“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; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Our Lord Jesus sent us into the world to proclaim the Gospel. He didn’t appoint us to hide behind walls and closed doors where we could keep our faith untainted by the world. The disciples tried to hide behind closed doors but Jesus appeared in their midst and sent them out into that fearful, corrupt and dirty world which they were so trying to avoid.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” (John 20:21)
Fr. Nicholas Graff writes about our – the Church’s – relationship to the world which God so loves (John 3:16):
“To foster a relational heart, there must be established a context in which shared standards, goals and language exists. Mutuality is the fundamental environment in which any relationship can grow and develop. The Church must constantly seek mutual ground in which to make herself available to the culture in which she finds herself. There are those who feel strongly that the chasm between Orthodox Christians and the modern world is so wide that any suggestion of such a meeting would somehow lessen the Triumphant Church. Others appear to ‘speak for the mind of the Fathers,’ as the self-proclaimed protectors of Orthodoxy, feeling that it is our obligation to protect Orthodoxy from a defiling contact with the world. …”
But such attitudes of trying to protect the Church from the defiling world, fly in the face of the incarnation in which God entered into the world and become human in order to heal and save the sinners, the lost, and the sick. Such attitudes of “protecting the Church from the world” smack of the attitude of the servant who received the one talent and being so fearful of the master’s judgement (and of the world!) that he hid the gift given to him by the master in order to protect and preserve it.
“But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. … But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? … And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'” (Matthew 25:18, 26-30)
Christ appoints us to be the salt of the earth.
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:13, 14)
Christ didn’t appoint us to keep the salt in pristine condition by avoiding the world, sealed off in an antiseptic container. We are not the world, but are to go into the world to have a transforming and transfiguring effect on the world. Christ has given us manifold tools to do this including all of the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.
Fr. Graff continues:
“May I suggest that we Orthodox must begin to avoid the arrogant folly of any attempt to speak the collective mind of the Fathers as if we had some unilateral privilege to hear a single voice which no one else can hear (there is a clinical diagnoses for this). Or, even worse, that Orthodox Christians theology is something meant to set us above and beyond – out of reach by the other. Instead, may we once again appreciate the eclectic and vastly diverse minds and teachings of the Fathers, most beautifully expressed in the Cappadocians. I refer you to one of the most magnificent expressions of this patristic ideal, Saint Basil’s parable of the bumblebee.
Let our use of books and learning in every case mirror the ‘icon’ of the honeybee. For such does not visit every flower in the same manner, neither does the honeybee attempt to fly off bearing the burden of the entire flower. Rather, once it derives that which is needful from the flower, it leaves the rest behind and takes flight.
So, too, if we are wise, once we derive from learning what resonates with truth, we too shall leave the rest behind and take flight. For is it not so that when we take a rose we avoid the thorns? So, too, let us approach diverse writings, harvesting the fruits that they offer for our objectives, while protecting ourselves from the damaging elements that may lie within them. In all our studies, let us take with us and take within us only what builds us up, and what leads us in the fulfillment of our mission…” (in RAISING LAZARUS edited by Stephen Muse, p 232-233)
We sometimes try to force upon the Fathers a monolithic thinking because we feel greater certainty when we imagine they were always of one mind on all issues. But when we impose on them a conformity and uniformity, we miss the degree to which the Fathers were creatively engaging their cultures and attempting to bring the Gospel to all peoples. They were the salt of the earth and a light to the world – we are to be the same to the peoples of the 21st Century. We are to be in the world which is God’s field in which He is implanting us to bear fruit for Him.