Living as an Orthodox Christian in the modern world is much more than ‘just’ attending Sunday Divine Liturgy and keeping the fast. Deep down we know this to be true, so why bring it up? Well, maybe we have forgotten that it was the Pharisees that were able to keep all the rules, but outside the Temple they were cruel and judgmental of others. Have we become Pharisee Orthodox?
The other day I was discussing the use of English in the Divine Liturgy in America. I was asked, “Wouldn’t more people attend if we used more English?” This question has been bantered about for the past thirty years, and my answer might surprise you. “Maybe, but I doubt it.” The Divine Liturgy is the worship and gathering of our family, and if our family in multi-lingual, then our gatherings will be multi-lingual.
Evangelism isn’t what happens in the Divine Liturgy, but what happens outside the Church. If our friends witness us backstabbing and cheating others, and they know which church we attend on Sundays, what are the chances they will want to choose to attend our church? They may never make it inside the building to hear what language we use for worship. Evangelism isn’t purchasing slick advertising campaigns to attract visitors. Evangelism is letting our light shine in the darkness of the world for others to witness.
We know from history that the earliest Christians gathered in secret to worship as a family. Divine Liturgy was the family gathered to receive the Holy Eucharist, not to attract new members. In fact, visitors were not allowed unless they had become catechumens and exhibited some sort of commitment to Christ. The Church attracted new members by living as Christians in a dark world. Christ warned us about how we would be treated in the world, and history proved his warning right.
The Lord said to his disciples, "Beware of men who will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives." – Luke 21.12-19
We commemorate thousands of martyrs from this ancient era of the Church, and STILL the Church grew with new members by the thousands. In fact, more joined than were martyred. The ancient Christians didn’t take out adds in the local newspaper, nor did they for the most part preach on the street corner for fear they might be killed. Instead, the lived new holy lives among their friends in darkness, and those lives were a light to others.
Here are some examples of how we live among others, supposedly as Christians. Consider these few circumstances and ask yourself, “Am I am a light to others? Would others want to attend my church after they encounter me on the street?” I will just list a few social media examples, since it is the closest thing to a town square for our modern times.
Social Media Scenario 1 – You just finished dinner at a local restaurant and the service was poor. Do you acknowledge that every person has a bad day, and maybe your server was struggling with something in their life, or do you logon onto social media and bash the local restaurant as the worst service you have ever encountered and urge others to stop patronizing the restaurant?
Social Media Scenario 2 – You click on a link about the more recent political scandal in your town. Do you say a brief prayer for the people involved because you know how easy it is to get wrapped up in scandal, or do you read each comment gawking and laughing at the misfortune of a fellow human being who may even be your neighbor, only to pile on yourself with your opinion even if you have no idea of the facts involved?
Social Media Scenario 3 – You notice a few law enforcement officers at your neighbors house. Do you take a moment and pray everything is ok, or do you jump on social media and let everyone know what is ‘going down’ in your neighborhood, and airing your neighbor’s dirty laundry for everyone to see?
These are just a few examples of how we Orthodox Christians evangelize in the modern world. Are we just another member of the group, or are we Orthodox Christians living according to the teachings of Christ? Do we throw the first stone, or do we remember our sinfulness and pray for our neighbors? How we behave and react in the world is how we evangelize.
We may, and probably will, be ridiculed and outcast for our way of thinking and acting in the world, but we will endure to the end for Christ because we know something better is coming. This was the thinking of the first Christians, and thousands joined the Church because of their faith and courage, and Light in the darkness. If you want your church to grow, consider how people outside the church see your life. If your life is Light, it will attract people of faith and courage to come and see. They won’t care what language you speak, because they already understand see the Light in your life.