Monday, June 25, 2012

"Remember who your teachers were…"

In the sidebar of my blog I have this bible verse as a heading, and beneath it a list of (as of today) twenty individuals and two groups of people whom I call ‘my teachers,’ confessing, of course, that Jesus is quite right when He says to us, ‘call no man on earth your teacher, for you have but one Teacher, the Messiah.’ What? Did I not listen to what I just heard the Lord say? ‘Call no man on earth your teacher?’ Well, yes, and I have no excuse. I am guilty. I am an evangelical criminal. Lock me up. Yes, and lock up the holy apostle Paul while you’re at it, because I call him one of my teachers too, and I’m even bold enough to quote him teaching me to ‘remember who my teachers were.’ Yes, we’re all guilty of building our houses on sand by not hearing the words of Jesus, and acting on them. Or are we?

This is not the time or place, nor am I learned enough, to defend either Saint Paul or myself for having ‘teachers’. No, I don’t really believe there is a double standard here, or even any real hypocrisy, but there are people who use this kind of logic to disqualify and condemn their brethren for calling presbyters ‘Father’ or taking exception to the expression ‘save us’ when addressed to anyone but Christ. Truly, these things are, and should be, matters indifferent, things we do not challenge each other about, but let everyone hold their own opinion, yet the Church has come to blows over such things, and still does. We destroy the handiwork of God, that is, our unity in Christ, over a question, not only of food, as the apostle exhorts, but over mere words. Yet, there are those who quote, ‘by your words acquited, and by your words condemned.’ What can I say?

So I remember who my teachers were, as the apostle recommends to his disciple Timothy. The list of names in my sidebar has been growing and would be much, much longer, but for my desire to keep focus. Even twenty names are too many. I could simplify it and just say ‘Church Fathers’ and leave it at that. But then you wouldn’t know from whom I have drawn my testimony and life in Christ, for we are all parts of one another. You wouldn’t know my spiritual mothers among the Fathers, though they are there. And you wouldn’t know that I draw on the testimony and teachings of many saints not included in the Synaxarion. That’s why I have made the list. That is evidence good enough to keep me at arm’s length from zealots of every faction who deal in names, and I am satisfied, because for me ‘there is only one name under heaven by which we are saved.’

As to the names of those I have not included, I owe my salvation and my life in Christ to many more, beginning with my own parents according to the flesh, my father Roman (many years) and my mother Irene (memory eternal), and to the gentle teachers I had in the schools I attended whom I cannot name, except for two of my college professors, Doctor Dana, and John Forbes  (both of blessed memory). My parents were Roman Catholics to begin with, my two professors, the first a Presbyterian minister, the second a Quaker. I should name the great saints that shepherded me as a young Christian adult—they are my teachers too: Philip Holte the cabinetmaker, Bishop Matthew Bigliardi, Episcopal bishop of Western Oregon, Father John Goodyear, pastor at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church (all of blessed memory). And when the Lord led me to Holy Orthodoxy, my teachers and examples are many: Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco, Father Elias Stephanopoulos (both of blessed memory), as well as the presbyters Ihor Kutash, Michael Courey, James Retelas, Photios Dumont, and others.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and they are there and have always been there, not to hide us, not to smother us, but to love us and teach us by their love, which is exactly what these servants of God did for me, handing over to me what the Lord had given them, not directly, but through the hands of other servants of God like themselves. All these took to heart, without trumpeting it, the words of Jesus in holy and divine scripture, ‘If any man would follow Me…’ and they laid down their lives for me, bit by bit, as the Lord gave them moment, and I am unashamed to call them all my teachers, while still confessing ‘you have but one Teacher, the Messiah.’ The Lord knows everything about us, who we are, what or whom we believe in, and whose teaching we have received. In the end, it all boils down to this, doesn’t it, ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you’ (John 15:12).

Glory to You, O God, glory to You!

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