In the World but not of the World

The call to saintly life is no less important today than it was in the ancient days of the Church. As a gentle reminder, the word saint (Άγιος in Greek) means “not of the world” or “not worldly” and reflects our call as Christians to be focused on the Kingdom of Heaven rather than earth. As Saint Paul reminds us, we are all “called to be saints” but let’s face it, we rarely remember to live according to our calling. It doesn’t help when our society perpetuates confusion about various moral outrages.

Lately, the news cycle has been a somber reminder that we live in a world which is not focused upon the Kingdom of Heaven. A new bill recently signed into law in New York allows for abortion up until the very last moments before birth. This news was cheered and applauded, while throughout our nation the March for Life was taking place. How ironic, the bill was chosen to be signed at this time. I’m not going to debate the facts of the bill here, but suffice it to say, those who applaud its passage are either in denial of the bill's spiritual and emotional dangers or are blinded by the “sound bites” they hear on the news. Interestingly I also read a story this week that it is not illegal to “possess, use or purchase single use Styrofoam products” in New York City, so I guess, as of last week, it is now easier to have an abortion than to enjoy a HOT cup of coffee.

How do we as Orthodox Christians live in such a world? Seems like one of those first world problems, lest we forget how many of our brothers and sisters live in nations that are either anti-Christian or at the very least non-Christian and are surrounded daily by societal laws and norms that violate our Orthodox Christian ethics. Our ancient brothers and sisters lived in such a world, and not only survived, but succeeded in evangelizing the neighborhoods around them. How did they do it?

Consider for a moment the advice that Saint Paul offered the Corinthians.

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore put away from yourselves the evil person. – 1 Corinthians 5.9-13

From this we can better understand the Holy Canons of the ancient Church and the call to be in the world but not of it. Saint Paul taught us to hold ourselves, those already inside the Church, to a higher standard of moral ethics. Fortunately for us, the Church in Corinth was much like the Church here in 21st Century America. It was cosmopolitan, wealthy, and multi-cultural. It would have been quite easy to get wrapped into lifestyles that were not Christian. We can embrace the advice given by Saint Paul to them, and work to follow his advice here in modern-day America.

Consider also the words of Saint Seraphim of Sarov who said, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and then thousands of others around you will be saved.” The Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition are filled with references to living our life with God while allowing others to exercise their free will in other ways. The Church has always been a place where, even surrounded by a pagan world, we could lift each other up and live a common life in Christ. It was that willingness to Live A New Life In Christ, that eventually garnered enough attention that people used their free will to join the Church. It was when the life in Christ allowed His Light to shine, that others were drawn to “come and see” for themselves that life could be blessed and free without the sinful ways of the world.

One thing we can be pretty sure of, is that the world didn’t become Christian (it never really did) by standing on the street corner pounding heads with a book. To whatever extent the world became Christian, it was because our ancestors lived Christian lives themselves and allowed others freely to see the peaceful benefits of that life.

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