Three Thousand Souls in One Day!

Source: Orthodox Christian Network

June 22, 2016

That oration of St. Peter must have been pretty
incredible, if it converted three thousand souls in one
day! I often think about church growth—it is part of
my “ministry” as a priest and part of my
“job” as an administrator of a parish. Why is
it that some churches are growing and others are in
decline? And why is it that overall in America, at this
time, churches in general are in decline? At the outset,
on the day of Pentecost, three thousand people, who woke
up that morning, not knowing what Christianity was about,
were converted and gave their lives to Christ. How did
that happen?

There are two actions that took place that led to this
mass conversion of people. The first action was a
“witness” on the part of St. Peter and the
other Apostles. This witness included
“preaching”. The Apostles taught about Christ,
using all the languages which they were empowered to speak
in. The Apostles not only imparted words, but they
imparted these words with zeal, confidence, conviction and
boldness. There is a critical difference between the words
that are spoken and how they are said. There is a big
difference between the “ouch” someone says
when they stub their toe on a piece of furniture, and the
harrowing cry of pain when someone has broken an arm or
leg. And likewise, there is a difference in the message of
Christ when it is offered “to check a box” and
when it is offered with great feeling, inspiration and
conviction.

Very few people actually talk about Christ. We do a lot of
talking about the Church, and what the Church should do
better. But we do not do enough talking about Christ. We
don’t give a lot of witness for how the power of
Christ can change lives. When is the last time you spoke
to someone about how Christ has changed your life? In
order for the message of salvation to be spread, there
needs to be people who can spread it. Imagine Saint Peter
and the other Apostles, if they had received the Holy
Spirit on Pentecost, and they just rejoiced themselves,
didn’t say anything to anyone? The Church would have
been short-lived. They recognized that they had been
imbued with an ability to preach the message of Christ and
they did. Each of us has been given the same ability to
spread the Gospel in some language. The challenge is do we
have enough knowledge in order to speak credibly about
Christ, and do we have enough confidence, zeal, conviction
and boldness to step out and actually do that.

The second thing that was needed on that day of Pentecost,
was people to “receive” the words of St. Peter
and the other Apostles. Scream out a message in a forest
where there is no one to hear it and the message goes
nowhere. Scream out a message to a crowd of people who are
wearing headphones and it doesn’t go anywhere
either. Listen to a message with a heart that is closed
and the message is quickly forgotten. So, there needs to
be hearers for the message to spread and those hearers
must come with open hearts. Before one can share the
message, one has to understand and accept the message, and
that can only happen when we have a heart that is ready to
receive the message.

Many people look at the message of Christianity like a
buffet at a restaurant. They want to pick and choose which
parts to follow. This dilutes the message because the
messengers are not equipped to spread the whole message,
just parts of it. For instance, one can’t just speak
of the joy of the Lord without speaking of our need for
repentance. Joy is easy, repentance is hard. One cannot
rejoice in the sacrifice of Christ without making his or
her own sacrifices.

The reason that hearts aren’t open to Christ is that
our society doesn’t encourage that. In fact, it
discourages and maligns the Christian message at almost
every turn. Additionally, we, the messengers, are at times
giving a diluted message.

There are two things I can say for certain regarding
growing the Church. First, it is a commandment of Christ
to grow the Church, not merely a suggestion. So, if a
church community, or any individual Christian, does not
understand the need to grow the Church, there is something
fundamentally lacking in that community or individual.
Second, we can’t force people to come to Christ. We
can work hard to model Christian behavior, share the joy
of the Lord and work on our own salvation. These are
things we can do. In modeling these things, we encourage
others by example.

If we see ourselves like the Apostles, as “fishers
of men,” then it is important that we have the tools
(in their case the boats and the nets, in our case the
knowledge of the faith) and the persistence (in their
case, remember the fish didn’t always bite right
away, and in our case, those who hear the message
don’t always receive it, or receive it right away)
to keep casting the net again and again, with joyful
anticipation of catching fish. Remember when the disciples
cast the net on the “right” side; this is when
they caught the fish. When we cast the net in the right
way, we will catch (Christians) as well.

Blessed are You, O Christ our God. You made the
fishermen all-wise, by sending down upon them the Holy
Spirit, and so through them you drew the world into Your
net. O Lover of mankind, glory to You. (Apolytikion, Feast
of Pentecost, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Think of ways that you can help spread the faith and grow
the Church.

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