Thursday, June 5, 2014

New Orthodox nations

“But when the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith on earth?”
Luke 18:8 Jerusalem Bible

I used to have a small sign pinned up in a hidden spot above my desk at work where only I could see it. It read, “Don’t give offense. Don’t take offense. Forgive everybody everything right away.”

This saying just came to me as I was doing my work helping to start a new company. My boss was a friendly tyrant, and I had accepted his offer to employ me again (I had worked for him before) on his solemn promise that he would behave himself this time round. Well, nineteen years have passed and I am still working for him, but he has had many slips in keeping that promise. Perhaps that’s why the Lord prepared me for what was to come by teaching me that saying.

Don’t give offense.
Don’t take offense.
Forgive everybody everything right away.

Just as my boss didn’t live up to his promise to behave, I also haven’t lived up to the standard set before me in this saying. We both have missed the mark. The good thing is, for me the saying still holds true, and I still practice it. It is a worthy saying.

Where did it ultimately come from?
Well, I think it’s a distillation of the teaching of Jesus on how we should act towards others. It is an aspect of right action, orthopraxía as we call it in Greek. It’s quite useless to pretend to be a Christian or especially an Orthodox disciple of Christ if right action (orthopraxía) doesn’t accompany right worship and right thinking (both contained in the term orthodoxía).

“Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of Mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!”
Matthew 7:24-27 Jerusalem Bible

We live in a time period in which it is both easier than ever and harder than ever to live the Orthodox life, especially in what are traditionally non-Orthodox countries. I address this post to the brethren who belong to new Orthodox nations like East and West Africa, Indonesia, Korea, Japan and, yes, America too.

The traditional Orthodox nations, the Middle East, Greece and the Balkans, the Ukraine and Russia, have a long history, worthy of both praise and blame in the way they have lived and preserved their Orthodox faith. I needn’t go into detail on what is blameworthy, and to do so would only draw down on me the righteous indignation of those who see the Orthodox world as faultless and flawless.

We already know what is praiseworthy, because we have become the blessed recipients of the faith “once delivered to the saints” which they have handed over to us in these new lands. We have much to thank them for, and because of the love and respect we owe them, it is not for us to look backward and criticise. It is for us to make sure that what we have received is believed and lived in spirit and in truth, and that is my object, to draw attention to our position, and our responsibility.

What is this position? And what is this responsibility?
Our position—We are a minority population of ancient Christians dispersed throughout a modern (as they put it) post-Christian world.
Our responsibility—We have to live the life of faith and not just believe or agree with a set of doctrines.

Orthodoxy is the apostolic faith in an apostate age.
So what do we do?

The answer to this question is found in the words of Jesus quoted above, “…everyone who listens to these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock…”

And there is more.
Unlike people in former ages, we can read, and we also have the divine and holy scriptures to instruct and direct us. That’s what I meant when I wrote, it is easier than ever to live the Orthodox life. With these riches within our grasp, how can we let ourselves live in spiritual poverty? Must we wait for some calamity to sober us and make us come to our senses, that is, to become sensible people?
I hope not.

Now then, how is it harder than ever to live the Orthodox life, especially in what are traditionally non-Orthodox countries?

The temptation to hide our faith for political correctness, in order to get ahead, is very strong.

I marvel in my own Greek Orthodox community, how parents let their children slide so easily into the worldly life, the Christless life, and even encourage them to do so, thinking they are doing them a favor, helping them to be successful.

I marvel that they have forgotten what 400 years of Tourkokratía almost did to Greece, and that they do not recognize that we are living in America under the same Tourkokratía under other names. (By the way, revisionist historians are now saying that the 400 years of Turkish rule over the Greeks and other Christians was not all that bad, as this article demonstrates.)

For us Christians of the new Orthodox nations, Africans, Indonesians, East Asians and Americans, there is little or no bad blood or historical baggage coming to us as we unite ourselves to the ancient Church. We are not involved in nationalistic and sectarian antagonisms, but we can allow ourselves to be sucked into religious ghettos (or turned into religious museums) if we are not really following Jesus Christ.

Our opportunity to share the authentic good news—
Jesus Christ risen from the dead
is immense, but only if we listen to His words and act on them,
as the Lord Himself teaches.
This is not advice.
This is not optional.
He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life.
This is Orthodoxy.

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