One of our most cherished ideals as Americans is the value and dignity we place upon the individual. Our Declaration of Independence speaks to this when it states that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Every human being, every individual, is of infinite worth by virtue of being created in the Image of God.
As much as we value “individualism” in our culture, 9and this is especially true of those of us who live in the West, with its “rugged individualism,”) as Christians we are called to live beyond the mere individualism of our world. As human beings created in God’s image, we are created to be persons, not isolated individuals. Reflecting the Holy Trinity, we are to live as persons in relationship. We proclaim faith in One God in Three Persons – not One God in Three Individuals. The Life of the Holy Trinity is one of infinite love in the relationship of the Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this very love, the love of the Holy Trinity, into which we are called to enter.
Persons live in relationship with other persons. Individuals live in isolation and self- centeredness. We are baptized into Christ, which means we, in Him, are called to be persons, in relationship with God, and in relationship with one another.
This has deep significance for what it means for us to be the Church, and how we understand our place within it. We do not belong to the Church, the Body of Christ, as isolated individuals. We belong as members, as parts of the Body, knit together in relationship by the Holy Spirit.
Our culture celebrates individualism, where each of us finds our own “truth,” and creates our own meaning. This has deeply influenced how we understand our faith and membership in the Church. Many see their faith as a private matter, and their participation in the life and worship of the Church as “optional.” Nothing could be farther from the way the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition understand membership in the Body of Christ. We are members of Christ’s Body as persons in relationship – we are Christians, not as individuals, but as part of the people of God – Christ’s Body, the Church. We do not belong to the Church as if it were a club or organization. We belong
to the Church as redeemed persons in relationship to Christ, and to one another. And this brings me to the delicate issue of attendance at the Sunday Divine Liturgy.
Believe me when I say that I do not write this to scold or shame. I write this to encourage all to understand themselves as members of the Body of Christ. Worship together in the Sunday Divine Liturgy is not mandatory, as if we are compelled by some rule or law. Worship together on Sunday morning is actually defining of who we are as persons baptized into Christ and His Church. We are not mere individuals, making choices pertaining only to ourselves. We are redeemed and re-created persons, in relationship with Christ and with one another. Thus we freely choose to gather together each week, to pray, to hear the Holy Scriptures, and to receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ, communing with Him and with one another.
I encourage each one of us to reflect on what it means to be a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. I encourage all of us to examine our choices. If Christ is our life, if Christ is our hope, if Christ, dwelling in us, is the life to which we aspire, then our gathering together as His Body is not merely a matter of individual preference. Rather, it is what we do by virtue of who we are as His people.
Each of us makes a myriad of choices each week, each day, each moment. We freely choose how to prioritize our time and effort. These choices reflect what we value and how we define ourselves. If we truly see ourselves as belonging to Christ and to His Church, redeemed by His Self-sacrifice, then I urge each of us to evaluate how our actions and choices reflect our identity in Him. I urge each of us to think of how we choose to spend our Sunday mornings.
There is no such thing as a Christian living as an isolated individual. There is no such thing as a “private” faith. We belong to a people of God’s own creation. We belong to a new community, the Body of Christ, which gathers together weekly to celebrate and give thanks for all God has done for us in Christ Jesus. We are new creations in Christ. We arepersons in relationship to Him, and to one another. Let us attend. Let us “pay attention” to who we are, and let us attend to one another as His Body as we gather weekly in communion with Christ and one another. “Let us commend ourselves, and one another, and our whole life, to Christ our God.”
In Christ, Fr. David