On the weekend of Palm Sunday, six adults were joyfully received into the fellowship of Holy Orthodoxy through baptism and chrismation. Taking their stand with Christ and His Church, four received the grace of baptism and two of chrismation. They join an increasing number of people whose lives are being transformed by “the grace of the Lord, the Love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
Following just a few short months after a previous group of six adults were baptised, The Good Shepherd Orthodox Church is seeing a steady stream of inquirers from many backgrounds and walks of life. Among the six baptised and chrismated on Palm Sunday, we welcome into Holy Orthodoxy catechumens whose backgrounds are Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, Muslim and non-religious. Two are students at Monash University. Those in their 20s are establishing the independence of their identities in Christ. And several are middle-aged, seeking the authenticity, fullness and wholeness of the one Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church. All have now united their lives with Christ through the waters of baptism, the oil of chrismation and the Bread of Life.
Baptismal candidate with her family
From its inception at Pentecost, the mark of the Christian communion has been its uniting of people of all nations, languages and tribes into the universal family of Christ (Acts 2:6).
This heritage is uniquely important in Australia’s cultural context.
For the Australian identity is formed, not by genetic descent from a people group, but by the fusion of immigrants from many parts of the world. Church must reflect its surrounding culture, and in Australia, our culture is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic blend of people whose common language is English.
When people come to The Good Shepherd, they are welcomed by a parish that reflects its surrounding culture. We are from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Palestine, Russia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Jordan, Japan, Italy, Egypt, South Africa, Germany, Singapore, the Philippines, India, Syria, El Salvador, Peru and China. In other words, we are the modern Australia you meet when you walk down the street. What unites us is our union in Jesus Christ: not our shared heritage; but our eternal destiny.
Baptismal candidate with his family
Unlike many denominational congregations, newcomers to The Good Shepherd also meet a full range of ages and backgrounds. Many Anglican parishes are filled with old people. Many Pentecostal congregations filled with the young. Many Baptist congregations predominantly women. Many other sectarian groups select for education, politics or those entrained in certain doctrinal presuppositions. The narrowing of the Christian Tradition by denominations is reflected in a narrowing of the type of people who can connect and belong. In contrast, the fullness of the Holy Orthodox Tradition holds together people of all age groups, dispositions, educational and political backgrounds.
One of the aims of The Good Shepherd has been to “embrace the idea of an emerging Australian Orthodox identity.” We do so by embracing the richness and diversity of Australian society. And as we do this, our weekly worship is filled with echoes of Pentecost.
From the perspective of ethnic Orthodox congregations, what sets The Good Shepherd apart is its full embrace of the English language. Yet this is not the perspective of the steady stream of inquirers newly discovering Orthodoxy.
People don’t wake up on a beautiful Australian summer’s morning and say, “I need to find a Church that speaks English!”
No, they say, “I need to find a Church that is authentic. I need to find a Church that is more than a collection of doctrines. I need to find a Church where Christianity is real.”
The young are seeing through the concocted rock-band confection being served to them by the enthusiastic, marketing-savvy and personality-driven “church plant.” They are looking for beauty. They are looking for goodness. They are looking for truth. And wholeness. Authenticity. For the fullness of Christianity.
“Kyrie Eleison” musical score composed and arranged by the Georgian Patriarch, Ilya II.
People are sick and tired of religious observance being a legal obligation. They are weary of rationalistic religious theories. And they are exhausted by the relentless pursuit of ‘spiritual highs.’ They realise that if God can be reduced to a formula, or a doctrine, or a box; if He is narrow-enough to accept only people who believe specific denominational doctrines; or if He can only be found in fleeting momentary ‘highs’—then He is merely idol—no god at all. Yet the Spirit of God who ever-draws them testifies to a genuineness that must somehow be filled.
We are at a moment in time when people are desperately crying out for authenticity in all aspects of life. The slow food movement is an escape from the chemical concoctions of fast food. The local food movement a reprieve from all-pervading globalism. This is a time uniquely suited to Orthodoxy.
For Holy Orthodoxy is Slow Church. It’s authentic. It’s spiritual, and powerful, and broad. It is held together by an unbroken, golden chain of Saints who have plumbed the infinite depth of the spirituality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Saints who have been filled with Grace. Saints who hear Christ’s voice echoing throughout the Holy Scriptures, whose reading of Scriptures have not been limited to gaining knowledge but in obtaining communion with The Infinite.
The living and active Spirit of God abiding in and through the Saints is promised to every member of the Church. Every member a saint. Every member set apart, holy, dedicated and consecrated through an Invitation to a Loving Relationship with the One Who is beyond all and with all and in all. This is what we have received.
When Australians embark on the quest for spiritual authenticity, they don’t often think to find it among Churches that are named “Greek” or “Russian” or “Serbian” or “Syrian.” For them, these are strange, disparate ethnic churches focused on serving those particular people groups. Not a place one would think to look.
But somehow, the Spirit of God is leading more and more people to discover the genuine spiritual treasure that is held so dear within these ethnic congregations. It is only after discovering this spiritual promise that the question of “English” comes to the fore. People are thirsting in a land of shallow wells and ethnic Orthodoxy is disguising the depth, power and beauty of its life-giving stream. Australia desperately needs genuine Orthodox spirituality to be unlocked.
“We’re all Australian in Australia.” That is the promise of Australia! We all belong. In this way, Australia is the echo of the Holy Spirit Who moved in Jerusalem at Pentecost two thousand years ago, where people of every nation, tribe, people and language heard the message of Jesus Christ in their own language.
This weekend, on this celebration of Pentecost, The Good Shepherd celebrates its patronal feast. Pentecost is the coming together of all peoples. The undoing of the curse of Babel. The reuniting of the broken body of Adam. The Good Shepherd reflects the promise of the unity of Australia in Jesus Christ.
Australia is known as a secular, arid, convict-filled land. Neo-paganism is re-establishing itself in the halls of power. Yet beneath this surface, there is a movement toward the promise and power of deifying Grace. There is a movement toward the spiritually refreshing.
This weekend of Pentecost, let us in all Orthodox Churches sojourning in this Great South Land open our hearts to our fellow Australians by unlocking the genuine, the authentic, the Real Presence for all Australians. For we all are but temporary residents in this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.
“Great South Land of the Holy Spirit” by Steve Grace.
And to these newly born Christians, I would like to remind you to return frequently to the heart of the Gospel.
One of you has taken the name ‘Seraphim,’ after Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who once said, “Acquire the Holy Spirit and a thousand around you will be saved.” At the start of our Christian journey, it is good to be reminded that our new-found faith is not just for ourselves, but is something that has implications for those around us and indeed for the whole cosmos.
In the Orthodox Church, the Liturgy is offered “on behalf of all and for all,” for Saint Paul tells us that God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). For this reason, we pray for all manner of people in the litanies. Likewise, the point of conversion is that our hearts will be broken open, expanding and filling with compassion for all. This, and nothing less than this, is what the Gospel calls us to.