The Church Is The AnswerFr. Barnabas Powell
Our modern age is suffering a crisis of meaning. This, of course, is a natural consequence of decades of the proactive dismantling of the timeless wisdom that had been shaping our culture for centuries. You can’t tear down something and not have chaos during your attempt to reconstruct something else. Anyone who has lived through the traffic during interstate construction can relate!
Part of this chaos has produced an interesting and very human reaction – tribalism. And, in fact, we moderns have created whole new tribes centered around our passions. But the desire to belong to a group isn’t all bad. It is actually a desire that flows from our very creation. We were created in God’s image and He knows Himself as Persons in Communion. We were made for community! So, our work as humans becoming who we were made to be is to grow in wisdom so that we are able to choose community wisely!
So, we humans have a basic instinct, given by God, that we are meant to be in community. We aren’t meant to be lonely. But, as usual, without the grace of God to inform and form our desires and instincts, we wander around trying to answer this hunger for community with all the wrong and too small answers! The results are the tribalism and chaos and lack of purpose we see driving an unparalleled epidemic of loneliness in our modern age.
Look at our lesson today in Romans 16:1-16:
Brethren, I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreai, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epainetos, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked hard among you. Greet Andronicos and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatos, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulos. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissos. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaina and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritos, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologos, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
All these people Paul wants to greet here at the end of, arguably, one of his most important letters; the Book of Romans. He’s writing his opus in hopes of visiting the Roman church on his way to missionize in Spain and he sends this letter ahead of his visit to the Roman Church will know his theology, his insight as an apostle, and his devotion to Christ as well as to them.
You see, devotion to Jesus means devotion to His Body the Church. There is no way to have a relationship with the Head and ignore the Body. Jesus is whole. He is One, and His Church is One as well because she is His Body. To be devoted to Jesus is inseparable from being devoted to His Church. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. This is why the Creed says “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”
And just listen to the way Paul describes these dear ones he is wanting to make sure get greeted by the Roman church: A “deaconess” (let the debates rage, but there she is!), fellow workers who risk their necks for Paul, the first Gentile convert in Asia, hard workers, fellow prisoners, beloved, kinsmen, eminent in the Lord, and all the saints. And he concludes “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
What a powerful picture of love and devotion. And this devotion, far from competing with our devotion to Jesus, actually enhances and magnifies my devotion to Jesus. The modern sickness of “Me and Jesus got our own thing going” only leads to a weak and shallow faith that cannot stand against the strong tide of faithlessness in our modern age. It is only a very physical, locatable, and VISIBLE CHURCH that can act as an antidote to the selfish narcissism of our modern age.
St. Aquila, half of the “dynamic duo” of the great Pricilla and Aquila, was a Jewish convert to Christianity in the first century. We read about him and his wife serving the Church in the book of Acts. This couple was so instrumental in the missionary efforts of St. Paul, by providing him with a place to stay, learning the Faith from him, and then serving as great ambassadors themselves to call all around them to Christ. St. Paul called them his “helpers in Christ” in Romans 16. They were instrumental in the Gentiles converting to the Faith so much so that this couple bears the name “Apostle” along with the 12 Apostles of the Church. But notice, they were committed to growing the Church, not their reputation or their prestige. The work this couple did for Christ was all for the expansion of the Church which is the Body of Christ, the Ark of Salvation.
Today, are you devoted to the Church? Oh, I’m not just talking about the local church where you go on Sundays. I’m talking about the Church through history, time, and Space, that still lives in Christ as His Body. Being Christian means being a real and actual member of His Body the Church. This is what we mean when we say “Be a Normal Orthodox Christian.”