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|Fr. Theodore G. Stylianopoulos|
Gospel, spirituality and renewal in orthodoxy
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Our task in this chapter is to reflect on the broader theological presuppositions of the proclamation of the Gospel. In the Orthodox perspective evangelism is not only the act of the announcement of the good news as God’s message of salvation but also an invitation to join the living community of faith, the Church, in which the blessings of the Gospel are actualized. Church and Gospel are inseparable elements of Christian existence. While the message of salvation, the good news of God’s saving work through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, is the empowering focus of the identity and mission of the Church, there would be no Gospel to preach apart from the historical birth of the Church as the concrete community of faith entrusted with the Gospel. In turn, the Church itself comes into existence by the action of God, and specifically through the ministry of Christ and the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost. God, Church and Gospel are intimately connected. In its fullness the Gospel message is none other than the momentous news of the self-disclosure and saving activity of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — lived and testified by the Church as God’s people, and proclaimed to all as universal good news.
A key passage in the Gospel of Saint Matthew integrates the three elements of our topic, “Holy Trinity, Holy Community and Evangelism.” I have in mind the great commission of Mt. 28:16-20 in which the risen Christ, speaking as a transcendent Revealer in the setting of a mountain, addresses the disciples with the following words:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded
you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt. 28:18-20).
In the Orthodox Churches, this magnificent text is recited at the celebrations of the mystery of Baptism. The sacred text functions both as a crowning conclusion to the Gospel of Matthew, summing up central themes of the Gospel, as well as a permanent agenda for the life and mission of the Church until the coming of the Lord. Let us keep it in view as we explore the three related parts of our topic.