Your 'Friendly' Orthodox Church
Not too long ago, I was driving with my family when we saw an old, abandoned building. I stared at it for a minute and then realized that it was an old Friendly’s restaurant. I then said, “I would love to be in a Friendly’s Board Meeting when they talk about where they are going as a company and what the plan is to save it from bankruptcy.” Obviously, their model isn’t working anymore. Their type of food and service are not the type that most people are seeking nowadays.
So, what’s the problem? They’re caught between a rock and hard place. They can change their menu and how they do business with the hope that more people will come (they may not) but, if they do that, they risk alienating all those people who still go to Friendly’s and love the relatively inexpensive meal that they can get there.
Then I said to Penny, “It’s a lot like the Orthodox Church. We had a model that we created for the Church in America close to 100 years ago and, for quite a while, it worked well. In fact, in some places, it’s working extremely well to this day. In much of the South and the West, I hear over and over again how some churches cannot fit all their parishioners into their facilities. Fr. Stavros, who used to be in Enfield, CT is now in Tampa, FL and his church has nearly doubled in size in the last 13 years. People there, he says, are deeply faithful and curious.
So, what’s happening in New England? People have lost faith; they don’t believe in God. The Roman Catholic Church, Protestant churches, and even synagogues are realizing that they simply cannot stay afloat anymore. The people are relying on themselves only, not dependent on God’s word or ways, not producing fruit anymore, like the fruit that Jesus calls us to produce in today’s gospel and the fruit that He wants is, very simply, people who are being saved. He wants their hearts and souls with Him. For a very short time, He gives us the reigns to take over His vineyard and we, the tenants, are given a very specific responsibility: produce fruit. That’s all. Just produce fruit.
As I think about this today, I know that He’s talking to us and I, like many of you, take this commission very seriously and personally. It’s our responsibility to create and invest in the next generation of tenants. I often think, “why wouldn’t you want to be a tenant? The tenant not only has the responsibility but also the pleasure of receiving the first fruits of the vineyard.” In other words, when you work for the Church, it’s not just hard work with no reward. The rewards are actually tremendous. Personally, I’ve never found anything anywhere as nearly fulfilling as working for the Church. It’s where lives are changed, where eyes are opened, where hard hearts are softened, where families truly unite, and where salvation is first experienced. That’s right: salvation begins right here.
But what do we see? Jesus said it Himself by quoting Scripture: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.’ Imagine! It’s not just the Church being rejected, it’s Christ Himself being told that He is not good, loving, and merciful enough! I honestly never thought I’d see the day but here we are. Black is white, up is down, and good is evil.
Now I’m not going to despair because as long as we can meet, as long as the ancient faith of the Church is still heard, I have to believe that good is going to triumph and, more importantly, that Christ Himself is going to triumph over every other philosophy, idea, or way of life. We simply have to remember this: the fruit that He acts us to produce is none other than your own children and grandchildren. So, let’s put Christ first in our own lives. Let’s develop the fruit of the Spirit in our own hearts – love, joy, peace, and all the rest – so that others can see what motivates and inspires us. Let us, as followers of Jesus Christ, make it a point to give Christ all the credit when something goes right and not the blame when we and others reject His ways. And finally, let’s reach out generously to those in need, like those in Texas, and hope that others will follow suit.