Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lay aside all earthly cares


So much of what I see in Orthodox Christian blogdom and general communication is devoted to countering mistaken opinions and heresies ancient and modern, comparing our faith to that of other Christians not recognized by us for whatever reason. So much effort and toil, not to build up the welcoming Temple of the living God where all are treated as first-born sons and citizens of heaven, but instead to build higher walls and towers from which to grimly defend or sit in judgment on our brothers.

When I first encountered Orthodoxy, I too was astonished by its otherworldly beauty, I too was emboldened by its apparently reckless audacity in proclaiming the Gospel and affirming the whole Word of God. I too appreciated its various claims to be what it says it is, the original and true Church. And I too had my share of books like Are You Saved? and others sitting on my shelf, that dealt with telling Catholics and Protestants of every stripe how and why they are wrong. They are sitting there still.

There are ‘givens’ with the life in Christ which we have no right to trample, as we witness for Him to others both outside and inside the Christian faith. These ‘givens’ are found in the following of Jesus, and in company with His holy apostles. One of the greatest of these, and the one most commonly overlooked, is that we do not argue the faith we hold, or subject it even to comparison with that of others. Orthodoxy cannot be compared to other confessions of Christianity. Why? Because it includes them.

I used to have a sign hanging over my desk at work (yes, even in the professional world one is a witness) that said in Greek ‘We are Christ-bearers,’ and in English below it, ‘We accept no proselytes.’ That was my way of saying, “There is no division between you and me, in Christ, who loves us equally, shed His precious Blood for us equally, welcomes us equally into His presence, and intercedes for us equally as He stands before His Father. Let us love one another, and learn of Him together.”

Rather than a spirit of contention and controversy, the Christ-bearer has the Spirit of pleading unity, calling outsiders ‘brother’ before they have even realized yet, how much the Father has loved them in the Son. We welcoming them as if welcoming Christ, they are given a glimpse of a Kingdom so great that it has no real enemies, only souls waiting patiently in line for their own awakening. They are given a foretaste of a Banquet so rich that none is ever turned empty away. Why? Because they see us.

Enmity, that is what is already in place between the servants of the living God and those who follow their own lusts, in blindness, in nakedness, in deafness, while boasting of their possessions and authority real or imagined. All whose lives are still a mixture of willful sin and a yearning for righteousness, all who still try to hide from God, or without acknowledging Him or His unrepentant Law still seek to justify themselves in their own and others’ eyes, declare that we are at enmity with them.

But I am not speaking of these others, but of Christians like ourselves, who say they believe in the Word of God and all that proceeds from that belief. Do we ourselves believe in the prayer of Christ that we should all be one, as He and the Father are in each other and are One? Do we not believe that what Christ prays is answered by His Father with ‘Yes,’ with ‘Amen’? We are the Church, there is no doubt about that. If we do believe, how could we think that the Church can ever really be divided?

Brothers, I am not talking church politics. I am not an ecumenist. All the meetings that church leaders ever put together will never bring about the unity that Christ prays us to have with one another. They are pushing not the will of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They think they have sundered, and so they think to mend, the Body of Christ. But no. There is only One Body, and there is only One Christ, is, was, and to come. Let us finally lay aside all earthly cares, as we sing in every divine liturgy, that we may receive the King of all.

Let us lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, escorted by the angelic hosts, and welcoming Him and them in one another, let us follow Jesus, who never argued with, never scorned, even those who made themselves His enemies. His correction and teaching was His presence among them, betraying a greater love than they had ever thought possible. And in us, his living ikons, He is still walking the world, seeking, finding and gathering His lost sheep, welcoming them all into the Kingdom of His Father, not holding their faults against them, cleansing them of their sins by love, by His unflagging love, welcoming them in us.

If it is Orthodoxy you seek,
if it is Orthodoxy you proclaim,
it is only this…
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13 KJV

1 comment:

Aunt Melanie said...

This is a beautifully written essay: an accurate summary of what it really means to be a disciple of Christ every day and to encounter others, and to go to church on Sunday and worship with others.