Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Messengers of redemption

Evangelical Orthodox—that is what the original ‘big bunch’ of ‘converts’ from Evangelical Protestantism used to call themselves, and were called by others, and I wonder how each of them meant it.

Well, I consider myself, when I think of being something more definite than ‘just’ a follower of Jesus, an evangelical Orthodox. Yes, I was chrismated into Holy Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism via Anglicanism, and even considered myself ‘orthodox’ from the beginning of my adult Christian life, but I have never thought of my joining the Orthodox Church as a conversion, just as the logical and inevitable conclusion to a pilgrimage ‘home.’ Now that I am here, I have concluded that this place is also ‘home’ to every other mere follower of Jesus, and I act accordingly. This is what I understand it to mean when I say that I am an evangelical Orthodox Christian, not that I am in any way a ‘Protestant’ but that the motivation for my activity in the Body of Christ is ‘evangelismós’—to publish the good news—and to whom? Who else but to whomever I am sent to, or whoever is sent to me, Christian or not.

Christian or not? Well, yes, because everyone has need of the good news of Jesus Christ, not to be stuffed into their ears or shoved down their throats forcibly. Yes, faith comes by hearing, and yes, you are what you eat (although Christ would have a problem with the second saying), but the good news is not merely a verbal proclamation, but an organic demonstration. Anyone can proclaim the gospel or any version of it they like, but few can demonstrate it, and when they do, myself especially, it is only by cooperating with the grace of God which He bestows on everyone, though not all are willing to receive it—some because they don’t know what it is though they feel it, and so fear it enough to not want it, and then ‘those others’ whom the disciples complained to Jesus about, ‘They’re not one of us,’ who take the gospel into their own hands and whose self-motivation leaves no room for that generous grace.

If there’s one thing true about me, it’s this. From the beginning of my awareness of Jesus Christ’s call on my life, I have wanted nothing else but to find those who gather with Jesus (for those who do not gather with Him, scatter), and like the bride in the Song of Solomon I have tried to heed the advice she was given, ‘stay close to the shepherds’ tents.’ Now that that’s established, regarding love of God and love of neighbor, I have only two principles. Everyone who believes in Jesus belongs in the Orthodox Church, whether they know about it or not, and even if they have heard of it, judged and resisted it. Everyone who is human and made in the Divine image is potentially Christ coming to me in disguise, and whether they call on His name or not, believe in Him or not, know of Him or not, even if they judge and resist Him, making themselves His enemies, they must be treated with love, mercy and respect.

Messengers of redemption are what we are who have been called by Christ and responded by joining ourselves to Him bodily and spiritually in the Holy Church, and our task is very simple. To announce the Message, not primarily by words, but by our deeds, not by our perfect church attendance, but by our perfect following of the word of Jesus, who enjoins us to ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,’ in loving all people impartially and providentially as the Father does. I often ask myself, ‘Is this really too much? Who can hope to do this?’ And the answer comes, sometimes within moments. A friend, a neighbor, a complete stranger, maybe even an enemy, appears in front of us, in our way. Do we push him or her aside and walk around them, or cross the street to avoid them? Sometimes, I’m afraid, yes we do—I mean, yes, I do. But I find that Jesus Christ can walk anywhere, and if I follow Him, so must I.

These are rambling thoughts of a disciple who has found the cost of discipleship worth paying, because the Master asks nothing of us that He doesn’t do Himself, and every challenge we meet, at home, in our families, at work, at school, even in the Church, cannot and must not be avoided, they must be faced and, more than faced, they must be met with Jesus. It is only because we feel we are alone that we fear anything and anyone. We say we believe, but make our feelings the gauge of our belief. If the gauge reads cold, we feel justified in doing nothing. If hot, we feel exuberant and enthusiastic, but our own energies are next to nothing and quickly fail us.

Lord, grant us to want You, to want Your grace, to walk in it, to proclaim Your gospel first to ourselves and then, believing it, send us to do ‘those greater things’ that You have matter-of-factly given to us to do, living and working through us, with us, and in us.

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