St. James Orthodox Church is a mission parish in Beaufort, SC. The mission will be 3 years old in July, has grown to about 20 members and up to 40 attendees at a service, and they have purchased land on which they plan to build a new church. On April 30 of this year, Archimandrite Gerasim Eliel, Administrator of the Diocese of the South, blessed the land for that purpose. The following article was adapted from his homily on that occasion.
Christ is risen!!!
God creates heaven and the earth for the sake of humankind. He places Adam and Eve in a garden of delight. The task of the first-created is to hear His word, to keep His commandment, and to obey His voice.
God chooses Abraham and commands him: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee" (Gen 12.1).
Isaac, the Son of Abraham, says to his son Jacob, "God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham" (Gen 28.3–4).
The Lord instructs Moses to go in and possess the land, saying: "He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Dt 10.18–19). Moses teaches the children of Israel that the Lord God "shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways (Dt 28.8–9).
The prophets instruct the people of God that, if they remember the commandments of God, the Lord will keep them in the land that He has given them. Jeremiah declares the word of the Lord:
If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever" (Jer 7.6–7).
As the people of Israel forget the commandments of God, they are led into captivity in Assyria, and afterwards the remnant in Judah and Jerusalem are taken captive into Babylon.
Ezekiel announces that the Lord will restore them to the land that He gave to their fathers:
I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Ez 36.24–28).
Ezekiel goes on to foretell how the Lord will raise Israel, which resembles a valley of dry bones.
Isaiah also proclaims a restoration of the cities that have been laid waste and the places that have lain desolate for generations. Strangers will feed their flocks, and the sons of foreigners will be their plowmen and vinedressers. The people of God will be named priests of the Lord, ministers of God; they shall enjoy the riches of the Gentiles. They will possess double in their land and inherit everlasting joy (Is 61.4–7).
The ultimate purpose why God gives the land to His people is to provide a place for His people to keep His commandments. This is what we find in the creation narrative in Genesis. This is why He brings Noah through the flood and gives the rainbow as the sign of the renewal of His covenant. He leads Abraham out of Haran and into the land of Promise. He leads His people through the Red Sea and gives them His commandments to keep them. The Lord instructs Joshua to lead His people through the Jordan and into the land of promise. Through Joshua the Lord reinstitutes His covenant, beginning with the circumcision of the people of God (Joshua 5.3–7). Beneath Mount Ebal Joshua reenacts a renewal of the Covenant of God among the people, showing that God has given the land to His people as a place to keep this covenant (Joshua 8). While the description of the conquest of the Promised Land is marked by horrific events, God gives the land to His people for them to keep there His covenant.
Ultimately, the goal of the union of the Covenant and the Promised Land is expressed in the building of the Temple of God, which Moses first instructed the sons of Israel to do. Solomon, sitting on the throne of David, builds the Temple to accomplish the worship of God, as commanded by Moses. But the failure to worship God and to keep His commandments leads to the exile of the People of God in Assyria and Babylon and the destruction of the Temple.
The Prophet Jeremiah offers new hope by announcing a New Covenant:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant of mine they brake…. But this will be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer 31.31–33).
Jeremiah tells the children of Israel that God will restore them to fellowship and place His law in their hearts.
Today through the blessing of this land, we ask the Lord to make this small piece of land a place where this New Covenant is proclaimed and practiced. We will utilize this land to build here a house of God in which human beings are united to God through the New Covenant of His Blood.
But the first step in building a temple of God here on this land depends on whether or not you keep the Law of God in regard to the poor, the orphan, the stranger, and the widow.
The next step in building the Temple of God is not fundraising, but how we gather as a Church community. The evidence of God’s favor is your daily and weekly fellowship. These will be the figurative stones that you are to use in building a temple of God in which the New Covenant is proclaimed.
The third step is the constant proclamation of the Gospel to the people of this area. You are to draw out of the waters of baptism pure stones that will fit perfectly together to form the edifice of the Church that is to be built here in Beaufort to the glory of God.
The fourth step consists in your personal life of prayer and devotion that takes place every day, 24/7 as we are now accustomed to say. The way that you prepare through prayer, fasting, and the study of your faith affects how you gather as a community. Your worship as a community will make this effort in building a temple truly pleasing to God.
Doing these things: your regard for the poor and needy, your proclamation of the Christian faith, your communal and private worship will cause the Blessing of the Land that we have offered today to bear fruit. By doing these things, the skills that you bring in design, engineering, decision-making as well as your tithes will be truly God-pleasing.
As you gather in Church the Sunday after next you will hear our Lord Jesus Christ tell the Samaritan Woman that the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth (Jn 4.23). Truly God the Father seeks such people to worship Him. You are the ones through whom this work will be accomplished here in Beaufort.
It is the will of the Lord that you serve as His Body, visible now to the world, to proclaim His Death and Resurrection until He comes again.
To our Lord Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead, be glory, honor, and worship together with His everlasting Father, and His All-holy Spirit forever!