This is a brief reflection during my time spent with the Coptic Patriarch, Pope Tawadros II during my recent trip to Egypt
This past October, I was fortunate to have had a retreat to Egypt, where most of my time was spent in Alexandria with my spiritual mother, Tasonee Angel Basili. But part of my trip was purposed at meeting with His Holiness Pope Tawadros, and thankfully, with God’s work, myself and Joanne R. were able to meet with him one on one in Cairo.
We sat for about an hour (and I am exceedingly grateful for the time he sacrificed) speaking about my personal upbringing (my family), what I currently study and studied, and the future of studying theology. I was touched that his holiness was very inquisitive to ask about what mattered to me (my family – coming from a mixed background) – and was intrigued to know more about my mother’s history, (being Armenian and whose father survived the Armenian genocide and fled by foot from his motherland in Van, Turkey to Russia with thousands of Christian Armenians and who witnessed himself the killing of his own sister during the massacre).
We then mainly spoke about the ministry and the needs of the youth in the West. I spoke to him of my personal experiences and hopes for the Church–having lived in three countries and being part of various churches and diocese – I expressed to him that the church outside of Egypt is still forming its own culture amidst being Orthodox in the West. I told him that the youth (especially in London and USA that I know of) want their voice to be heard in building up the Church and longing a church to be actively open to all people – race, colour, language – a church with true fellowship and unity, a church that supports and cares for each person’s holistic needs (whether they be mental, physical, spiritual, emotional as such). A church where each one gives to him who lacks and no one holds back (Acts 4:34), and this includes being vulnerable with each other, being selfless, staying true to your calling and gifts, and building of our character in Him without conforming to a certain type of personality. He listened attentively.
After we discussed more matters regarding building up youth ministry, he shared his insight on how the churches across the globe have a major epidemic, a severe illness that we often fall into and label it as being “spiritual” or “ever-selfless/carrying our cross.” He said today in the churches we lack discipleship and delegation. Many servants want to hold on to their own services without delegating, teaching or involving others in the work of the ministry (for whatever reason – not willing to disciple or teach others or wanting their own stamp and image on the ministry); this mind-set and attitude cripples the service and the Body…for if we were all truly one Body – we would all be working together – working according to each one’s gifts – not neglecting the needs and value of each member (as St Paul says “…If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? … And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. – 1 Cor 12:12-30). We all have a role. Even that little pinkie nail that we think is not important. Every one has a purpose, everyone has value, everyone has a calling.
Lastly, he shared with me the verse from Luke 10:2 – which has resonated with me since…
“Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few…’”
He pointed out that in the ministry, there often times are many “servants” but not “labourers”. Sometimes we serve out of obligation, out of a feel-good-motive, for our own image, (even sadly to find a partner), or whatever reason – and we serve, serve, serve… thinking we are noble and honourable before people but are far, far, far from the bull’s-eye. We’ve missed the mark, and missed it by miles.
I’m not saying that everyone who serves is serving wrongly or out of selfish ambition or whatever – but ministry must be to labour – not merely to “serve”. Sometimes we serve out of convenience, but a labourer serves regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes we avoid service because of certain people, or laziness or selfishness – saying we need to be “filled first” and “grow spiritually first” to serve others (how often I hear this contradicting ‘spiritual’ statement); He fills us and He continues to fill us when we become more selfless – in any aspect of our selves – being a true labourer means I am selfless by default – meaning – I will serve selflessly to whomever and whenever – whole-heartedly and not wait for my spiritual consumption to be over (even the drunk person on the street who needs help or foreign person with a mental illness who comes to the church seeking refuge).
I’m not saying not to also prepare and build yourself in being a labourer, but sometimes we have this ideal image of what it means to “serve” and to be “spiritual” that we forget that Christ receives us as we are and will mould us if we allow Him to His image and likeness, being restored and renewed daily in and through Him. Sometimes some of us get intimidated by the service when we compare or see others who are more “spiritual” or who can just burst out in a Jesus or Africa song where others don’t relate to this type of spirituality… being a labourer is being faithful to your calling – in whatever way God calls you.
I can be a labourer simply by working in any aspect of the ministry – whole-heartedly and faithfully. Whether it be to serve tables (Acts 6) or visit the widows (James 1; 1 Timothy 5 ) or orphans and homeless (Matt 25, James 1) or being faithful in my home (1 Timothy 5:8); or faithful in prayer (1 Thess 5; James 5)
God has called us to be labourers and not mere servants and be obsessed with the self – what I want or how I want to serve or whom I want to serve (we need to be prayerful and faithful to the calling which we were called – ie – types of ministry in the world and in the church). Pray, ask, seek – seek the will of God in our lives – daily.
The last point we discussed was the upcoming Orthodox Women’s International Conference. I told him our motives and vision for this conference (that will be held in London Sept 2015 God willing) and that both men and women are involved (as the whole body of Christ working together for this vision of women’s value and purpose in the Church). (God willing, the theme will be focused on “Women’s role in the Church”). He was pleased with the idea. (If you want to get involved or help please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com – please visit our blog and spread the word! – http://orthodoxwm.blogspot.co.uk)
And finally, to those who may be wondering, I personally gave his holiness the two articles on Women (“Women and Communion” – http://learnpraylove.com/women-and-communion/ and “Churching of Women and Baptism 40/80 Days – http://learnpraylove.com/churching-of-women-and-baptism-4080-days ); I also left a copy of them with the Pope’s secretary (whom I am grateful for all his arrangements and help for this meeting!), who told me that in many cities in Egypt today the prohibition of women not partaking of the Eucharist is not upheld 🙂 – hopefully with a better and clearer understanding of the Eucharist and what purity actually is. So we hope for more awareness, more education, and that the Church will continue to support the needs of the people for the time at hand and continue to grow and flourish in our modern day. (For indeed Orthodoxy is dynamic and living and must meet the needs of the time without wavering her faith – or it is just a dead faith trapped in a first-century box without life, purpose and relevance).