Transcendent Faith: What Makes Orthodoxy Great
Terrorism grips cities around the world. Violence erupts in the United States. Christians face genocide in the Middle East. Politics spins out of control speaking to our worst fears. Human life becomes less valuable. The freedom to live one’s faith without government interference is increasingly in doubt.
It is impossible not to be afraid, and with the prevalence of social media, every post we read becomes a trigger for anxiety and isolation.
It’s time to stop.
Orthodox Christians are different. We belong to a Faith that remembers, and in that memory, each of us can find the tools to overcome the evils of today. The Orthodox Christian Faith can transform the ugliness of the world into something beautiful. 2016 is nothing new. The Church has faced such challenges many times before. History shows that Orthodox Christians are experts when it comes to overcoming adversity and social upheaval. We even flourish under it! If the Apostolic Faith can survive Ancient Rome and the rule of Herod, Nero and Diocletian, then we have the tools to answer the challenges before us.
“Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world!” writes St. Ignatius of Antioch.
However, it is not enough to simply be hated by the world. Christians must work to heal the world. This is the true greatness of Orthodox Christianity that St. Ignatius describes.
There is much confusion today as to what makes the Orthodox Church great. Today, we speak far too easily of great councils and great churches in places like Constantinople, Moscow and Alexandria. But what truly makes the Orthodox Church great?
It’s easy to get confused when it comes to the greatness of Orthodoxy.
One of the tragedies of modern times is that Orthodox Christians constantly argue over power and status rather than service to the weakest among us. Church leaders and academic theologians debate who is first and who is last. Clergy argue about the physical boundaries of Churches and who is entitled to govern them. They debate ancient titles that only have their place in a world that vanished thousands of years ago. Amidst all of these arguments, Orthodox Christians need to pause and remember that greatness in the Church is a paradox. It is also neither a title nor a jurisdiction. Greatness in the Church is not about who kisses one’s hand but how many feet one can wash in the service of Christ.
The Orthodox Church is great only insofar as She is good. The greatness of the Church is the goodness of the Church. And the goodness of the Church is perfected in mercy and service.
The world is in desperate need of the goodness of the Orthodox Church today. If Orthodox Christians truly want to heal the chaos and confusion of 2016, then we need to practice the goodness given to us through the truth of Jesus Christ. This does not mean building a bigger wall around the Church and our spiritual lives. Instead, it means constructing a larger table so that more people can transform themselves in Christ. It is by welcoming people to this table that we discover the true meaning of what it means to be human and how to love one another as God intended.
Perhaps the best advice for Orthodox Christians facing the problems of the world comes from the second century. Consider these words from The Letter to Diognetus about what it means to be a Christian:
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. . . To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body.”
“…the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body.” This was how one writer described the Christians in the second century to the politicians of his day.
Let’s work to ensure it is how the world sees every Orthodox Christian in 2016!