— Dimitrios Tselengidis
Reading such ‘stuff’ as the above, is it any wonder that Christians cannot see eye to eye, let alone get together, be together, and stay together, following the teaching of Jesus? Why aren’t we ashamed to say such things, why don’t we blush to hear them? Instead, it warms our hearts when we hear our Christian adversaries traduced in this way, yes, but the fires of hell will do more than warm our hearts. Christian adversaries? Well, we wouldn’t call them Christians if we didn’t have to. We’re only being ‘nice’ to recognize them at all, as if we did at least give them the shallowest shadow of a doubt that they just might be trying to believe in Christ, something which we’ve got under our belts, perfect to a ‘T’. No one can hold a candle to us. We’re ‘the light of the world’ that Christ mentions in the gospel.
Anyway, if we’re cantankerous and uncooperative, it’s not our fault. The holy fathers have paved our path long before we ever arrived on the scene. If Jesus wanted us to be any different, He would’ve had the holy fathers express themselves differently. I mean, if St Basil the Great points out the obvious and St Photius guards us against their prideful errors, can we do any better or be any worse than our holy fathers? Certainly not. To the Turk we’ve always said, ‘I was born a Christian, and I will die a Christian,’ and they’ve been gladder than hell to oblige us. So, why shouldn’t we keep up our hue and cry against our mortal enemies on the other side of the aisle? After all, we know what they want—to lord it over us. The leopard can’t change its spots. They’re more dangerous than ever, because they seem so friendly.
Yes, it’s Bright Week, something I recently learned from a Catholic priest I know, they don’t have. It really surprised me. Somehow I just assumed everyone knew that Pascha, Easter, is a liturgical day that outlasts the twenty-four hours from sunset to sunset, that it stretches out, leaps across the chasm of one week’s time to become a septuplet of itself. ‘Aw,’ I thought to myself while trying to not look condescending at Father Bill, ‘they don’t have bright week… It’s so sad.’ Pushing back the walls of denominational bias can be difficult, even when we think we’re liberated from it. Just like the Hebes who couldn’t find a way through the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh if God didn’t open it, we have to depend on His help to do the impossible—love our fellow Christians—or perish like proud charioteers when the sea of grace closes.
Back to the passage quoted above, it reminds me of a sad truth that occurred to me recently. The Church has always acted as though it must protect the holiness of God and especially of the sacraments from us. We have to prove ourselves worthy by public confession of our faith and submission to all the teachings of Holy Church. Only then are we allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper, only after we’ve been shriven and washed in the saving waters of holy baptism. The Church must guard us very stringently and keep outsiders—those who don’t believe as we do—away. The unclean must not be allowed within the sacred precincts. Never mind that Christ invites all to come to Him, to receive Him, without explicit stipulations, ‘Take, eat, this is My Body which is broken for you…’
Why this is so, it seemed to me one day as I watched and heard a priest announce sternly before allowing his deacon to come out with the Holy Gifts that ‘communion is only for the Orthodox’ and ‘only those Orthodox who have prepared themselves by…’ is that the Church operates as a government, as a state. It has laws that must be obeyed. It requires steadfast loyalty and obedience. It expects to be the most important thing in our lives. Although when Christ and the apostles founded the Church, they modeled it on the family, not on the state, the challenges it has had to face have hardened it, so that if it is still a family, it is a very tight one. Though a family can be a place of love and acceptance, when it is dysfunctional it can be the loneliest and harshest place on earth, and more clannish than the Ku Klux.
Sometimes a beautiful family, one that serves God and each other in loving friendship, can devolve, little by little, into something that one must flee from. The kids can’t wait to leave home. Daughters do what they can to escape, even becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Sons escape into gangs or plain debauchery. Somewhere in the devolution the parents get a divorce. In the end, a once beautiful family is everything it cannot be, yet by stretching the imagination and with reluctant patience, forces itself to occasionally get together, but it is an unjoyful reunion, every time a funeral, even when no one has died. It doesn’t have to be this way. Though a family is divided by divorce, the kids can still be friends, still love each other, and together wait for their divorced parents to make peace. Sometimes this actually happens.
Nothing broken by us can be fixed by us, not ourselves though we try, not others because we only break them more in trying. Only Christ can fix what is broken. Only He can unite what we have divided. Only Jesus can call us back who have run away through disobedience, because it is only to Him that we must run. Through all the centuries He has remained who and what He is, and by twos and threes, threes and fours, He has been healing and saving us, all without our help, except that we let Him. Meanwhile the Church has minded its own business, tended the sheep, kept the wolves away, made sure its kingdom was secure and running smoothly, allowing no disturbance, no inspiration or enthusiasm which it could not control. Hearing, but not listening. Praying, but not obeying. Giving, but not let living. Hence, here we are.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
Yes, ‘if anyone has ears to hear, let them hear’ (Mark 4:23).