Living the Gospel Month
A Project of the Fellowship of St. John the Divine
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'"
This excerpt is from the Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46, and is read on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, or Meatfare Sunday. Simply put, Christ is calling us to love our neighbor unconditionally. It defines our neighbor as any person we come into contact with. Unfortunately, we as Orthodox tend to only give of ourselves if it is well planned and we do not venture out of our comfort zone. Yes, we are still doing real ministry by participating in OCMC, IOCC, Real Break, YES, etc., but are we willing to participate in random acts of kindness (and love) that would take us out of our comfort zone? Would you be willing to take the shirt off your own back and give it to a homeless man on the street? Instead of averting your eyes and walking on the other side of the road, would you be willing to buy a woman begging for change a hot cup of coffee, or even look her in the eye? Who would even think to go visit prisoners? In the end, our ultimate goal as the committee for Missions, Outreach, and Evangelism is to encourage all Orthodox Christians to start living our lives with love in our hearts for all of God’s people, not just the ones we are close to and are used to working with in organized, planned activities.
The goal is this: each week, members of the Fellowship at your parish would go out into the community and perform acts that are pertinent to the theme of the week that are taken from the abovementioned Gospel. By doing this, we are essentially living the Gospel and doing the work that Christ challenged us to do. Great Lent is a perfect time for us to focus our efforts and commit to change our lives for the better by giving ourselves to others. Two weeks before Meatfare Sunday, we hear the Gospel lesson of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). This prepares us for Great Lent by calling us to repent. Repent does not just mean to confess and be sorry for our sins, but to commit to truly change our lives and walk with the Lord. The following Sunday we hear the Gospel of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This lesson again teaches us about the importance of repentance, and reinforces with us that no matter how far we have ventured away from Christ, it is never too late to turn back, and He will welcome us with open arms.
We then reach the Sunday of the Last Judgment, which is the theme of this proposal. Here, Christ tells us HOW we NEED to change our lives in order to spend eternity with Him in the Kingdom. On Forgiveness Sunday, or Cheesefare Sunday, we hear that we need to forgive others of their trespasses if we want our Father to forgive us of our own (Matthews 6:14-21). This brings us back to the theme of unconditional love. The Gospel goes on to talk about true fasting, and not boasting or complaining for everyone to see, but rather fasting privately and in your heart for your Father to see. During this time we are called not to worry about our material things, but rather focus on our spirituality and our ministry to others, for Christ said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If your heart is committed to giving of yourself, loving your neighbor unconditionally, and doing the work that Christ called us to do, then you will truly not be concerned with worldly things, but of heavenly things, and your mansion will await you in Heaven.
Finally we come to the Gospel read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, which is where Christ is originally finding his disciples and calling them to follow him. This is a great Gospel to be read on a Sunday where we are promoting the unity of all Orthodox Christians. And that makes this a great weekend to begin our ministry together and commit to change our lives for the better. Over the next five weeks, we will literally be devoting our lives to doing exactly what Christ called us to do. The culmination of our work brings us to Holy Week, where our theme of unconditional love climaxes on Great and Holy Thursday, when Christ said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:31-38), and then proceeded to commit the ultimate sacrifice in His love for us, by being crucified and then rising from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins.
In summary, Living the Gospel Month is a challenge from the NAC Fellowship of St. John the Divine to do the work that Christ calls us to do in its entirety. This does not have to be a thoroughly planned out event, but it could evolve into something huge. The idea is to break down each part of the aforementioned Scripture verse, and put it into action on the parish level on consecutive weekends, starting with the weekend of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. If your church has a Fellowship, they could spearhead this venture. If your parish does not have a Fellowship, this would be a great opportunity to bring people together and start one. Any person in the parish of college age or older who wants to be more involved in the church is welcome to be in the Fellowship. Also, beginning this project during the weekend of the Sunday of Orthodoxy would be a great way to make this a pan-Orthodox activity and promote Orthodox Unity. Orthodox from all jurisdictions should come together to do the work of the Gospel as one unified body.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:31-38)
Examples of activities on the parish level could include, but are not limited to:
Week 1: When did we see you hungry or thirst?
- Serve lunch at a shelter
- Hand out bagged lunches on the street
- Take a homeless person to lunch or breakfast
Week 2: When did we see you a stranger?
- Talk to homeless people on the street
- Take $3-$5 per person and treat a homeless person to lunch
- Put together gift baskets for a charity, troops, etc.
- Random acts of kindness to someone you don’t know: Pay it Forward
Week 3: When did we see you naked?
- Have a clothing drive and donate the collection to a shelter
- Hand out clothes to homeless people on the street
Week 4: When did we see you sick?
- Visit parishioners in hospitals and nursing homes
- Go to the homes of parishioners who are shut-ins
Week 5: When did we see you in prison?
- Visit and minister to parishioners in prison (with a priest)
- Write letters and send icon cards to inmates