Friday, February 8, 2013

Orthodox Witness in an Un-Orthodox World

"[T]hat servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more." - Luke 12:47-48

This passage has many applications for us in life. We can think of it in terms of spiritual gifts, money, power, talent, or health. In all of these respects, the more that you have been given, the more you will be required to offer these things to others, and ultimately back to God as a living sacrifice.

Another application of this verse that is not typically stressed is with regard to truth. To whom much truth is given, much will be required. Not only required in terms of offering truth itself to others but -- because truth (along with love) is the wellspring of other blessings -- also in terms of offering the many fruits of the truth back to God through others.

Yikes. If the Orthodox church is the place where God's truth in Christ is revealed in its fullness (as I affirm), then woe unto us who have found Orthodoxy and don't live accordingly! To Orthodox people, much truth has been given; of Orthodox people much will be required. If you're a rotten scoundrel who was blessed to find the Orthodox Church, as I am, this should be somewhat disconcerting. Of course, the grace, beauty, and truth found in the Church is more than enough to compensate for being held to this higher standard. But receiving the riches of Christ through the Church in a way that transforms you does entail cooperating with Him and with Her. And this, of course, is not always easy as it entails taking up our cross daily and following Christ.

If you're a Christian of any other stripe, and believe that stripe to be the most true stripe, then -- from your perspective -- all of this would still apply to you as well, and it should cause no small amount of consternation. Knowing our master's will, how much worse is it that we don't follow it? Much worse.

For many of my family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances, I'm the only Orthodox person that they know personally. Whether it's fair or not and whether they do it consciously or not, people will primarily be judging what Orthodoxy is all about by looking at my life. Much more than how I can answer questions about my faith, or speak intelligently about my reasons for converting (though we are to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us, 1 Peter 3:15), people ultimately look at whether you're walking the walk and whether your life testifies to the transformative truth that you have found. Again, for sinful wretches like myself this is somewhat unhappy news as it means that, not only am I a wretch, but I'll be held to a higher standard before God. Double whammy, as it were.

In addition to the comfort to be found in Christ's promises and his sanctifying, transfiguring grace (by which I can become less and less of a wretch as I submit to Him and His Church, and therefore become more and more suited to meet the higher standard), another load off is the gift of the divine services. A common refrain in Orthodox circles in response to curious parties is "come and see" (I suspect as a reference to John 1:39, 46). As Fr. Josiah, my spiritual father, says of catechism:
The best catechism is in frequent and watchful attendance at the divine services. This is true because the Church prays what she believes, and believes what she prays.  Every service of prayer is deep theology, and all true theology is prayer.
This catechism of the services is not only for catechumens, but for anyone who wants to know what the Orthodox Church is about.

Other than a holy life (something I don't yet have to offer), the services of the Church are our most potent tool for evangelization. If I can successfully plead with an interlocutor not to judge Orthodoxy by the example that my shabby life puts forth, some pressure is taken off by getting them to attend divine services. At those services there are holy people doing holy things, and worshiping the Holy Trinity in Spirit and Truth. All within the context of the intensely beautiful divine liturgy.

In an highly un-Orthodox society, it's best to share the burden of witnessing, and put forth the corporate life of the Church as the nonpareil witness to the content and beauty of the Orthodox faith, because it is there that the Body of Christ is revealed in all its splendor. Though ultimately our own individual lives must also be transfigured and become shining, sanctifying microcosms of Christ that testify powerfully to the hope that is within us.

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, have mercy upon us and save us.

1 comment:

  1. Nathan, like yourself I am Orthodox in an Un-Orthodox world. I am also the only Orthodox in my family.
    Your comment about others judging Orthodoxy by our actions and behaviour hit home very deeply. It is indeed an awesome and frightening responsibility. May God help us to give a good witness.
    Excellent post.