When it comes to contemporary American life as Orthodox Christians, we often find ourselves between a rock and hard place. One the one hand, we know we must love all those around us despite their rejection of the Gospel of Christ. On the other hand, we must avoid falling into the trap of rejecting the Gospel in an attempt to remain accepted members of society. If we fail at either of these, we fail as Christians.
In today’s reading from Saint Paul Letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded that we will need endurance for the struggles that await us. These struggles, while we may not have felt them as contemporary Orthodox Christians in America, have been experienced by the Church multiple times in multiple centuries. Persecution against the Church is not new, nor will ever be eliminated. The devil leads the persecution, and he has been working against the Church since Adam and Eve first tasted the fruit.
Brethren, recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. "For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith." – Hebrews 10.32-38
Consider the lives of the saints, holy men and women, many of them martyrs of persecution, how they endured. It must have been bad enough that Saint Paul asks them to recall their persecution, not to bring them into depression, but to call them to strength. They survived it before, and they were strong enough with Christ and His Church to survive it again. Today that can our strength if we look at how the early Church endured the struggle.
The ancient Christians lived with the knowledge that God had a better kingdom planned for them. The kingdom was not an earthly kingdom, but Heaven itself. The ancient Christians didn’t mind losing their property or livelihood, even possible death, because they knew Christ had defeated death once and for all. That knowledge gave them the endurance, and God blessed them.
Then, there were those who chose not to stand up, maybe for fear of death, maybe for fear of losing social standing. Many who originally believed, when persecution came, chose to stand with the society rather than God, “for they loved the praise of men rather than the praise of God.” (John 12.43) This is our contemporary struggle as Orthodox Christians. Our way of life and our moral convictions are more and more going against the grain of society. There is something today in the Gospel for this as well.
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him: "I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him." When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet. – Matthew 21.43-46
If we choose society over God, we will eventually find ourselves foreigners in the Church. The Gospel specifically shares a warning for the Pharisees and chief priests, the religious leaders of the day, but it is just the same, a warning for us in 2021. If we do not produce fruit for Christ, the Church will be given to others who choose God over society. This isn’t just a saying. God already did it once when the Jews chose Roman elitism over Christ, and He is willing to do it again if we fall to the same trap.
I leave you with this today. Being Orthodox Christian in America today isn’t about forcing others to live as we think they should. It is about living the way Christ wants us to live, whether society endorses that way of life, or not. It begins with the small things. Is coming to Church to worship God and receive Holy Communion a priority in your life? Start with embracing six basic words…. “If its Sunday, I’m in Church.” Now begin to shape you life around that commitment, and you will see just how antagonistic the society really is toward our way of life. Then meet with your spiritual father and ask him to help you use the tools of Orthodoxy to endure the struggle.