not an easy routine which could be applied in the same manner to all Disciples, but it was a laborious process, involving many methods, which were to be applied in various manners, according to the nature of the Disciples.  This does credit to the Desert Fathers who, living in a period when little attention was paid to the individual, emphasized by words and actions, the necessity of in­dividualized education.  The variety of teaching methods, and the organiza­tion used by the monks were two of the most important characteristics of the  monastic educational system.”  (Elias Matsagouras, The Early Christian Fathers as Educators, p 66)

St. John Chrysostom

What does this mean for our own work in Christian education?  It means the design for our educational programs must incorporate a system structured to support numerous levels of spiritual development.  One-lesson-fits-all curriculums cannot satisfy the goals nor the metho­dolo­gies of the early Church or of our work today.   Before sharing the Gospel, some learners may need more preparatory work than others to be ready to receive the message.   Remember, St. Gregory the Theologian taught that humans originally fell into sin because they had not gone through the educational stages God intended for them.   They were not mature enough to deal with the knowledge for which they reached out.  The knowledge of good and evil was a necessary part of the education of humans; they prematurely took hold of the knowledge and suffered the consequences.   (Constantine Tsirpanlis, Introduction to Eastern Patristic Thought and Orthodox Theology,  p. 50).    For modern Christian educators, this lesson ought not be forgotten.   As John Erickson wrote,

…Chrysostom, who regularly emphasizes the good judgment and tact demanded of the preacher/teacher, and by Gregory of Nazianzen, who insists on the need `to give in due season to each his portion of the word.’…  `since the common body of the Church is composed of many different characters and minds…,  it is absolutely necessary that its ruler should be at once simple in his uprightness…,  and as far as possible manifold and varied in his treatment of individuals…’  The spiritual gift of discernment and a proper sense of `economy’ are essential for the exercise of the Church’s `teaching office.   (John Erickson, The Challenge of our Past, p. 59)

Next:  Clement of Alexandria (A)

The Holy Spirit in our Lives

“The Holy Spirit on earth dwells in us,

and He enlightens us.

He gives us to know God.

He gives us to love the Lord.

He stablishes our mind in God.

He bestows on us the gift of words.

He gives us to sing the praises of the Lord.

He gives us joy and gladness.

The Holy Spirit gives us strength to wage war against the enemy, and be victorious.”

(Archimandrite Sophrony, St.Silouan the Athonite, pgs. 431-432)

Pentecost (2011)

Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitudes came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?”And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, “Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and  proselytes, “Cretans and Arabs; we hear them speaking in our own tongues the  wonderful works of God.”  (Acts 2:1-11)

“We believe that in the Church the Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declare, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’ (Acts 2:17). God pours out his Spirity not upon just a certain member but upon all His people. All are charismatics since all have received the Spirit as a ‘pledge’ (arrabôn) of the new age to which the Church belongs while still abiding in this old age. The Church is the beginning of the ‘last days’ (eschatai hemerai).
Upon entering, the believer is set apart for ministry in the Church through the sending down of the Spirit. ‘The fullness of grace’ (omnis gratia) has an absolute but not relative, a permanent but not temporary, character, for only charismatics can be members of the Church. The gift of the Spirit that every member of the faithfull receives in the sacrament of initiation is the charism of royal priesthood. In the Church there are no gifts of the Spirit without ministry and there is no ministry without gifts. Through the charisma of the royal priesthood the Christian is call to priestly ministry in the Church.” (Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, pg. 3)

Called to Serve, Not to be Served

The multiplication of ministries in the church began with the Christian community needing to respond to issues created by the increasing numbers of believers in local Christian communities.

Christ feeding the thousands

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the   disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. And the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.   (Acts 6:1-7)

Dr. Kesich referring to the above Scripture passage explains:

“The evangelist Luke in Acts does not cover up or minimize the ‘unpleasant disturbances’ in the life of the Jerusalem church. With the growth of the community, inevitably other problems confronted the ‘disciples’ of Christ. They had to solve them, for the future of Christian mission and its expansion depended on their resolution. Acts identifies the members of the community [koinonia] as disciples [mathetai] of Christ. … In Acts, Luke uses the word ‘disciple’ for any believer in Jesus (Acts 6:1, 9:19). Paul never used the term mathetai for his followers or companions. Only Jesus could have mathetai.

With the rapid growth of the church, some members of the community began to complain of neglect. Acts 6 reports that the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were slighted in the daily distribution, probably meaning in sustenance given to the poor and needy. The Twelve took the complaint of the Hellenists seriously and dealt decisively with the discontent that was endangering the koinonia. They summoned the body of the faithful [plethos] and asked them to select “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3) to serve tables [diakonein trapezais], whom they, the Twelve, would appoint for this duty.

 …Luke differentiated the role of the Twelve and that of the ‘multitude’ [plethos] in the appointment of the Seven. The Twelve and the community of believers participated in the decision-making process. The Twelve took the initiative, approving and appointing the seven worthy Hellenists whom the community had selected from among themselves. The leadership of the Twelve was undisputed, while the consent of the faithful was indispensable. … They were engaged in service in the community, for in Acts 6, Luke uses the term diakonia, ‘service’, but not diakonos, “deacon.” Paul uses diakonos for a distinct group in the hierarchy of a local church only once in his undisputed epistles. (Veselin Kesich, Formation and Struggles: The Birth of the Church AD 33-200, pgs. 38-39)

Zacchaeus (1993)

Sermon notes from  January 31, 1993

We have all heard the story of Zacchaeus many times. The wee little man who wanted to see Jesus. We all know that it is a lesson to each of us to seek out Christ the Lord and He will find us, where ever we are.

Today, I also want to speak to you about the lesson of Zacchaeus from the point of view of Jesus the Son of God. For it was Jesus who saw Zacchaeus sitting in the tree, and it was Jesus who spoke first to Zacchaeus. The significance of these factors is important for those of us in this mission parish. Because, we are now the body of Christ in the world. We are the Lord’s hands, and feet and eyes. And we, my friends, must keep our eyes open for others like Zacchaeus who are seeking Jesus or who want to take a peek at Jesus. There still are many such people out there behind the crowds, some who are almost too small to notice, some who have climbed into some obscure place or tree because they think that will give them a better vantage point to see Christ or His Church. There are such people out there, and we as the body of Christ, and as eyes of Christ, must seek them out and call them into the fellowship of the Church.

The Lord Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost. We must keep our eyes open for such lost. The lost are not always found in the most obvious or convenient places. Our eyes must be open to see them where ever they are.

The lost may not be people we want to associate with. Remember that the good people who followed Jesus, were shocked that Jesus would associate with the likes of Zacchaeus. For Zacchaeus was a thieving tax collector. Zacchaeus was a traitor to his nation for he chose to collect taxes for the Roman conquerors. Not only did he collect taxes to give to Rome, but by his own admission he forced his fellow Jews to pay higher taxes than normal so that he could get rich. Zacchaeus was repugnant in the eyes of his people. But that is not how Christ saw him. Christ saw him as the lost sheep, seeking mercy and love. And Christ extended love to him.

We my friends are to do the same, to see those who are looking for Christ, even if they are undesirable, and then to invite them into the fellowship of faith. If they come, it is because God has called them, not because we chose them.

There is an old Jewish story about Moses that says when Moses was tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, a young lamb escaped and ran away. Moses was tired and angry from a hard day of work, yet he had to give chase to the run away lamb. The lamb ran through the rocky wilderness terrain until it came to a pool of water where it stopped to drink. When Moses got to the pool, he looked at the lamb and said, “I did not know that you ran away because you were thirst: now you must be tired.” So he picked up the lamb, put it on his shoulder and walked back to the rest of the flock. God then said to Moses, “Because you have shown mercy in leading the flock of mortal man, you shall surely lead MY flock, Israel.”

God has called us to seek the lost sheep. God has called to seek the sheep that have run away. God has called us to seek sinners, blasphemers, agnostics and atheists and to invite them into HIS church.

Our Lord Jesus said to us, (John 15:16) “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and your fruit should remain.” As biblical scholar A.B. Bruce noted, Jesus expects more of us than that we not lose heart in the face of the world which rejects Him. He expects us to make our mark on history, to be His body and to carry out His objectives in the world. (Bruce, Training of the 12, p. 411).

Remember Zacchaeus. Remember Moses the good shepherd, and Jesus who lays down His life for His sheep. We are expected to go into the world and preach the Gospel and to bear the fruit of growth for God. As you think about these words and as we plan our evangelism as a parish, hear the words of St. John Chrysostom on evangelism:

“Do not neglect your brethren, therefore, nor consider only your own concerns; instead, let each of you be anxious to snatch your neighbor from the jaws of the devil and those illicit spectacles, and lead him to church, showing  him in all restraint and gentleness both the extreme risk of harm and also the extent of the good things to be gained here.  Do this not merely once or twice but ceaselessly.  I mean, even if today he doesn’t heed your words, he will heed them in future; if not in future, in due course seeing your insistence he will perhaps feel ashamed, will come to respect your care for him and desist from those harmful pursuits.  Never say, once, twice, three times, again and again I told him and got nowhere.  Don’t stop telling him; the more you persist, the more your reward will be increased as well.  Don’t you see how much longsuffering we enjoy from the God of all, and how day after day we fail to heed his commands without his desisting from caring for us but rather supplying us with everything, making the sun to rise, giving us rain from heaven and everything else?  Let us, in exactly the same way, take great pains in regard to our brethren and take issue with that evil demon so as to render his wiles ineffectual.  After all, if everyone attending here managed to gain one person, consider how much the Church would receive great satisfaction in the vast numbers of its children and the devil would be dismayed to see his net cast idly and to no purpose.  If in fact you do this, you too will hear on the dread day, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in possession of many.'”   (HOMILIES ON GENESIS 18-45, pp 404-405)