Metropolitan of Lviv and Sokal of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate)

 

Academic conference: “The Ukrainian cooperative movement”

“Social policy in Ukraine from the churche's point of view”

June, 13

 

SOCIAL SERVICE IN THE CHURCH

AS THE EMANATION OF JESUS CHRIST’S MINISTRY

 

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

 

Christ is the head of “the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23) That is why the Church has always had two immanent predicates: ministry, and its fruit, salvation. The Church’s spheres of activity are defined by a simple rule: where Christ is, there also should the Church be, and Christ, as we know, is “all, and in all” (Col 3:11). Thus the Church’s mission is not only the divine nurturing of the world through the Sacraments, but also its work in and for society. Sometimes we hear the ideas of some quasi-theologians who try to convince us that the Church’s mission is prayer and the so-called “fulfilling of intentions,and that it is the state that must deal with the issues of social ministry. Here the question arises: Don’t the Church and the state consist of the same people? Don’t the people who come to Church belong to various age groups, social strata and have various intellectual levels? These human beings, these “people of God,” often come to church not only to pray; they bring with them their problems, their thoughts, their feelings, their views, their needs. Can the Church not respond to these? If it does, it ceases to fulfill its mission, which is the salvation of mankind. It was the Apostle Paul, called the Apostle of the Nations, who said

For though I amfree from all men, I have made myselfa slave toall, so that I maywin more.To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law thoughnot being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who arewithout law,as without law, though not being without the law of God butunder the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To theweak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have becomeall things to all men,so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.(1 Cor 9:19-23)

This formula of Paul’s, to be everything for everyone, became the formula for the whole Church and has been carried out by it for many centuries. However, the last century brought with it the autonomization of all spheres of human life. Government and economic life, science, art, and culture, all became autonomous. This process is called secularization. Religion also followed the path of secularization. The Christian way of life was rejected. All spheres of public and cultural life began unfolding in the name of so-called “freedom” and “human rights.” There ensued a gradual retreat from Christianity and the Christian way of life.

The 20th century finally ousted the Church from the life of society, meaning that religion became one’s own personal affair. Modern society is oriented first of all towards material values. Before secularization it was the Church that pointed to eternal values and cultivated morality in all spheres of life (and here let us recall some outstanding scholars who were great believers and practicing Christians); now society is ruled by the desire to participate in global economic development. And this path, to some degree, has absolutely no connection to high Gospel ideals. But here we see a strange paradox: the Church, in spite of being rejected by a secularized society, remains in it through ontological unity with every single person. And as in the previous millennia, the main mission of the Church is still the salvation of every single soul.

Christians shouldn’t keep away from the life of the society that surrounds them, meaning the world. God loves not only every single person, but also the whole world and all humanity, because they are His creations and they have been chosen for spiritual catharsis and transfiguration, on the basis of love. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The Church calls its followers to participate actively in social life, but this participation should be based on the principles of Christian morality and Christian doctrine. This participation, as Scripture teaches us, should be carried out with diligence and devotion: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (Rom. 12:6-8) This means that the Church cannot remain silent while facing the problems that emerge in society; it has to respond to those questions that are posed by society.

Among such questions, and probably the most pressing, is the issue of the ecological crisis. One of the main reasons why this problem has emerged lies in the beginnings of humanity’s conscious history. After the fall, people forgot that “ruling” nature and “subduing” the world (Gen 1:28) -- that to which people are called in God’s plan-- does not mean doing whatever they like. The crisis of the human soul gave birth to the ecological crisis. That is why the Church sees the solution to this problem in the restoration of unity with God. No economic, biological, scientific or technological development will be able to restore the harmonious existence of humans in nature. Only purity of soul, the spiritual renewal of human nature, and its resulting spiritual transformation (divinization) of humans can bring order into the relationship between man and nature.

Another question which is often addressed to the Church is the issue of new scientific achievements in the sphere of genetics. There is no doubt that this issue still requires theological reflection, but one thing remains undisputable – even the most intelligent person cannot outshine his/her Creator. “I am your God”-- God reminds us many times in the pages of the Bible. Nevertheless, people have always strived to be ”like God” (Gen 3:5) and proved this eugenic desire with all their achievements in the domains of biology and genetics. Attempts at cloning also belong to this category. The answer the Church gives to this question is unambiguous – human cloning annihilates the foundations of paternity and maternity, destroys the foundation of the family, and can cause irreparable psychological damage. The person who comes into the world as a result of cloning could feel that he/she is not an individual person, the image and likeness of God, but rather someone’s “copy.” However, the cloning of separate cells, human tissue, or entire organs poses no threat to the human person and can be useful for mankind.

Today, when the world is tormented by dreadful, incurable illnesses, the issue of euthanasia has become especially urgent. In this issue the Church, following the commandment “You shall not kill” (Exod 20:13), cannot declare morally acceptable the attempts to legalize the killing of people who are mortally ill, even if they desire it. The request of a sick person to accelerate his/her death is influenced by a state of depression, pain, and suffering… Jesus teaches: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10) The Church, in fulfilling God’s will, continued teaching in the same way through the apostles: “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Pet 4:19) And the type of help given to those suffering should not be their renunciation through killing, but sincere prayer. It is then that the Lord, as the Apostle teaches us, will perfect us through our sufferings; He will confirm, strengthen and make us steadfast. (1 Pet 5:10)

Special attention is paid by the Church to another important issue: the family. The family is the basic cell of society; in theology it is called the domestic church. And thus this designation draws the Church’s special attention to the family and its problems. God created a healthy family (Gen 2:23-24), and Christianity eliminated polygamy, which came into existence during the course of human history, and constructed a family based on love. A family cannot exist without love and mutual respect (Eph 5:22-33). According to God’s plan the family is designed for giving birth to children and multiplying the human race (Gen 1:28). Without a strong family, there can be no healthy society nor powerful state. The loss of family values can lead to the disappearance of civilization. The main problems of the family are not economic or of a material nature. The problems of the family are of a spiritual and moral character. The deterioration of Christian love and mutual respect has contributed to the emergence of a number of problems such as drug addiction, alcoholism, abortion, and others. The root cause of these problems is the emancipation of our youth, poor spiritual and sexual education, and resulting early marriages, in which neither party is ready for the step of “becoming one flesh.” The moral vacuum found in European civilization gave birth to so-called “non-traditional families,” in which the notion of family is drastically distorted, and in which dirty and shameful relations are exhibited, providing the younger generation with a poor example. The Church has always unmasked such marriages, assessing them correctly with a moral and theological evaluation. Unfortunately, some Christian denominations have forgotten the Church’s calling to act as a leader in society, and instead are led by it, allowing same-sex marriages. In so doing, they support this extremely agonistic condition of European society.

All the emerging problems of society are the results of its globalization. Globalization is an inevitable process in this third millennium. It finds its place in all spheres of human activity and is impossible to stop, unless God alone in His invisible ways were to do so, as He once halted the construction of the Tower of Babel. Accepting the inevitability of globalization, the Church emphasizes that it has to be dependent on and controlled by eternal spiritual values. Christians place God in the center of everything because He is the center of all being.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), says Christ. Christ’s very birth, His life, suffering, death and resurrection testify that God has not abandoned the world, but that He takes care of it and nurtures it, and if God is in the world then everyone who believes in Him and fulfills His will has nothing to be afraid of.

The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” (Heb 13:6), asks the Apostle rhetorically.

Thus the Church as the Body of Christ and His visible presence on Earth is nourished by the action of the grace of the Holy Spirit; it is “the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Tim 3:15) It is the keeper of the greatest gift – the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. And as the one that fulfills God’s will, it cannot but open its embrace to every thirsty soul. Christ forgave sinners and prodigals, and the Church accepts their repentance; Christ healed the sick, and the Church does everything possible for the spiritual and often physical healing of the sick; Christ associated with the rich (tax collectors, members of the Sanhedrin, authorities), and the Church does not prohibit wealth, but emphasizes its proper usage and warns against serving two masters, or wealth (Matt 6:24). While calling its believers to follow Gospel values, the Church does not disengage people from society; it does not create spiritual reservations, but, on the contrary, obliges all Christians to work within society, to dedicate their forces to serving people and God, thereby transfiguring society and multiplying those gifts which God gave to every one of us.

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as goodstewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks is to do so as one who is speaking theutterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is servingby the strength which God supplies; so thatin all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ,to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. ” (1 Pet 4:10-11)