It can be difficult to live your Orthodox Christian life among different groups. That is especially true with those outside the Church since nonbelievers do not share our way of life, nor our faith in God. Inside the Church, it should be easier to live as an Orthodox Christian. So, why is it, that within the Church we are more judged by our brothers and sisters than from those outside the Church?
There is a saying that familiarity breeds contempt. This is something that I have always fought against in my own life. I don’t like the idea that I let my guard down and treat those who are closest to me disrespectfully, with the presumption that I must be forgiven. I use my fallen nature somehow as an excuse for my poor behavior. True, we are all sinners, but should that be enough of an excuse to not be better?
In today’s reading from Galatians, Saint Paul tells of one time he challenged Saint Peter publicly for not living as he should have been. It was not good for Saint Peter to act one way when he was with Jewish Christians, and another way when he was with Gentile Christians. Saint Paul chastised him, and he is chastising us because we do something very similar. We tend to live by different standards based on who is in the room.
Brethren, when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "if you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. – Galatians 2.11-16
I admit this is difficult for me as well, and I’m not going to make excuses. I only share this to maybe help others who struggle with the same issue. I’m often asked if I wear my clergy robe, called an anderi in Greek, all the time, when other priests are more comfortable wearing non-clergy clothing. I am sometimes accused of thinking I am better than other clergy because of this, even by some clergy. I can assure you this is not why I dress the way I dress.
Since I struggle as Saint Peter did, I have found that when I wear my anderi, I find it easier to remember who I am. I find it easier to treat others with respect. I find it easier to be kind. Of course, it still isn’t fool proof, but I also know that when I dress as ‘a civilian’ it is much worse. Psychologists call this ‘an anchor’ which serves as a physical reminder of a desired behavior, and it works.
Everyone can benefit from this concept. One of the benefits of surrounding ourselves with Holy Icons is a type of ‘anchor’ to control our behavior. A more personal method is to wear a cross. You may be less likely to treat others poorly if you are wearing an outward symbol of your Christian faith. At the very least, to avoid the shame of being called a hypocrite, your behavior will be more proper.
I’m sure that Saint Peter wasn’t willingly going against the Church by acting differently. Even the Holy Apostles were human, but we can benefit today from their struggle then. If Saint Paul was able to confront Saint Peter for the good of the Church, then we can find ways to confront each other for the good of the Church. Nobody wants to be a hypocrite, but we all share moments we would rather not admit to. That’s why we have Holy Confession and our Church social life. When we come together as the Church, we show each other love and forgiveness, and even a bit of correction, all for the good of the Church.
None of this works if we are correcting for our own selfish motive. We may not even be the ones to do the correcting. Saint Paul wasn’t just ‘an average Joe’ when he confronted Saint Peter. Maybe our roll is better played to pray for our brothers and sisters who are struggling to live their Orthodox Faith. There are a variety of actions that will help, but I know of one thing that will never help. It will never help if we just excuse away poor behavior by saying, “Not everyone is perfect!” While this may be true, it rarely is beneficial to repentance, and we all need repentance.
The willingness to help other live their faith is our motto at Be Transfigured Ministries. We like to invite others to help us help others Live A New Life In Christ, and that means reaching out and reminding each other when our behavior is not what it should be. It also means allowing others to remind us when we are not acting as we should. It takes a village.