Forty years ago, when the Soviet Union still existed, the Orthodox Church in Russia suffered persecution while the Soviet state tried to suppress its activities in the hopes of ultimately destroying the Church. Fr. Dmitri Dudko, one Orthodox priest under the Soviet regime, attempted what was a daring a novel way for that time of doing an open question and answer session in place of a sermon. His creativity was both daring and defying of Soviet atheistic authority. He eventually was arrested and forced to recant his comments under threat of punishment.
Fr. Dudko was asked a question that might resonate with some of us today as we try to find a way to witness to our faith. What do we need to do to help others experience the love of God and want to live a life of thanksgiving towards our benevolent Creator? Obviously one thing we can do is to truly be thankful ourselves for what God does for us in the world! That of course is the point of the Divine Liturgy which is our Eucharist – our thanksgiving to the God who is love. Eucharist means thanksgiving.
The Eucharist Liturgy as our properly defined relationship with God may also help us understand what it is we have to say to the world about the Triune God who so loved the world as to enter into it in order to bring us all to union with God.
For us Orthodox in America, we have much to be thankful for – we and our nation have been blessed with many gifts from God. This week as we celebrate our Independence Day holiday, we should be able to think of the many reasons we have for being thankful. Witnessing to the blessings of God and offering God thanksgiving for all good things, should not be difficult for us.
Our best witness is to live the Liturgy, and to pray the words of it carefully and intentionally. We can’t lead others to be thankful until we ourselves are filled with that joy which leads us to thanksgiving for the salvation of the world.
Even so our efforts might be rejected by others around us. So what should we do? We might consider God’s actions towards St. Paul when Paul was persecuting the church: see my blog St. Paul’s Conversion.
We can also consider the wisdom which Fr. Dudko offered his people living under repression.
“QUESTION: The people around me are non-believers. I often try to explain to them Who it is that I believe in, and what the content of my faith is. But from their side I encounter mockery. Am I doing the right thing in trying to explain things to them, or is this what our Lord Jesus Christ said: ‘pearls before swine’?
ANSWER: If your explanations provoke mockery, don’t offer explanations. It would be better to pray for those people. The truths of Christianity can’t be forced on others; they have to be accepted freely. But if these people ask you questions, you have to answer, but consider why they asked the question. It is important to capture the right moment, when they will listen to you attentively and with a desire to understand. You also have to take into account the fact that your explanations might really be unconvincing. It wasn’t by accident that Christ said: ‘Don’t be teachers.’ If you yourself would really be a carrier of the truths of Christianity, your explanations would be convincing. To ‘cast your pearls’ means to speak words without confirming them by your life. Whether our words are pearls or the truth depends not on those who hear us, but on us ourselves.” (Father Dmitrii Dudko, Our Hope, pg. 22)