4th Sunday of Trinity – 14th July 2019.
Revd. Canon Leonard Doolan – St. Paul’s Athens
Over quite a long ministry – on July 2nd I have been ordained 36 years – there have been some memorable experiences. One that is worthy of note was when we had invited a Messianic Jew to preach in Cirencester Parish Church. At the end of his sermon he sang the words of the ‘shema’ in Hebrew. Jesus says these same words in our gospel this morning.
‘ Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself’. I will never forget that moment as we heard the words sung plaintively in ancient musical modulations.
Also throughout the time I have been ordained, some of the most exciting and moving times have been when the Christian faith has grown visibly in the life of a person – often with life changing consequences. Such change illustrates the words of the ‘shema’ in real life and with real people, making a real difference. Loving God and loving neighbour is not a slogan, nor a theory; it is the glory of God active in a human life. As St. Ireneaus famously said, ‘the glory of God is man fully alive’. Love God and love neighbour.
This morning we will witness a definite change in a on young man’s Christian journey, as he seeks to live the life of the ‘shema’. Angelos Palioudakis, who has been nurtured in the life of the Orthodox church up until now, has decided that he wishes to follow Anglican Christian practice. This does not in any way alter or invalidate his Christian life up to this point. Because the Anglican tradition is part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic heritage, his baptism and chrismation in the Orthodox church is fully recognised and cannot be repeated, for there is no need to repeat it.
In his own heart and with his own lips Angelos is publicly declaring that he wishes formally to identify with the Anglican tradition of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We pray for him today, and we rejoice that he has been attentive to the formation of the ‘shema’ in his life, and it has led him to make this decision.
Such a decision is not about one tradition being right and another wrong. 2000 years of this attitude has brought nothing but tragedy to the religion of love and compassion, and we should work tirelessly to heal the deep wounds that bigotry and prejudice have inflicted on the world. The decision to transition is about finding that there is somewhere within the whole church that is more like home, like the household of faith. Many people of other churches have often said to me that when they discovered the Anglican tradition and worship, it is like ‘coming home’. There is no suggestion of rejection of the past, and often there is real appreciation and thanksgiving for the past, but a recognition that God calls each of us to find him, and for some the decision that Angelos has taken, is the resting place of the process of Christian vocation.
One word of warning however! This sense of finding the right place within the Christ’s church is not a decision to find comfort. There is no real resting place for any Christian who seeks to love God and neighbour. Conversion is not a single event but a constant state of existence for the Christian. Jesus illustrates what the Christian life embraces. The parable of the Good Samaritan challenges us to recognize that God also works in and through the stranger, in the foreigner, and in the people who are not like us! There can be no complacency for anyone who chooses to transition from one tradition to another, because there can be no complacency for any of us who follow the crucified Lord. St. Paul’s has a respected tradition of supporting many of the organizations that respond to the needs of impoverished Athenians and migrants, but the ‘shema’ is not a directive to throw money at good causes. We will be more faithful when we live and work the ‘shema’, and I would exhort everyone to engage more with the work of Deacon Christine, ask her about the services we support, and discover if there are ways that you can give to them time, energy, or skills.
So within the household of faith, here and now, we welcome Angelos, and we pray that along with the rest of us he will continue to journey in faith as we each, and together, seek to be faithful to those words that haunt us, challenge us, and constantly change us.
‘The Lord your God is one Lord, and you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’Serm