Fr. Bohdan Hladio
The success (or failure) of a parish is dependent upon the synergy among pastor and faithful. Successful parishes aren’t dependent upon any one person (this includes the priest!) for their success. In a successful parish the parishioners cooperate with each other, they fulfill their own obligations, and contribute what they can into the common treasury of deeds, wisdom and finances.
I used to work in a restaurant. It was a nice place with good food, a pleasant ambiance, and class. We had many “regulars”;, but one of them stood out. The owners called him the “four-star customer”. He would visit often. He’d bring business clients there. He’d come for dinner with his family. He’d celebrate important occasions there. He was a good tipper. He was always pleasant to be with, and a pleasure to serve.
I’m sure you see where this is going. What would a “four-star parishioner” look like?
A Four Star Parishioner. . .
. . . prays. The whole point of being a member of the Church is to know God. Union with Christ is the goal of all Christian endeavor. We must therefore seek to always have God in our thoughts and on our lips. This is prayer. A four-star parishioner prays (privately or with their family) upon arising in the morning, before retiring in the evening, and before meals during the day. They might do more, but they won’t do less.
. . . worships God. If we know God we will worship Him. We are created to worship Him. He commands us to worship Him. Why? Worship creates unity and feeds us spiritually. Worship teaches us who we are and who God is. All human beings worship – either the one True God, or an idol, and every idol is fundamentally an image of ourselves. God, or me? Which will it be? A four-star parishioner attends the worship services of the Church. Unless it is impossible to do so they’re in Church every Sunday and Great Feast Day, and on as many lesser holy days as is feasible.
. . . partakes in the Holy Mysteries. Just because I must approach for Holy Confession and Communion once a year doesn’t mean that I should only approach for Holy Confession and Communion once a year. If Confession and Communion is a good thing, why not approach more often? The Church exists (among other things) in order to make the Holy Mysteries – Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Communion, Marriage, Ordination and the “Oil of Prayer” (anointing of the sick) available to the faithful. A four-star parishioner lives a sacramental life: approaches for Confession/Communion as often as possible, gets married and buried in the Church, has their children baptized in the Church, etc.
. . . supports their parish generously. If the Church can’t pay the bills it can’t “stay open”. If it doesn’t have the money to do outreach work or educate the children it will die. A four-star parishioner treats their parish financial obligations with the same seriousness they treat their taxes. Don’t pay taxes, go to jail. Don’t support the parish, go to . . .
. . . helps the poor. At the Last Judgment Jesus is going to ask us “did you feed me? Did you clothe me? Did you visit me when I was sick?” etc. (Mt. 25:36) All our “religious" acts should lead us to charitable acts on behalf of the suffering, the poor, and the needy. A quick reading of the 1st epistle of St. John or the epistle of St. James will underline this point better than I ever could. A four-star parishioner gives their whole life to God – not just two hours on Sunday morning (if that!). This includes sharing their wealth with God’s beloved – the poor.
. . . respects their leaders. The days are gone when men become priests because they’re seeking some type of “status” in the world. Neither do people join the parish council because they’re seeking fame, or riches. The least we can do is respect those who lead our communities. Even when we disagree with them, we should do so respectfully. They’re not perfect – but neither are we. A four-star parishioner always speaks respectfully to and about their parish and Church leaders. The words of Abraham Lincoln bear repeating: “No one should criticize unless they’re willing to help.”
. . . respects their fellow parishioners. I once heard this terrible riddle: “What happens when a member of the Church is wounded (either spiritually, emotionally, or personally)?” Answer: “Someone from the parish comes along and finishes them off!” It’s a terrible riddle, because it’s often true. How often do we hear people spreading malicious gossip, or delighting in the troubles of their “brothers and sisters in Christ”? A four-star parishioner doesn’t gossip, doesn’t impute evil motives to the actions of others, doesn’t try to build themselves up by tearing other people down. If we do love each other we should speak positively and respectfully about each other, and help pick each other up when we’re down.
. . . fasts. There’s an old saying – “the spiritual life begins with the stomach”. Fasting is a sign of our obedience to the Church; fasting builds unity within the community (just look at the example of the Jews or Muslims); fasting builds discipline (all discipline is fundamentally self-discipline); fasting brings God’s blessings upon us. A four-star parishioner offers their table to the Lord. How we fast may occasionally differ due to individual circumstances, physical needs or illnesses. But if we wish to be close to God, if we are obedient to God and the Church, we will fast according to the apostolic teaching and practice of the Church.
. . . works for their parish. In order for a parish to function much needs to be done: singing in the choir; sitting on the parish council; teaching religion; visiting the sick; cooking; working with youth; preparing the bulletin; organizing social events; cutting the grass, painting the walls, preparing tax receipts, paying bills, etc., etc., etc. God has blessed every one of us with talents that can be utilized for the growth and benefit of our parish. A four-star parishioner offers their talents and abilities to the Lord, and to the parish.
. . . reads the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word to us. The only condition necessary to successfully read the Bible is that we must read God’s Word in order to put it into practice. Reading the Bible simply in order to discuss it, or even worse, discussing the Bible without having read it, will not help us draw near to God – in fact, the opposite will probably take place. A four-star parishioners reads the Bible every day: a passage from the Gospel, a passage from another New Testament book, and a reading from the Psalter as a minimum.
. . . takes responsibility for their children’s souls. People often send their children to “religious" schools – Catholic or Protestant – and figure they don’t need to send them to Church school. If we send our children to non-Orthodox schools, they won’t learn the Orthodox faith. Every parish child should be taking part in the religious lessons offered by the Church, as well as being taught to pray at home, and seeing the example of parents living a deep and authentic Christian Spiritual life. A four-star parishioner makes sure that the young people of the parish are given a solid education in the Orthodox faith – by parents (or other family members), clergy, Church school staff, and participation in the liturgical life of the parish.
. . . never stops learning about their faith. The Ukrainian saying goes: “A man must spend his whole life learning so that he can die an ignoramus”. Bible study classes, religious seminars, spiritual retreats and adult education classes should be just as integral a part of the life of every mature Christian as professional development programs and in-service seminars are for teachers, doctors, auto mechanics, etc. This goes double for those in positions of leadership in the parish. A four-star parishioner takes part in every bible-study, seminar, retreat and adult-education class they are able to. When people fall in love they want to learn everything about each other. If I love God, I’ll want to learn as much as I can about Him.
What’s stopping you from becoming a star a four-star parishioner?