In every instance in the Scriptures of either Christ teaching or healing, almost immediately we are told either crowds gathered and glorified God, or we are told they spread the Good News of what took place. The work and words of Christ were so infectious, nothing could stop the Gospel from spreading throughout the region, and beyond.
I have been working ‘professionally’ in the Church for just about twenty-eight years. It has been the only professional work I have done since I was in college. I have served as a youth director, a parish administrator and now as a priest. In all these years, I have found one common denominator among ‘cradle’ Orthodox Christians. Most people do not know why we do what we do. It has been my core mission for twenty-eight years to help people learn the ‘whys’ of what we do, and appreciate how their origins have a purpose far beyond the excuse that it is our tradition.
The Church has been accused over the years of keeping to ourselves in our own private churches, instead of reaching out and preaching the Good News to the world. I admit, it can be easy to sit back, look at our own churches (presumably filled with members) and think ‘our work here is finished,’ but that is only part of the story.
Many times, we find ourselves suffering in pain, and we think we are alone, even if we are surrounded by others. None of us is alone when Christ is in our life. When God raised the young man, the only son of the widow of Nain told in Luke 7.11-16, He showed us His love and His power. When we allow God to touch our hearts, He can heal our pain. The crowd proclaimed, “God has visited His people.” He has visited us! He has come to heal our pain.
As you can imagine, as an Orthodox Christian priest, I have regular interactions with people outside the Church. Sometimes they are Christians of other denominations, and other times they are not believers. I have noticed a trend that is concerning when it comes to discussions about God and faith. It seems too often we get caught in the “that’s not what I think it means,” trap. From elementary school science projects to graduate school papers, no matter what we are discussing, ‘it’ rarely means what WE think it means. We must be taught what ‘it’ means.
Good teachers take the time to know their students. They watch. They listen. They learn. They do this, because they know if they can understand their students on a personal level, they can better teach them. It was true when I was young with my chemistry teacher in high school. After a few weeks of ‘not performing well in class,’ he approached me and said, “I don’t know why you’re here. You’ll never figure this out!” I was outraged, and spent the remainder of the year proving him wrong. At the end of the year, I approached him and said, “See? You were wrong.
One of the benefits of ‘growing up’ is that we acquire some level of wisdom. Not to be confused with intelligence, wisdom is based on experience. Wisdom teaches us to recognize all sorts of danger. Wisdom is why we don’t ‘go running into unknown places’ unless we are being chased. Even then, wisdom has shown us that being chased is a greater danger than the unknown path upon which we run. Wisdom has taught me one unique blessing. Unreasonable people are unreasonable.
Sit for a moment and remember a time when you were sitting quietly by yourself. Maybe you were on the back porch. Maybe you were listening to the birds chirping. Maybe you were watching the waves crash against the shore. You can still hear the birds, feel the breeze, and smell the air, can’t you? Memory is a powerful thing in our lives, but sometimes memories can get in the way.
It is a popular mantra in the Protestant Church against the Orthodox to say, “Call no man father!” This is based upon Matthew 23.9, where Jesus says, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” When the issue is challenged with the obvious, “We all have a father listed on our birth certificate, so the passage can’t mean what you think it means,” in my experience the position is merely repeated with a flippan
Living in the United States, we are accustomed to fighting for freedom, as it is enshrined in our founding documents. As a nation, freedom is part of our identity. Nobody will tell us what to do!….or think, or believe. It is what makes this the best country in the world, but it is also what makes being a Christian so difficult.