St. Innocent on Orthodox Mission Work

4624867820_b6c41af6dc_nWhat, then, shall we do? How ought we to proceed when, in the words of the Gospel, the harvest is great in our country (i.e., many remain unconverted to Jesus Christ)? “Pray to the Lord of the harvest,” Jesus Himself teaches us [Mt. 9:38]. Thus, first and foremost, we must pray. If even in everyday matters people fall back upon prayer – asking God’s blessing at the beginning of some work and then throughout asking for renewal and strengthening of the work’s might (where prayer means nothing more than help), here, in the matter of conversion, prayer becomes the means itself – and a most effectual of means, for without prayer one cannot expect success even under the most perfect of circumstances.


Thus, it is not our missionaries alone who must pray; no, we their brethren must further their work by our own prayers. And what ought we to pray for? First, that the Lord will send workers into His harvest; second, that He will open the hearts of those who listen to the Word of the Gospel; third, that He will increase our Society’s numbers more and more; and finally that He will strengthen and confirm in us the desire we all now feel to further this work to the attaining of our goal.

(St. Innocent Apostle to America, Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, p. 141-142)

St. Nicholas of Japan, Equal to the Apostles

St. Nicholas, Equal to the Apostles and Archbishop of Japan, is  commemorated on February 16.  Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, the former bishop of Japan and now retired writes:


“I was in Japan when Nikolai Kasatkin was recognized as a saint and as a founder of the Japanese Orthodox Church given the title ‘equal to the apostles.’  I wished to know him as well as possible and so I set myself the task of translating his sermons, which were written in the Japanese of 100 years ago, as remote from modern Japanese perhaps as Slavonic is from Russian, so much has that language changed.  . . .  But gradually I filled a notebook with these sermons deciphered as if from a code and I was struck by the figure of this man . . .  First by his titanic will, a true soldier, or samurai, of Christ living in considerable isolation for 50 years and yet building a national church.  Beyond this I was struck by his pastoral spirit–how he reached out to the Japanese trying to find the words they could receive …

St. Nikolai… out of the pastoral need to explain to Japanese believers how Christianity could fit to the history and culture of their country… began to develop [a vision] from his first encounters with Buddhism, staying for some time in a Buddhist temple in Tokyo while the Holy Resurrection Cathedral was being built.  His first encounters with the native religion, Shinto, had been less positive, being threatened with death by a young Shintoist whom however, impressed by Nikolai’s courage and calm, became a convert and the first Orthodox Japanese priest.  And Nikolai saw good also in the Shinto heritage.   . . .


We would note that St. Nikolai does not engage what could be said to be a deeper metaphysics of Buddhism, for example the sense of ‘Nothingness’ and ‘Void’ as later Christian writers will do.  Nonetheless his orientation of in a sense full acceptance is in the spirit of the early Christian Fathers who regarded Greek and other cultures as being, like the Hebrew Old Testament, a good to be accepted as the ground which is completed in Christ.  The phrase Nikolai uses of ‘nursemaid’ is an early Christian expression for previous philosophy and religion. . . .  the vision of St. Nikolai Kasatkin, born out of the pastoral situation in Japan, both reaches back to the vision of the early church fathers such as St. Justin who said that all that is good is the heritage of Christians, whatever its source, and unites to and supports the vision of the world moving through the ages to God . . . 

So for one thing we see Fr. Men as in the tradition of St. Stephen of Perm, St. Innokenty Venniaminov and here clearly St. Nikolai Kasatkin, in openness to the cultures of those we approach in mission, and as to other religions the case is explicit in St. Nikolai… it is a building of bridges to other families of humanity and their faith.  This is in accord with the example of early Christians such as St. Justin who said that all that is good in human culture is our inheritance in Christ, and it is explicitly stated by St. Nikolai as we have seen…” 

(TAPESTRY, pp 86-92)



We Are Responsible for Our Neighbor’s Salvation

“Knowing as we do that we are responsible both for the salvation of our neighbors and their loss, let us so regulate our life as not only to be sufficient for ourselves but also to prove an occasion of instruction to others, so that we may draw down on us here and now the favor from God, and may in the future enjoy God’s loving kindness in generous measure, thanks to the grace and mercy of his only-begotten Son, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, power and honor, now and forever, for ages of ages. Amen.”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom Homilies on Genesis, Homily 7, p. 104)

We are responsible for our own salvation and should live the life that corresponds to what we believe.  We are also responsible for our neighbor’s salvation which means we must live a life that witnesses to Christ in such a way that the neighbor will want to embrace what we have found in Christ.

Evangelism, Skepticism and Miracles

Plato & Aristotle
Plato & Aristotle

One way that the modern world differs from the ancients – the ancients often felt that a great teacher is to be believed simply by their reputation.  Moderns rely more on a scientific method of evaluation – test and verify.  It is not the reputation of the claimant that determines the validity of the truth, test the truth itself.  Thus ancients tended to accept Aristotle’s science largely based on his reputation and repeated his ideas for many centuries, apparently disregarding observation at times because the evidence didn’t agree with Aristotle’s thinking.

Similarly, we also see the Patristic authors accepting, for example, the wisdom of Solomon based on Solomon’s reputation in tradition and the scriptures.  Because he was viewed as the wisest of men based on the claims of Scripture, Solomon’s writings were given added weight, accepted as irrefutable truth.  If Solomon said something, it must be true, though we might have to discover in what way is it true.    St. Basil the Great writing in the 4th Century says:

“After all, when a teacher has a trustworthy reputation, it makes his lessons easier to accept and his students more attentive.”  (ON CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE AND PRACTICES, p 54)

EinsteinObviously, on one level St. Basil’s words are as true today as they were 1600 years ago: if a person has an established reputation we do take their words more seriously and give them added weight (think  Albert Einstein, for example).  But, today the reputation itself is built upon the person’s ideas being tested and proven true.  And for us, the test is based on a scientific method where a person’s ideas can actually be proven false and only if they survive rigorous testing are they held to be true.  Again one can think of Albert Einstein’s theories – despite his great reputation and a great track recorded of his ideas being upheld by scientific scrutiny, 100 years after his ideas were expressed, they are still being tested against the known evidence and not accepted until proven true, or at least as long as the evidence doesn’t prove them wrong.

St. Basil writes about the evidence that would convince him ideas are to be accepted.  So he says of the wisdom literature of Solomon:

“Now the very fact that a king wrote this book greatly contributes to the acceptance of its exhortations.  For if kingship is a legitimate authority, it is clear that the counsels given by a king – at least if he is truly worthy of this designation – have great legal force…” (ON CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE AND PRACTICES, p 55)

For St. Basil the fact that Solomon was a king adds weight to what he says – a king has a special authority and his words are more trustworthy than others because of the office he holds.  This sense that by virtue of one’s office, one’s words are more trustworthy is also an idea held more by ancients than modern people.   Today, there is a great amount of distrust of political authority, so much so that we have popular wisdom which says: “How can you tell if a politician is lying? . . .   If his mouth his moving.”

reaganJust think of the words of President Ronald Reagan:  “Trust but verify.”  That certainly is the more modern attitude.  We are much more skeptical of ideas, even if they come from kings because scientific thinking enshrines skepticism as wisdom.  Just because a king or even a saint says something doesn’t necessarily make it true – the ideas have to be tested against the evidence to be verified.  Great thinkers of the past may be well known, but their ideas are given regard only if they are proven to be true.  Aristotle is of great historic interest but he is no longer read or taught as offering real science.

This skepticism is part of what makes trusting religion so difficult for many modern people.  It is why modern believers if desiring to witness to the truth to non-believers must be so careful in what we say or do.  Every word and action of ours will be examined and efforts will be made to verify them.  If they can’t be verified that will lead to even more skepticism and disbelief.  We would be wise to remember the words of Christ: “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)

Thus it doesn’t help our cause in witnessing to the world to make dubious claims, or to point to miracles, real or imagined, as they won’t necessarily convince the skeptic.  At best they may cause them to seek verifying evidence, but more likely it will cause further skepticism and even distrust of Christians.  In an age of skepticism, witnessing to the truth comes to mean something different than it did for ancients who might more readily appeal to the reputation of saints and kings as proof of the claimed truths.  Probably our best witness is the lives we live,  not the miracles we claim.

If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.  (1 Corinthians 14:20-25)



Sharing the Good News of the Resurrection

“The next step must be to determine what in the way people speak and think in our world can be appropriated in order to convey our message, without perverting the message. That can be tricky, because it is easy to cross the line into someone else’s thought while trying to communicate in a way they can understand. The evangelist must be well rooted in the Faith before attempting this, no matter how skilled he is.

Preaching and teaching in the twenty-first century means consuming a lot of contemporary media, from internet blogs to magazines to novels, as well as the Scriptures and the Fathers, in order to communicate one to the other. If, to give only one example, Stephen Hawking and other representatives of the new atheism are allowed to keep the field of contemporary thought to themselves without any response, we have only ourselves to blame if non-believers simply assume this is the only way an intelligent modern person can think. Don’t assume faithful, pious Orthodox will not be affected by contemporary thought: they will simply compartmentalize their minds, keeping piety and thought separate, becoming schizophrenic Christians who assume the division between sacred and secular is perfectly normal. The reason-endowed sheep will cease to reason as Christians, whatever they may do when they show up on Sunday morning.” (Michael Keiser, Spread the Word, p 132-133)


After the New Testament: Proclaiming the Resurrection

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

This blog continues our consideration of Brian Schmisek’s book, Resurrection of the Flesh or Resurrection from the Dead and the development of Christian theology about the resurrection. The previous blog is The Immortal Soul and the Resurrected Body.

517l9p5ZBPL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The New Testament adhering to the Old Testament anthropology rather than to Platonism speaks of the resurrection from the dead, not of the immortality of the soul.  The soul-body dualism enters into Christian thinking as Christianity takes its evangelical message beyond its Jewish origins into the world of Hellenic philosophy.  As new adherents are converted to the faith, they begin to ask new questions about how to understand the meaning of the resurrection within the worldview of Hellenism and the Platonic assumptions which were so prevalent in the ancient world.   Schmisek writes:

“we find that neither “resurrection of the flesh” (anastasis sarkos) nor “resurrection of the body” (anastasis sōmatos) appears in the New Testament. Church fathers introduced each of those terms. Instead, in the New Testament one finds the term “resurrection of the dead” (anastasis nekrōn). Or even as some would translate: resurrection “from/out of the dead ones” (ek [tōn] nekrōn).”  (Kindle Loc. 1260-63)

Schmisek rightly notes the New Testament does not use the phrases the resurrection of the flesh or of the body.   However, clearly in John’s Gospel in the story of the Apostle Thomas (John 20:19-31), the resurrected Jesus invites Thomas physically to touch His body and to explore His wounds with his fingers and hands.  The Orthodox Church has certainly noted this Gospel lesson as teaching the resurrection of the flesh.  In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24:36-43), the risen Christ goes out of his way to show His disciples that He is not some ghostly apparition but that He has returned in bodily form and can be touched and is able to eat solid food.  So while the exact phrases about the resurrection of the flesh or of the body do not occur in the New Testament, the ideas for them are clearly there.  The Church Fathers simply applied phrases to describe what the Scriptures portray, they did not conjure up the idea of the resurrected flesh or body from thin air.

And, the Christian message was not frozen in the past.  The Christians weren’t even proclaiming that “Christ WAS risen…” but rather that “Christ IS risen…”  The Christians speaking in the present (in the present tense, as well as whatever contemporary time and place they found themselves in) continued to develop their understanding of the resurrection as well as the appropriate language (vocabularly) for preaching the Good News.   The proclamation that Christ is risen from the dead reflects the Old Testament understanding of the human being, the human body and the role of mortality.   It is not a proclamation of the immortality of the soul, nor does it accept a soul-body dualism.  The person who died is risen – a restoration of the person has occurred, and yet the Risen Christ manifests physical characteristics different than a “normal” human body.

“One sees the development that has taken place up to this point. Paul spoke of the resurrection in terms of “spiritual body.” The Apostolic Fathers stressed that Christ was in the flesh. Since he was in the flesh and rose in the flesh, Christians too will rise in the flesh. Tertullian began to read Paul as one who taught the resurrection of the flesh, even though the term appears nowhere in the Pauline corpus.

‘But when he calls Christ “the last Adam,” recognize from this that he works to establish with all the force of his teaching the resurrection of the flesh, not of the soul.’

It appears that an understanding of a fleshly resurrection arose because Gnostics and, perhaps, other non-Christians were denying the resurrection … ”  (Kindle Loc. 393-99)

In a dualistic world in which the body was deemed superfluous if not evil, Christians wanting to emphasize both the incarnation of God in Christ and the goodness of creation itself, began to emphasize more the resurrection of the flesh.  This message was understood as being consistent with the Gospel and necessary for refuting dualism.  So St. Augustine trying also to affirm the rational and reasonable claims of the resurrection writes:

“Therefore this earthly material, which becomes a corpse when the soul leaves it, will not at the resurrection be so restored that as a result those things which deteriorated and were turned into various things of different kinds and forms, although they do return to the body from which they deteriorated, must necessarily return to the same parts of the body where they originally were. Otherwise, if what is returned to the hair is that which repeated clippings removed, and if what is returned to the nails is that which frequent cuttings have pared away, then to those who think, the image becomes gross and indecent, and for that reason it seems to those who do not believe in the resurrection of the flesh to be hideous. But just as if a statue of some soluble metal were melted by fire, pulverized into dust, or mixed together into a mass, and a craftsman wanted to restore it from the same quantity of matter, it would make no difference with respect to its integrity what particle of matter is returned to which part of the statue, provided that the restored statue resumed the whole of the original. So God, the craftsman, shall restore wondrously and ineffably the flesh and with wonderful and ineffable swiftness from the whole of which it originally consisted. Nor will it be of any concern for its restoration whether hairs return to hairs, and nails to nails, or whether whatever of these that had perished be changed into flesh, and be assigned to other parts of the body, for the providence of the craftsman will take care lest anything be indecent.”    (Kindle Loc. 600-611)

Obviously even in the ancient world they wondered about how  “scientifically” the resurrection could restore a body that had decomposed to its various elements.  The resurrection needed to make sense to all and had to be defended in philosophical (read “scientific” for the ancients) terms.  In what manner the elements composing a body were related to the person (mind, soul, self) and how they would all be recomposed in the resurrection were thus essential questions being asked of Christians proclaiming the resurrection.  It wasn’t enough for the Christians to preach the Gospel, they had to be able to defend and explain the philosophical and scientific implications of the resurrection to people whose anthropology was different from the assumptions of the biblical texts.

“Augustine claimed that had Adam obeyed God, he would have inherited a spiritual body as a reward for that obedience: ‘however, the first man was from the earth, earthly. He was made into a living being, not into a life-giving spirit, for that was saved for him as a reward for obedience.’ Thus, at the resurrection human beings will not have the body of the first man before sin, because the first man did not have a spiritual body. Augustine cited 1 Corinthians 15:45 to prove that Adam was a living being, while Christ, possessing a spiritual body, was now a life-giving spirit. The spiritual body is a priori, not the body Adam possessed before the Fall. We are not at all to think that in the resurrection we shall have such a body as the first man had before sin; nor is that which is said, ‘As the earthly one, so also those who are earthly,’ to be understood as that which resulted by the commission of sin. For it must not be considered that prior to his sin he had a spiritual body, and that because of the sin it was changed into an animal body. For if this is thought to be the case, then the words of so great a doctor have been given scant attention, who says, ‘If there is an animal body there is also a spiritual, as it is written, The first man Adam was made a living being.’”   (Kindle Loc. 563-73)

The proclamation of the Gospel, that Jesus is risen from the dead, thus raised many significant philosophical and scientific questions which the Christians had to be able to answer to convince their fellow citizens of the truth of Jesus Christ.  Witnessing to the resurrection was one thing, but the Christians had to convince their pagan neighbors that the resurrection was possible, reasonable and rational.  So too, we Christians must be able to speak about the resurrection to people who embrace a modern, scientific understanding of a human, of the body, of the role of death.

“We live in a postmodern era; we know more about the world and how it works than the ancients did. Yet the theological task, like that of our ancient forebears in faith, is to express Christianity in terms the modern culture can understand and find meaningful. Clement did this when he likened resurrection to a phoenix rising from its ashes. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and the apologists did this when they cast Christianity in terms of Greek philosophy and thus wedded body-soul anthropology with Christian faith. Augustine did this when he expressed Christian faith in terms of neoplatonic philosophy. Aquinas did this when he recast Christian faith in light of Aristotelian philosophy and the science of the thirteenth century. This is the enduring theological task: to cast Christian faith in the language, terms, and culture of the day. … It is not sufficient merely to quote ancient formulas to modern people who do not share the philosophical presuppositions of the ancient world. We must tap into the fundamental beliefs of our forebears in faith and express that faith in language intelligible to our generation.”  (Kindle Loc. 2241-52)

Believing Christians today may be so awed by the miracle of the resurrection that they forget others can view these claims not from the point of view of divine intervention, but purely from the point of view of secular materialism or from some other philosophical point of view such as that of the Eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism.  These people will want to know how our claims make any sense from what is known about the world, or how they help us make sense of this world.  And if they can’t make sense of our claims about a resurrection they will not even give Christianity another thought, and might, as our Christian ancestors discovered, rather turn such claims into a topic of derision among the intellectually astute.

“Ultimately, questions about the appearance of the resurrected body do not contribute to the profundity of the resurrection; rather, they drag it into the mire of the ridiculous, as Jerome (d. 420AD) himself experienced:

And to those of us who ask whether the resurrection will exhibit from its former condition hair and teeth, the chest and the stomach, hands and feet, and other joints, then, no longer able to contain themselves and their jollity, they burst out laughing and adding insult to injury they ask if we shall need barbers, and cakes, and doctors, and cobblers, and whether we believe that the genitalia of which sex would rise, whether our [men’s] cheeks would rise rough, while women’s would be soft and whether the bodies would be differentiated based on sex. Because, if we surrender this point, they immediately proceed to female genitalia and everything else in and around the womb. They deny that singular members of the body rise, but the body, which is constituted from members, they say rises.”  (Kindle Loc. 2683-91)

Teaching a literal resurrection of the body can raise questions of ridicule as is recorded in the Gospels themselves.  So we read in Luke 20:27-38:

There came to him some Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the wife and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and died without children; and the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.”

On the other hand, a metaphorical interpretation of the resurrection can cause people to doubt its truth and consider it pure worthless speculation.  A purely materialistic understanding of the resurrection will be confronted with the atheistic claims of  secular materialism.

Christianity has always known it must be bilingual – able to teach and proclaim the message of the Gospel AND to do it within the philosophical and scientific framework which governs the thinking of each different culture and generation.  The Church has shown itself able and willing to undertake this evangelical task and has handed on to us Orthodox today that continued task.

Sunday Themes for Great Lent

Typikon DecodedWhile there is a popular notion about the unchanging nature of Orthodox liturgical practices, any study of history shows that Orthodox liturgical practice has undergone numerous and significant changes over history.  One area where we can note significant change is the themes assigned to the Sundays of Great Lent.  The big change in Sunday lenten themes begins in the 12th Century when Sundays of preparation were introduced into the liturgical practice.  This somewhat further lengthened the time of Great Lent and these additional pre-Lenten Sundays found their way into the Triodion, the Liturgical book guiding Great Lent.  According to Archimandrite Job Getcha in his book, THE TYPICON DECODED (p 38), The Ancient Triodia of the Orthodox Church had the following themes for the Sundays of Great Lent:

1]  Sunday of the Holy Prophets

2]  Sunday of the Prodigal Son

3]  Publican and Pharisee

4]  Good Samaritan

5]  Rich man and Lazarus

6]  Palm Sunday

The themes were all based in Scripture.   At some point, maybe about the 12th Century, the Gospel lessons associate with these themes were moved, some to the Sundays before Great Lent.  In their place, a lectionary taken from Mark’s Gospel became the determining factor for the Gospel lessons each Sunday of Lent.

Evangelist Mark

The Lenten Triodia apparently underwent further change so that by the 14th Century new themes emerged to form the Contemporary Triodia.   For one thing a pre-Lenten Preparatory Period was added to the Church Calendar.  These are, for those in the Orthodox Church, the now familiar pre-Lenten Sunday themes:

1] Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee

2]  Sunday of the Prodigal Son

3]  Meatfare Sunday

4]  Cheesefare Sunday

The Meatfare and Cheesefare themes are not Gospel themes, but, of course, there are Gospel lessons on these Sundays (Last Judgment and fasting).  The themes seem to reflect a more monastic development.  One might say the Church began emphasizing more Lent and fasting as themes in their own right.  Some modern critics would say the emphasis moves away from Christianity to churchianity.   The practice of the religion is being emphasized more in the Church’s message.

The ancient themes of the Lenten Sundays which were displaced to before Lent, were replaced by the following themes in the contemporary Tiodia:

1]   Sunday of Orthodoxy

2]   St. Gregory Palamas

3]  Veneration of the Cross

4]  St. John Climacus

5]  St. Mary of Egypt

6] Palm Sunday

One can see what is happening:  the expansion of Great Lent by creating the Preparatory Sundays, and then transferring what were the original and ancient Lenten themes to the Preparatory Sundays.  What in the ancient church were the main themes and emphases of Great Lent get moved to before Lent, as they are seen as really only preparing the faithful for Lent.  Lent is about something else which the ancient themes no longer reflected.  Scriptural/ Gospel themes for Great Lent are replaced by new Lenten themes which are mostly monastic.

It could be argued that the first two themes (Sunday of Orthodoxy/ Icons and Gregory Palamas) represent theological issues/ triumphs, but these were theological issues which had heavy monastic support.    The replacement of the original Scriptural themes after the 12th Century with monastic themes is consistent with other liturgical changes that take place at the same time in Orthodoxy reflecting the ever increasing monastic influence over Orthodox liturgical practice.

The use of the Markan lectionary in Great Lent strikes me as in some ways being more catechetical.  The focus of them is on teaching, “who is Jesus?”    That seems to me to be what the question both the Epistle and Gospel lessons is answering.  But the monastic Sunday themes reflect the dominance monasticism had over Orthodox liturgical life, Orthodoxy spirituality and the Church itself at this point in Orthodoxy’s history.  The ancient “cathedral” rite and the liturgical practice which governed the non-monastic churches will disappear, and monastic practice will come to dominate the Orthodox Church.

There may be pastoral reasons why this occurred, but I don’t know exactly why the changes occurred.  Archimandrite Job’s book explains the changes but doesn’t tell us completely why the changes occurred.  What is clear is that the unchanging nature of the Orthodox Church isn’t its liturgical practice.  One would hope the liturgical changes were done to try to preserve the unchanging theology and Gospel of the Church.   What might be interesting for some future Great Council of the Church is to discuss the reasoning behind all of the liturgical changes which occurred beginning in the 12th Century that led in the next couple of centuries to the monastic take over of church life and practice.  It would be good to discuss the disappeared cathedral rite and the “secular” parishes which once predominated in Orthodoxy.  How can we best serve the contemporary membership of our Church?  The Church’s liturgical life has undergone great changes over time so there should be no reason why we can’t discuss today what liturgical practice is best for the catechetical and evangelical work of the church in the 21st Century.


Orthodoxy and the Salvation of the World

“We have to say that if Jesus was not the redeemer of all human beings, then he redeemed no one. The gospel is for all human beings. It is sometimes said that Orthodox Christians do not proselytize, and if that means that we do not apply coercive pressure on people to join us – that is true – or it should be. But it is our duty as Christians to let others know what we believe to be a matter of life or death and leave them free to respond. Here we must take some personal responsibility: it is one thing to preach the gospel and another to live it. When our lives contradict what we preach, we should not be surprised that those to whom we preach are not impressed by what we say. We do not know, or claim to know, God’s will for those who do not accept the gospel, except to say that God is a merciful and loving God who draws all people toward eternal life, and we can leave it to God to do that, in God’s own way. But we are obliged to bear witness to the gospel by living it and by preaching it.” (John Garvey, Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions, p 19)

Parables, Evangelism and Planting Seeds

“It is impossible to convert or persuade by mere dogmatizing or ranting. No amount of mere statement, no ‘spoon-feeding’ (as every teacher knows) will achieve this end. There is nothing for it but to sow ‘seed-thoughts’ – to set something germinating in the hearers. If they respond, they begin to be ‘inside’, they ‘come for more’; if they pay no heed – or for as long as they pay no heed – they are self-excluded. Hence the use of parables.” (C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament, pp 150-151)

St. Basil’s Parable of the Bee

“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)

Great Commission

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.