Fr John Parker is the pastor of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, and the Chair of the Department of Evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America. He graduated the College of William and Mary (1993) with a major in Spanish and a minor in German. He earned his MDiv at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. After being received into the Orthodox Church, he earned an MTh at St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, where is also currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program. He has been a frequent writer for Charleston, SC's Post and Courier. He and Matushka Jeanette celebrated 20 years of marriage in April 2014, and have two sons nearing High School graduation.
Just a few Sundays ago, we read the account of the Samaritan Woman, that marvelous encounter with Jesus, at the same hour as his crucifixion, the 6th hour. The scene was a scandal for everyone. Jesus, alone with a half-breed woman in the middle of the day.
The Lord pierced her soul, the Truth revealing the truth of her life to her, in such a way that she was convicted to the core. She inquires as to who the Messiah is, and Jesus speaks a word, lost in English translation. In English we read, “I who speak to you, am he.” So tidy and poetic in English. But in the Greek New Testament, Jesus says, “The one who is speaking to you: I AM.” It is the same “I AM” from Exodus 3, when Moses asks God, “Whom shall I say sent me?” It is the same “I AM” answer that Jesus gives in the walking-on-the water scene (in Greek, it does not say, “Fear not, it is I”; rather, it says, “Fear not: I AM!”). It is the same “I AM” from the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of the Lord’s Passion, the “I AM” which causes the guards to fall on their faces.
Jesus reveals Himself as the Messiah, the Great I AM, and the Samaritan woman goes away changed, convicted. And let us notice her response! She “left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’” Her martyrdom, her witness, her testimony, her evangelical response was to go to the city (her home?) and tell what Jesus had done—just like the Gerasene demoniac. (“Go home and tell all that God has done for you!”) Her missionary endeavor was done also in a passive way, by a simple question, “Could this be the Christ?”
This beautiful means of drawing people to Jesus seems to me to be a divine reversal of the actions of the serpent in Genesis 3. There, as a crafty creature, the serpent suggests, “Did God really say?”—a question which raised just enough doubt. In this case, “Could this be the Christ?” raises a chiastic, albeit affirming, response. The results are, Biblically speaking, predictable:
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:39ff).
First, she encountered Christ. Then she shared that encounter with others, encouraging them to consider a possibility. They believed in Christ by her testimony. Then they had their own encounter with Jesus and came to believe on their own experience of Him, no longer simply due to the true testimony of a trusted (?) woman.
In the Paschal season, and leading up to Pentecost, the Church reads the Book of Acts. The Acts of the Apostles are 28 chapters of this same idea: Encounter the power of God. Tell the mighty acts of God. Proclaim the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, and invite others to consider. In some cases, conversion was one at a time: think of the Ethiopian Eunuch. In some cases, it was a whole family (think of the Philippian Jailor and his family). In other cases, hundreds or thousands were added at one time. There is no reason why our witness cannot reach similar people, in similar ways, in similar quantities. Orthodoxy is for EVERYONE!
The Acts reading from Chapter 1, for the feast of our Lord’s Holy Ascension, reminds us of our calling to be martyrs—witnesses—to Jesus. There it is written, “In Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” For each of us, that could be translated, “at home, in the neighborhood, in the town, in the state” or “locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally”—the point is that our witness emanates out from closest to immeasurably far away.
The Apostles were faithful to that calling to bear such witness. Had they not been, you and I would not be Orthodox Christians today. That is a fact. They bore witness to the ends of the known earth to bring the Light of Christ to all who would listen. And to give just one personal example of how that looks, here is my personal story: The Apostles shared the Gospel in the Greek-speaking world. A result is the faith of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, two brothers from Thessaloniki. They took the Gospel to the Slavs; in turn, and in time, Rus(sia) was Christianized in 988. In 1794, Russian Monks took the Gospel to Alaska. Fr. John Breck, who received me into the Church, taught at the Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska, and later retired to near Charleston, SC. There, he bore witness to me of the Orthodox Faith, and here I am, writing to you.
If you and I do not bear witness, we demonstrate profound ingratitude for the great gift we have received, and the golden-chain of the succession of the True Faith loses vital links!
Coming this weekend, on Holy Pentecost, we are once again reminded that this Faith, once for all delivered to the saints, is for all peoples and nations, for every man, woman, and child on earth; and we are given the commission to bear witness to them, to baptize them, and to teach them all that God has commanded us.
Recently, the Pew Forum, a studier of the Religious Landscape of America, issued a report on the current status of religion in the United States. On the one hand, it paints a dismal picture: Whatever might once have been a “Christian” Country, or a Country founded on “Judeo-Christian principles,” or a Country that was established with a deistic, generic God in mind, is on the fast track to rampant “None-ism”—having no faith of any sort.
To evaluate that report I leave for later and for others, perhaps. It would be interesting (to me at least!) to read various Orthodox views on the study. We certainly must take note at how many are leaving Orthodoxy (why?). It is interesting to see the size and ascendency of other groups. According to the study, the Mormons are three times the size of Orthodox Christianity in the USA. The Jehovah’s Witnesses grew at the rate that Orthodox Christians shrank (1/6). It takes 200 people in a room to have 1 Orthodox Christian. In that same room are 31 (rounding up) “Nones”—people with no affiliation. This means that, laying aside all Protestant and Catholic questions in the USA, we could still share the Gospel with a gigantic number of people. Do we?
Recently, the Assembly of Bishops called for its own study of Orthodox Christianity in the United States. Here is a link to Alexei Krindatch’s work: Fast Questions and Fast Answers about US Orthodox Churches.
The Pew Forum research and Mr. Krindatch’s work both leave me with a short Biblical verse in mind, returning to the Samaritan Woman:
Jesus said to them, “I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest” (John 4:34-35).
Who will share with them all the Good that God has done?
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Pew Forum Link:
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