Monday, February 9, 2015

One more time

I don’t want to entertain,
I want to communicate.
Meaning and relationship are
what is
most important to me.
I am a Greek Orthodox Christian,
but not Orthodoxy,
only Christ matters.

Church has its place,
but it cannot be substituted for
one’s personal response
to the call of Jesus Christ.

The above used to be my summary ‘statement’, written back in 2006 when I first started blogging. These words, combined with my choice of Cost of Discipleship and a quotation from this book by its author, Protestant hieromartyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the name of my blog has kept it off the Orthodox blog rolls of most other bloggers who confess this faith. A handful of other Orthodox have listed me as an Orthodox blogger, including two priests, one OCA and one Serbian. They must have seen through whatever it is that keeps me off limits to all the others. Truthfully, I do not promote Orthodox Christianity as a church or a religion. My intention is to confess Christ and to be His witness, sharing with others what He shares with me, and following Him with my whole being, not just with my words, by doing what I see Him doing, saying what I hear Him saying. It doesn’t seem honest, prudent or safe to do anything other than this.

But thinking about my ‘statement’ I can see that it could easily be misunderstood. It is vague enough that my enemies, if I have any, can say that I am a pseudo-Orthodox, or worse. After all, I seem to be saying that Orthodoxy isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter, that only Christ matters. And actually, starting in reverse order, that is what I confess—only Christ matters. But if that were true for me without qualification, why even mention Orthodoxy at all? Anyone who knows me personally, who goes to church with me, knows that I am a practicing Greek Orthodox, that I participate in regular worship and have at various times held responsible positions in this church.

What I mean when I say that Orthodoxy doesn’t matter, or that ‘Church has its place, but it cannot be substituted for one’s personal response to the call of Jesus Christ,’ is that in every context, our individual response to the living Christ is incomparable in importance to anything else we might think about or do. Everything about Holy Orthodoxy springs from the reality of that response to the living Christ, the resurrected Lord, everything! Yet, we can have an Orthodoxy that is the work of man, not the work of God that Holy Orthodoxy is.

The Orthodox Church is everything that it claims to be, nothing more and nothing less, but Orthodoxy itself is an inexhaustible reality that overfills and overflows the visible Church. Wherever Christ is truly welcomed, followed and confessed, there is the Church, there is Orthodoxy. I do not promote Orthodoxy as a church or religion, because it is neither. It is a living reality that is the work of God, not man-made, and it is not something I can lure people to. I simply witness for Christ, as I can do nothing else, and He does all the work, ‘We catch the fish, He cleans them and sorts them.’

So do I recant? Does Orthodoxy matter or not?
Of course it does, but it’s not something I can give you. It is the work of God, and to Him alone it belongs. It is a humble work, I know, to simply witness for Christ, but by our lives and actions, not by our words alone, are people drawn to the One we follow and, if they truly want Him, they will, like the two disciples, ask, ‘Rabbi, where do you live?’ and He will always answer, ‘Come, and see!’ (John 1:38-39).

We witness for Christ, we never argue.
We read the Word aloud and speak it to people without adding anything or taking anything away, and by so doing disarm our detractors. It is ‘not ourselves that we preach’ (2 Corinthians 4:5) and promote, only Christ, and who can argue with Him? They may try, but Christ Himself never argues, He simply is who He is. Sometimes His sheep even ‘recognize His voice’ (John 10:27) long before they know it is He, and when they finally do know who is calling them, to Him they run. He leads them ‘to graze close by the shepherds’ tents’ (Song of Songs 1:8).

I was reading some passages in the book Hymn of Entry, by Archimandrite Vasileios, and it made me stop and think the foregoing thoughts. I really just wanted to quote more of the wise words of this modern church father, rather than write anything of my own, but that’s not what happened. Sometimes the end of our motivation is different than what we supposed. But let me, brethren, quote at least a little bit of what I was reading, as these words will be more edifying than mine...

How frequently the Lord would stop people who wanted to start a “theological” conversation with Him. They ask, “Will those who are saved be few?” and the Lord replies, “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13:23-24). Again, with the Samaritan woman who is surprised when the Lord asks her for water, and explains her surprise, “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9), Jesus cuts short her comments on the relations between the religious communities with the command, “Go, call your husband” (John 4:16). In a moment He leads the conversation into the field of personal life, of true theology. In every case He is interested in the person, not in theological discussion as an isolated occupation remaining out of touch with life and with the very person who is speaking. “I seek not what is yours, but you” (2 Corinthians 12:14), says Paul; I seek the person and his salvation.

Therefore, while the Jews of Christ’s day were so eager for theological discussions, He let them go unanswered; “But He was silent.” For He did not come to discuss, He came to seek out and save the one that had gone astray
(Matthew 18:11). He came and took on our whole nature. He entered into us, into the shadow of death where we are, and drew us to the light. We passed into His life: we live in Him.

Archimandrite Vasileios, Hymn of Entry, pp. 32-33 passim

The passage quoted above is the commentary on and explanation of what I mean in my ‘statement’ when I say, ‘Meaning and relationship are what is most important to me.’ Even, and especially, in Orthodoxy is that personal response to the call of Jesus Christ the most important thing, that ‘which will not be taken from’ us
(Luke 10:42).


Dana said...

Romanos, a small correction, forgive me. Fr Stephen is OCA. I got to have lunch with him last summer - he is a dear and Godly man. I hope you read his blog, if you read any at all; it helped me greatly coming into the Church, and still does.


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Thanks, Dana! I will make the correction right away!