Monday, July 28, 2008

A sense of Welcome

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes Me…”

Anyone who is part of a family or other closely related group knows this situation. You come home, or you wake up in the morning, or you walk into a room where the others are. It can be husband or wife, it can be children, it can be mother or father, brother or sister that are already there, and suddenly, there you are too. You expect to be greeted with a smile, with words of greeting, comforting words.

In Japan, we say when entering the house after being out, “Tadaima!” And if anyone at all is home, we hear the response, “Okaeri nasai!” and then see the smile of welcome following on the words. This is what we expect in our hearts, because God made us that way, to expect love, to expect welcome. He made us that way because He it is who is waiting for us to return to Him, so that He can drop everything and run to embrace us, to make us feel welcome, to love us face to face.

To continue, you expect to be greeted with a smile, with a welcoming word or gesture. Instead, you hear words of unwelcome, you hear words of criticism or judgment, you may not hear a greeting at all, and the face that you see is not what you expected. As in a dream, you pursue someone whom you know, and when you catch up to them, they turn around, and they are a stranger, and you back away, confused. Only this is happening now, in the “real” world. You are awake. The words you hear cut into your heart, the face you see flashes unwelcome eyes. You know you are not wanted, and there is nothing you can do about that.

It is not with the one who comes, but with the one who receives, that the power of welcome lies. This is one of the most painful of experiences.

Jesus has much to say about this situation in the gospels.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—your enemies will be the members of your own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes someone known to be a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes someone known to be righteous will receive a righteous person's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is known to be my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly be rewarded.” (Matthew 10:34-42)

Everyone, without qualification, that comes to us deserves our welcome, and if we follow Jesus, and if we do what we see Him doing, we will welcome them. If this is true of any human creature, how much more is it true for members of our own household, for our own family members, for those who “have a right” to hope for a welcome from us. Yet often this is not what we give, or what we receive. Still, we need that sense of welcome more than anything else, even more than food, more than life itself.

Following Jesus separates us from people. A brother and more-than-friend of mine asked me yesterday, “I’ve heard people say that to follow Jesus is a very lonely road. Is this true?” Those of us sharing a meal together tried to answer, as best we could. Yes, to follow Jesus is in a sense a lonely road, because you find that you are no longer welcome to many people, to your neighbors, to your erstwhile friends, and even to your own family members. Jesus Himself tells us this. Yet there, at that table, was the proof of the love of Christ, the incarnate gospel, that although we might be outcasts from the world, maybe unwelcome by those to whom we should be welcome, at that table, where He was present with us, we were more than welcome, to Him and to one another.

So there is a sweetness to the bitter edge of martyrdom. With Jesus, who draws us together around Himself like a belt, we are welcome, and of that welcome we can be the ambassadors, passing on to those around us the good news that God has reconciled all of us to Himself through the sacrifice of His Only-Begotten Son. We can offer to others the welcome that has been denied us. We can do this because we are now really free to choose.

And so we choose to follow Jesus.

“… and anyone who welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Orthodox evangelism

There seems to be no standard method of evangelism in the Orthodox Church, especially now in these modern times. Unfortunately, Orthodoxy in America is very lazy, waiting for converts to come to the church on their own. Some of the clergy that I know seem to be strangely proud of this fact, as if a fisherman should be proud that fish somehow find their way into his net without the net being cast. This is not an apostolic attitude.

Until recently most converts came through marriage to an Orthodox man or woman, as in the film
My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This film was embarassingly accurate in many details, uncovering some of the less laudable realities of Greek Orthodoxy in America.

The last twenty years or so has seen Orthodoxy capitalizing on the frustrations of Roman Catholics (against contemporary worship) and Protestants (against modern worship and deconstruction of scriptural faith). In Northern Ireland, Orthodoxy capitalizes on the frustrations of both groups with the endless cycle of animosity between them. Protestant clergy often visit the Antiochian priest secretly for help that they cannot get elsewhere.

In general, the Orthodox Church doesn't evangelize as an institution. It simply maintains order in doctrine and practice, and disseminates information about itself as a faith community, focusing in on what makes it distinctive. This makes it appear to buy into the ecumenical world view that "all paths lead to God," which is of course the fundamental heresy of our times.

Real evangelism takes place almost exclusively through the unsupported efforts of ordinary Christians, like myself. The style varies, but I would say that what we've done, reading the Bible aloud publicly and the rest of it, is very much in the Orthodox tradition.

Orthodoxy is the faith of the martyroi, the witnesses, and that's what we do, wherever we are. No frills, no strings attached, leaving God to do the work of converting men's hearts. All we do is follow along behind Jesus. He does it all.

"All we do is catch the fish with the Word of God. He cleans ‘em and sorts ‘em out."

"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19 NIV)

Monday, July 14, 2008

With the net of the Word

"Come, follow Me", not so much by following Me exteriorly but by loving Me, imitating Me, and I will make you fishers of men, that is, teachers of mankind. In fact, it is with the net of the Word of God that men must be drawn.
— St. John Chrysostom

Friday, July 11, 2008

The peace of Christ

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The Blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

—Edward Henry Bickersteth
Hymn writer

Peace, that which comes from above and is granted by God alone through Christ is not easy to define, but it definitely does NOT mean something like "all's well" or "peace and quiet" in the usual sense. Peace from God does not necessarily mean that there is no trouble anywhere in our life, nor that we are not faced with problems to which we cannot find a solution.

It's easier to talk about this peace that comes from God through Christ and is bestowed on us in prayer than it is to actually have it. Why? Because we usually talk about it when we are NOT in any great distress, emergency or need, but after we have been delivered from it. We look back in retrospect and thank God for the deliverance and find words of testimony to give about God's faithfulness.

What is the best definition of and the most convincing testimony to the "peace from above"?

When we are presently in distress, in danger, at risk, beset with problems we see no end of, when we are suffering persecutions, slander, unjust accusations, when no one believes us, when no one cares about us, and we are not sad, not unhappy, not anxious, not disturbed, not reproachful, uncomplaining, unmoved to anger or revenge, still hopeful, still forgiving, still loving our enemies, still seeking God’s Kingdom first and His righteousness, never giving in to despair or abandonment. When we are in THIS place, and can define "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" not only by the word of our confession, but also by our passionlessness, then we have understood and accepted what that peace is. It's the same peace that Jesus knew when He was crucified and when He uttered with His last breath, "It is finished. Into your hands I commend my spirit (for You have redeemed me, God of Truth)." It is the same peace which Jesus gave to His disciples when He said, "My peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give."

This is the peace of Christ.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Do whatever falls into your hands

Two quotes, the first sent me by my sister in Christ, Presvytera Candace Schefe, who has been faithfully sending such things to me for several years. This one is a gem from Theophan the Recluse. (Theophan the reckless might just as well describe him, a saint like I want to be.) The second is one I've heard before, because it comes with the "signature" in business emails sent me by an acquaintance, Fritz Krahl, who I've never met in person, but who seems like someone I'd like to meet. Anyway, both of these quotes eloquently convey some of the truths by which I've tried to live my life, and I wanted to share them with you, my friends…

Do whatever falls into your hands, in your circle and in your situation, and believe that this is and will be your true work; nothing more from you is required.

It is a great error to think that you must undertake important and great labors, whether for heaven, or, as the progressives think, in order to make one’s contribution to humanity. That is not necessary at all.

It is necessary only to do everything in accordance with the Lord’s commandments.

Just exactly what is to be done?

Nothing in particular, just that which presents itself to each one according to the circumstances of his life, and which is demanded by the individual events with which each of us meets. That is all.

If you set about to act in this way in every instance, so that your works will be pleasing to God, having carried them out according to the commandments without any deviation, then all the problems of your life will be solved completely and satisfactorily.

And now, from Fritz (but I don't know if this is a saying of his, or if he's quoting someone else)…

"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle."