The Confident Life of a Disciple: Believing and Belonging—Part Seven

The Confident Life of a Disciple: Believing and Belonging—Part Seven

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Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.

ENGAGED: The Call to Be Disciples

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19-20

It Starts with a Personal Choice to Believe

And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  Mark 9: 23-24

Good morning Prayer Team!

Knowing and believing are two different things.  With knowledge, there isn’t a faith element.  We know that two apples plus two apples equals four apples.  We know that if a car hold 20 gallons of gas and gets 25 miles to the gallon on the highway, that it can travel 500 miles between fill-ups.  We know that our chairs will hold a certain weight, that our faucets will put out water when we put them on, and that if we drive our car too fast and crash the car and we aren’t wearing a seatbelt, there is a good chance we will get really hurt or worse.  These are things that we have exhaustive knowledge, even mastery of.  There is no faith element involved. 

To believe is something else.  To believe is to accept something without full knowledge.  Now, I’ve never been to China, but I know people who have been to China.  So, this is an example of lack of full knowledge but it is not faith.  I don’t have faith that there is a China—I know it’s there.  Faith is believing without fully seeing or fully comprehending.  For instance, I have faith in my ability to provide for my family.  I don’t know the future, I can’t fully see it or fully comprehend it, but I believe, I have faith that I can provide for my family.  I have faith that my son can be a productive member of society.  I can’t see where he’s going to go to college, or even if he is going to go to college, but I believe that we are raising him to be responsible, that God has given him some abilities, and that he has enough desire to put these things to use to help others and provide for himself.  I have no idea what he’ll end up doing yet. 

Faith doesn’t necessarily mean not seeing at all.  Though sometimes it does.  I didn’t know what it was like to go to college, but I knew plenty of people who had been successful in college.  So, I didn’t go into college with no knowledge at all.  I went in with some knowledge but I also went to college with a lot of faith—in God, to direct my life; and in myself, and my ability to be responsible, study, and make good decisions.  When I was sent to serve Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Asheville in 2000, I had never visited the city, seen the church or met any of its members. However, I knew priests who had gone to new churches in new cities and done well.   It was the same in 2004 when I was sent to serve in Tampa.  However, by 2004, I had had the experience of going to a new church in a new city and doing well.  I went each time with minimal knowledge and a lot of faith.

In Mark 9: 14-29, we read the account of Jesus being called to heal a boy possessed by a spirit.  Jesus said to the father of the boy, “If you can!  All things are possible to him who believes.”  (Mark 9:23)  And in one of the most refreshing and real responses in the Bible, the man says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (9:24)  There are certain things we know—we don’t need faith to master them, or accept them, or trust in them.  There are certain things that we have limited knowledge of, and to accept these things requires faith.  However, in our less than perfect world, faith seems to be constantly challenged by doubt—doubt in ourselves, doubt in others, and doubt in God and not only His existence but His intentions.  There are plenty of people who believe in God, but who question His intentions, or sometimes doubt Him and His intentions when really bad things happen in the world. 

The cry of the father of a boy possessed by a spirit is so refreshing because it is so real, and so appropriate for many of us.  “I believe, help my unbelief!”  I believe, I have enough faith to believe.  But my faith is constantly challenged by doubt, based on my circumstances.  I’d like to think I have always believed in God.  I know that I have not always believed or trusted in God’s plan for my life, based on directions my life has gone at certain times.  There is no question that I believe.  There are plenty of times that I doubt and need help for my lack of belief. 

In order to believe in God, one has to accept certain things based on faith and not on exhaustive knowledge.  Blind faith is not required.  No one is going to ask us to accept everything on faith without seeking some knowledge.  Knowledge comes from the Bible, from the experiences of others and from asking our own questions.  While knowledge might be limited, that doesn’t mean that there still can’t be a strong faith.  And even when knowledge is extensive, in matters of faith, it is never exhaustive.  To have faith means to accept something we cannot fully see or fully comprehend.  The man in the Gospel lesson had some knowledge of Jesus, otherwise he would not have let Him come around his son.  He had some faith.  But he knew that he needed more.

Faith is not based on exhaustive knowledge.  Nor is one required to have faith with no knowledge.  Faith is believe in something based on some knowledge, but not exhaustive knowledge.  We certainly can read the Bible, talk to other people about faith and enjoy our own experiences of God.  But there will always be a faith element to following God.  We will never have exhaustive knowledge of Him.  There will always be part of Him we’ll have to take on faith, especially in our life on this earth. 

Faith starts with a personal choice to believe.  Our statement of faith is the Nicene Creed.  And the Creed begins with the words “I believe.”  What follows these words are the succinct things we have faith in.  This is why the Creed starts with these words.  It begins with the word “I” to remind us that faith is personal.  In fact, the Creed is the only part of the Divine Liturgy that is said in the first person.  Everything else is in plural—“Let us pray, let us lift up our hearts, let us bow our heads.”  But what we believe is personal, thus we say “I believe.” 

We will spend the next several reflections discussing what we believe as Orthodox Christians, based on the text of the Creed.  If someone asks you what you believe, the most succinct answer is the Creed, a statement of faith just over 200 words long.  More challenging than just reciting the Creed is to articulate the meaning of the 200+ words. 

If someone asked you what you as an Orthodox Christian believe, do you think you could articulate the meaning of the Creed to them?  What can better help you understand what we believe?  Think on this question.  Have you ever spoken with anyone about what you believe?  And do you think this is easy or daunting? 

Most of us, if we answer honestly, do not speak to people about what we believe.  We find this task daunting, either because we don’t exactly know what we believe or are not sure if sharing what we believe comes with too much risk.  Over the next several reflections, we will talk about our statement of faith, the Creed, not only what it says but what it means.  So that you can have confidence to speak about what it is we believe.  It will be your choice to share what you know and what you’ll learn. 

I am a companion of all who fear Thee, of those who keep Thy precepts.  The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy steadfast love; teach me Thy statutes!  Thou hast dealt well with Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word.  Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in Thy commandments.  Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep Thy word.  Thou are good and doest good; teach me Thy statutes.  Psalm 119: 63-68

Faith starts with a personal choice to believe!

 

+Fr. Stavros

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”