Monday, December 29, 2014

God is love

‘Love covers all offenses.’ A church that doesn’t really practice this wouldn’t last very long. No matter how unjust or hypocritical it looks to outsiders, if this isn’t the rule to be followed in the Church, then there would be no Church. There might be organizations calling themselves ‘church,’ and some of them might even seem to last a very, very long time. But what we are seeing, in that case, is not the Church but an institution that perpetuates itself by some other means.

Yesterday I witnessed the churching of a new presbyter by a bishop. I am now speaking of this happening in an Orthodox church, to be quite clear. What I mean by churching (in case this isn’t the proper ecclesiastical term for it) is that a new priest having been sent to a congregation was formally installed as pastor of the place. This was accomplished by a ceremonial which included promises by the presbyter to be what he was ordained to be, and a promise by the people to support him.

I can’t remember having seen this ceremony in the Orthodox Church before, but I have seen something like it in the Episcopal Church. I was quite impressed by the ceremony and the promises, and I expect the young presbyter who was thus installed (a very humble, lovable guy) will make good his promises. The bishop revealed that he told him he was ‘home’ and expected to serve this parish for the rest of his life. May it be so, and God grant him many, many years. But why bring up ‘love covers all offenses’?

The church in which this happened was once a very model of Christian community, generous and welcoming, a house of prayer and of mercy. It had been served by good pastors for more than a generation. Then, the unexpected and horrible happened. For almost a decade a succession of priests who through their human weaknesses did great damage to persons and people brought this church to the brink of disaster. Each time one of them was reassigned they were sent off with lavish praise.

You’d think after it happening once, the mistake wouldn’t have been repeated so quickly. Human weakness afflicts us all, unfortunately, from head (hierarchs) to foot (me), and we are unable to see through the mists of our mistakes and those of others. Love, however, kept the remnant going. Was it love for the priests who did the damage? Maybe, for saints are capable of anything. Was it love for the people, the members for one another, for the Church? Yes, of course. And trusting love for Christ.

For it all boils down to trust. This word so variously and sometimes treacherously used, is still the root of both belief and faith. We have heard that if the building were to burn down, what would be left is the Church. That is what happened, metaphorically speaking, to this congregation. But mercy is stronger than justice. No one brought the past to mind, or resented the people who made it so hard. I think the sense of relief overwhelmed most of the people, including me. Hope shone in the eyes of many.

Never give up, brethren. No matter what things look like, at church, at home, in the country, in your neighborhood, at your school, in your marriage. God is with us. Christ wasn’t born for nothing. Love has taken on human form in Him, and in us who are in Him. It was not we who chose Christ, but He chose us. It is we, however, who must choose love, or else not. The whole world, not just the Church, continues to exist for the sake of love, forgiving, merciful, covering love. Yes, ‘love covers all offenses,’ for ‘God is love.’

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