Preach in Both Seasons

At the end of St. Paul's second pastoral epistle to Timothy, and probably at the very end of his life, he writes these words:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus Who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His Kingdom: Preach the Word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4.1-5 RSV)

That time is no longer just coming. It has already arrived. The time when people will not endure sound teaching ... when they will listen with "itching ears" to teachers who tell them what they want to here ... that time has come, and it is now.

Truly, today's society is a landscape of countless refugees - those who have exiled themselves from the Truth of the Holy Church, and who are now hopelessly wandering in the myths and fantasies of this Age.

I ask you to consider seriously what this contemporary landscape looks like, and what it means for the Church. I ask you to think carefully about the possibility that the religion of Western Europe may become, in our lifetime, more Moslem than Christian. I ask you to ponder on the fact that in the Orthodox Church worldwide, membership is mostly in decline ... with the exceptions of the influx of converts and the African Church.

Think about where many of these lost members went. Maybe they did not go to a mosque. More likely, though, went to a Baptist or Assembly of God church ... or perhaps they did not leave their home at all, and they attend church on television - listening to the gospel according to the likes of Robert Schuller or Oprah Winfrey.

How did this happen? More importantly, how do we respond to this contemporary challenge?

The answer to these two questions will take prominence in the Church within the next several years. The way to respond to the challenge of Islam, and to the problem of "falling away," is made very clear by St. Paul in his words to Timothy.

The answer is simply this: "Preach the Word," St. Paul says. "Preach the Word - the teachings of the Apostles and the Fathers - and as you do so, be steadfast. Never waver. Never compromise the doctrines of the Church. And be insistent. Do not be shy or embarrassed about the Faith or Holy Tradition."

And St. Paul goes on: "Preach the Word IN season and OUT OF season. Preach the Word by arguing against the wrong beliefs that run wild in society. Preach the Word by gently correcting wrong choices and sinful behaviors. Preach the Word, too, by exhorting Christians to live a life worthy of Christ."

I want to focus especially on the words "in season and out of season." I do this for a particular reason that I will disclose to you shortly.

The phrase, "in season and out of season" or "ευ-καιρω ...

α-καιρω" is a special expression from the Greek language of the first century. It means to fulfill a mission whether the timing is good or bad. It means to do one's duty whether the moment is an opportune one or inopportune ... whether it is convenient or inconvenient. It also means that one must always be at the ready, on "stand-by," or always "on-call." It means that one must preach and fulfill one's ministry whether he has time to spare, or with NO time at all.

It also means that one needs to Preach the Word in all climates and weather patterns of his ministry. In other words, when the parish likes you, and gives you extra mirovanie in the basket, and they hang on your every sermon - St. Paul says, "Preach the Word."

But when the parish doesn't like you so much the very next Sunday, and when the pirohi ladies instantly hush when you enter the kitchen, and when the Board complains about the cost of health insurance - St. Paul says, "Preach the Word."

The tides of popularity and parochial opinion change with the wind and moon. But Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

How can we preach for both seasons? Many of our presentations in these next few days will focus on the practical matters of what to preach, how to preach, and how to prepare. I ask you to listen and attend carefully in these few days of our fellowship. The Lord has brought us all here to become better equipped for the task of Preaching the Word - both in what we say, and how we say it.

From all these presentations, a few consistent themes will emerge. The first is that one cannot preach without prayer. And by prayer, I mean all the endeavors of asceticism: fasting, a consistent rule of prayer, charity, humble and simple work.

The second theme is that one cannot preach without constant study. "Study to show thyself approved unto God," St. Paul tells Timothy, "as a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2.15 KJV). We should all pursue non-stop study of Holy Scripture so much that we know all the stories by heart, and so we can quote Scripture according to the need of the moment.

For too long, our people have dismissed Fundamentalist Christians as "biblioši," or "bible-people." Do we not realize that it was us, the Orthodox Church, that gave the Bible to the Fundamentalists in the first place?

Not only should we study Holy Scripture, but also the Holy Fathers ... and the writings of contemporary scholars on doctrine, ethics, Scriptural studies, and culture. We should not assume that because we graduated from Seminary, that our education ended then and there.

No, Fathers, let me gently chide you: in the original medieval sense of the term, a "Bachelor of Theology" means that you are now qualified to teach yourself. A degree never means that you have "learned enough."

And finally, a third theme is that one cannot preach without following after Christ, and living in the life of His Church. The history of the Church is littered with examples of men who tried to preach without first being a Christian. It goes without saying that the reception of the Eucharist is profoundly linked with the Holy Spirit speaking through your homilies. Your heart-felt, joyful participation in the Divine Services produces, in your homiletical speech, words that resound in the souls of your hearers. Your Baptism and Chrismation must illuminate every sentence. Your Marriage, or your Monastic Tonsure, must give depth and style to every expression - and not just your illustrations.

And consider this, my friends: every one of your sermons, whether a short meditation at the parish dinner, or a homily in Divine Liturgy - every single homily is a reflection of your Ordination.

How well you are living out your Ordination can be gauged by the holiness of your preaching, both in season, and out of season.

Now I will tell you why this discussion is so important: If we fail to preach for both seasons ... if we fail to prepare ourselves for the task ... if we fail to argue with the anti-religious creeds of our time ... if we fail to encourage our people to live for Christ as Orthodox Christians ... then we will perpetuate the migration of our people towards the attractiveness of the fundamentalists ... or worse, to the entertaining "pieties" of Madison Avenue ... or even to the mosque and minaret of Islam.

Do not amuse yourself with the thought that that these prospects are too outlandish to worry about. They are happening now. While we speak, Mohammed is at the door. The "on" button of the TV is forever turned on in your parish. And the Baptists, and the Assemblies of God, like nothing better than to recruit former Orthodox faithful - they are "former" because they were not preached to enough, both in season and out of season.

Now is the season to turn around the "falling away." We are in the presence of God, and of Christ Who is the Judge, and the One Who is to Appear at the Last Day, and Who shall reign in His Kingdom Forever.

Let us not fail Him. Let us be steady, endure suffering, and do the work of an evangelist. Let us fulfill our ministry. Let us preach the Word.


(Archpastoral Keynote Address at the Diocesan Convocation of Priests, Paschal Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers, at Sts. Cyril & Methodios Church, Camp Nazareth -April 25, 2004)