Saint Paul’s: Looking Ahead

Presented at the 25th Anniversary Banquet -June 7, 2003

by Fr. Steven Tsichlis

In the life of the Church, we look back in order to move forward. We root ourselves deeply in the past in order to blossom more fully in the present and orient ourselves towards the future. What we call Tradition in the Church is not merely a glance back at history but the active presence of the Holy Spirit guiding us and keeping us faithful to Christ today!

As we clearly saw in George Peters’ video presentation tonight, we at St. Paul’s are on a journey to build a vibrant, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled community of faith that serves as a witness to the love that God has for us all.

Just as the apostle Paul was called by a vision of the Risen Christ to become the Apostle to the Nations, so the vision of our parish is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with one and all.

We must be a parish that burns bright with the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, offering light to everyone, the light of Jesus Christ that shines into the darkness of our fallen world, enabling us and those around us to see clearly, to distinguish good from evil, love from hate, truth from falsehood.

To make this vision a reality, our Church must be fully evangelical, fully catholic and fully orthodox.

What does it mean to be fully evangelical?  Evangelical – that’s a Greek word, that’s our word, and not merely a Protestant word. To be evangelical is to be a Gospel-centered and a Gospel-sharing people.

First, we must make Jesus and only Jesus the center of who we are both personally and as a community. We must never be content, either personally or as a community, with a nominal or lukewarm commitment to the faith based merely on ethnicity or a kind of religious formalism, just going thru the motions. We must be a people who live the faith concretely, internalizing the truths and moral values of our faith in order to practice it in our homes and at our workplace.

When this happens in us, we have something priceless to share and share it we must, at several levels: locally, nationally and internationally.

Locally, we are about to bring the OCN, the Orthodox Christian Radio Network, to LA and Orange Counties. Earlier this week I was in Chicago where, among other things, I met with Father Chris Metropulos, the director of OCN. Within the next couple of months, we hope to begin airing an Orthodox Christian radio program on a weekly basis on KBRITE, a local Christian radio station whose signal will stretch from LA to San Diego, with the potential of millions of people being able to hear about Orthodoxy for the first time. This will be a pan-Orthodox effort, but St. Paul’s has led the way both organizationally and in funding this effort.

As you know, this past January I hit 50 and – thanks to all of you – at my birthday party we raised the $15,000 necessary to upgrade the equipment in our video room. That equipment has been purchased and will be installed in the next couple of weeks. We are now digital! I hope to begin producing a number of programs to be aired locally on public access TV.  Some of you may remember that when I first arrived at St. Paul’s and Father John Konugres was then the assistant priest – how many of you know that Father John has his SAG card? – we were able to put together three programs for cable TV, filmed in our sanctuary, each of which was aired three times in 1998. That’s something I want to go back to. When I look at public access TV, Calvary Chapel is there, the Mormons are there, the Muslims are there – but we are not. We need to change that! And we will!

At a personal level, each of us must become evangelists. This is not merely the priest’s “job” – this is the job of every Orthodox Christian. Examples of this abound in the life of our parish but two examples come immediately to mind: the Tibbs bring the Lovato’s to the faith; and the Preketes’ bringing the Holmes’ to the faith.

At an international level, thanks to Father Martin Ritsi, we have a strong connection to the OCMC.  Father Martin, I think you know that we at St. Paul’s will always support the work of the Mission Center! As I mentioned earlier, the Father George Stephanides Endowment Fund for the Mission Center will enable one seminarian each year to go on a summer missions project and to deepen his sense of the necessity for evangelism. We have $112,000 pledged of which $67,000 has already been collected. Anthony and Lara Callas have just returned from 2 years in Albania and this summer, Carole Sekeris will be going to Guatemala to put her nursing skills to good use.

But I would like us to do even more in the future: I would like for us to build a Church in Africa for Bishop Panteleimon of Ghana. A St. Paul’s Church in Africa! The cost, according to Father Ritsi, is $25,000. And Anthony Callas could design and oversee the project, with mission teams from our parish and other communities throughout the diocese engaged in the project. It is doable and something that would lift up the name of Christ in Africa.

We must be fully catholic! That’s another Greek word! St. Paul’s is and must continue to be a parish that welcomes and embraces all who join with us in coming closer to Christ in the Holy Spirit. This is a direct consequence of our being fully evangelical. This past Easter, at the Agape Vespers on Sunday afternoon, the Gospel was read in 12 languages, including Hawaiian, Japanese and Korean – not languages normally heard in Orthodox Churches in this country. Although we are a Church firmly rooted in the original Greek of the New Testament, we must be open to all, creating an atmosphere of trust, acceptance and appreciation for the riches of every culture with English as our common language.

We must be fully Orthodox! What does this mean? The word “orthodox” – another Greek word – means both true teaching and true worship. It means deepening our own understanding of the faith in order to practice it more fully and teaching the faith to our young people.

Perhaps the most important program that we have at our parish is the Church School program, most of which takes place in the now old and dilapidated portables that have served us so well for the past decade. It’s time for them to go! Steve Tibbs mentioned the education building earlier. This is an absolute necessity and this fall we will be kicking off another program to raise the funds necessary to build it. Our children and our grandchildren deserve better.

To be Orthodox also means true worship and that means that when we have finished the education building, we need to return to the Church and finish it. We must continue to create something of great beauty for God’s glory. One of the things that struck me as I stood in 4th, 5th and 6th century churches in Italy two years ago was the great beauty of those ancient mosaics and the fact that for 1600 years people had worshipped the one true and living God in them. Not one generation, but more than 60 generations had stood before those icons, bathed in their beauty. Make no mistake about it: unless the Lord comes sooner, I want another 60 generations to worship at St. Paul’s.

What do we need to do? The narthex needs to be finished. It will no longer do to have folding tables with boxes of sand. We need to finish the interior iconography. As you perhaps saw tonight, Mr. Tonelli has provided a drawing of scenes from the life of Christ – particularly the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, the raising of Lazarus from the dead and His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, for the back of the Church, as we leave. We need to see the Lord Jesus coming and going, so to speak.

But let me mention further – there is no Orthodox Church that exists without icons of the crucifixion and the resurrection. These are the two most important events in human history and the focus of the Gospels. Mr. Tonelli has also put together drawings for such icons in the Church and we need to do them.

And we need to finish the doors and the windows.

There is so much more to be done than can even be discussed tonight.

But one thing is clear – it is we who will write the history of our parish. As Steve said earlier, each of us has a pen in our hands and each day we write a new page to the history of our parish by our faithfulness to Christ, our hope in Him, our joy in knowing Him and our love for one another.

If we are to do all of these things and so much more besides, we must make the words of St. Paul our own: I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me!