A man once asked some of his friends the following question: "What comes to mind when you hear the word 'ministry'?" He received many answers to the question, but two of them were rather unfortunate. "That's Father's job," one friend replied. Another friend answered, "Ministry is what the Protestants do." While these answers are in fact true, they indicate ignorance (or perhaps apathy) regarding ministry. The fact of the matter is that ministry is something that every Orthodox Christian is called to do. That is, we are all called to serve.
There are numerous ministry opportunities for Orthodox Christians both in the parish and in the community at large. Most parishes have ministry opportunities such as Altar servers, choir members, chanters, readers, greeters, church school teachers, and many more. Feel free to ask your priest how you may get involved in one or more ministries at your home parish. He would be glad to discuss this with you!
It is also important for us to serve those who are beyond our home church's walls: the community at large. Though opportunities may vary from one city to another, there are many Orthodox ministries that are in need of volunteers and/or donors. Again it is best to ask your parish priest for information about ministries near you.
Throughout the New Testament there is a mandate for Christians to serve God through the service of others. We will simply look at two Gospel passages in this article for the sake of brevity. Every year on Meatfare Sunday, two Sundays before the beginning of Great Lent, we hear the Gospel account of the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). Christ gives a sobering account of the judgment of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous inherit eternal life, having acts of mercy as evidence of their faith in Christ. The Lord places them at His right hand, stating "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." The wicked, on the other hand, are sent to eternal punishment for their lack of mercy. "'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me." Our Lord identifies with those in need, and our response to them is an indication of our response to Him.
Elsewhere Christ’s mandate to His people takes on a personalized theme. In Luke 6:31 we read: "And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them." Here Jesus teaches us what is often called the "Golden Rule". While other world religions claim to teach the same thing, this teaching is unique to Christianity. All other religions teach "do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you." For example, I would not like someone to steal something from me, therefore I must not steal from them. Similarly, I would not want someone to slander me, so I must not slander them. Our Lord, of course, would condemn stealing and slandering, but He also "raises the bar" so to speak for Christians. It is not simply enough for us to refrain from doing to others what we would not want them to do to us. On the contrary, we are called to treat others the way we would like to be treated. This teaching has a profound impact on Christian service. If I see someone who is hungry or thirsty, I am expected to help them with their need, to serve them as I am able, because I would want another person to do the same for me if the situation was reversed. In short, our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ calls us to look at situations from the point of view of someone who is in need. Our mission, then, is to act as we would like others to act toward us.
Imagine for a moment that, through no fault of your own, you were forced to leave your home and move into a senior living facility. Imagine what it would be like if you were no longer able to go to church regularly, if at all. Would you want to find a way to keep in touch with the Church and her worship?
In Cleveland, Ohio, we have a rather unique ministry, St. Panteleimon Orthodox Christian Outreach, which exists to provide an Orthodox presence at senior living facilities throughout our metropolitan area. Founded in 2010, the St. Panteleimon ministry differs from many parish shut-in ministries in that it focuses on group residences (nursing homes, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities and memory care residences) with an emphasis on Orthodox worship. One-on-one visits can be arranged, but they are secondary to group prayer services and Bible studies. Many of the residents are no longer able to attend services at their home parish, which creates a significant void in their lives. The ministry’s goal is to fill that void by holding reader’s services—Orthodox services that can be done in the absence of a priest, if necessary—on a regular basis at each facility. Most services last roughly 30 minutes, and include many hymns from the Divine Liturgy (Antiphons, Only Begotten Son, Holy God, hymns of the saint of the day) as well as the daily readings. This is a way to keep Orthodox residents connected to the daily worship of the Church, and to give other residents perhaps their first-ever exposure to Orthodoxy. Programming is geared toward Orthodox Christian residents; however all are welcome who wish to worship the Holy Trinity in the Orthodox manner. The St. Panteleimon ministry is Pan Orthodox in its scope, having served 20 of Cleveland's parishes during its five year existence.
Some people may ask, "Why do I have to serve the less fortunate? Why can't I just worry about my family and friends?" This is a valid question, and it is important to look after our friends and relatives, and to serve them during their times of need. However, Jesus is clear that it is to our benefit to serve those who cannot repay us. In the Final Judgment passage He uses the following people as examples: The hungry, thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. (One could argue that people living in nursing homes are a combination of the last two groups.) Let us also consider the Savior's words in Luke 6:34: "And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again."
Christ teaches us again about mercy: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36). St. Panteleimon, whose name means "all merciful", is an example for us in showing mercy to others. A physician by trade he healed those who were in need free of charge, because of his Christian faith. May we emulate the mercy of Christ as we serve those around us. Through the prayers of St. Panteleimon, as well as those of all the other saints, may Christ our God have mercy on us and save us.