His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s remarks on the 20th Anniversary of St. Paul Church
May 20, 2007
The Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Reverend Deacons and all of the Faithful of St. Paul Church:
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Antiochian Orthodox Evangelical Mission, when the people of this community received the Gift of the Holy Spirit. For as once you were guided by God from the outside by means of your rational understanding, the Holy Spirit came to dwell within you and guide you to the path of repentance from within. You learned that the Orthodox Faith is not a set of rules, but rather a living and active relationship with God that transcends thought and emotion.
The Faith is not a race run as a sprint, but a long-distance race that requires endurance. For twenty years, you have set yourselves to this contest against the flesh and the world. You have stumbled, you have fallen and you have lost many brethren along the way. How many have surrendered to the temptations of impatience, failing to see that the way of the Cross is long and arduous?
Yet, you who have not strayed have seen many blessings. Your good works have not gone unnoticed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has rewarded you in ways too many to mention. He has prospered your communities, and shared with you the joys of many after you who have embraced the Church and received the Holy Spirit as you did on that day twenty years ago.
I do not speak of this event twenty years ago as your ‘conversion,’ because I do not want to give the impression that there is such a thing as ‘once converted, always converted.’ Rather, conversion is a daily activity. It is a requirement for all Christians.
The danger for us is to think there are limits to our repentance. When we say, ‘I am always saved,’ or ‘I have the Holy Spirit without the Orthodox Church,’ then we are limiting our repentance. We believe that we can have a saving relationship with God that requires no community and no work. It reduces salvation to magic or philosophy.
We are called Orthodox not because we are ‘right thinking,’ but because we are ‘right glorifying’: we know the True Faith, and we speak to God through our worship, prayer and silence in His presence. We have a relationship with Him as Lord and Master. And, as with any relationship, we must cultivate our relationship with God on a daily basis.
The foundation of this relationship is repentance and conversion, when we acknowledge every moment that we have fallen short of the limitless Love of God. As we increase our awareness of our weakness and remoteness from the Heavenly Kingdom, we become more aware of God’s infinite glory and majesty.
We do not repent out of despair, but out of gratitude and joy. Our conversion occurs when we renounce the falsehoods of the world that so easily slip into our minds, and receive the forgiveness of God given freely to all men, but accepted by so few.
Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel, said St. Paul (1Co 9:16). Was the preaching of St. Paul one only of words? If we read the Scriptures, we see that the Holy Apostle preached not only with words, but his living example of daily repentance and conversion. His life was a sermon of devotion to God, each day lived as a renunciation of his sinfulness and an embrace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through St. Paul’s daily repentance and conversion, he spread the Faith throughout the Roman Empire. So, too, will this community, so aptly named for the Holy Apostle Paul, so you live out your faith through daily repentance and conversion.
It is twenty years of this daily repentance and conversion that we celebrate this day, and I pray that our Lord grants all of you many more days, that you might grow closer to Him.