as an Orthodox Christian in America, about your country, there is something you might not have considered. If this country is to change we must evangelize and plant churches everywhere we can.
Yes, voting and being engaged in the political processes with a fully informed Orthodox Christian conscience is important. Still, healthy cultural change almost always comes from the bottom up and not the top down. Remember, the Roman Empire, consumed like our culture with bread and circuses, was transformed by everyday people of Orthodox Christian faith long before St. Constantine embraced the Faith as emperor. Often, in truth, it is the leaders in a society who are the last to change because their power and their livelihood is rooted in the old order.
However, each person who is won to Christ by our loving and truthful witness is a seed of change and each community we create, each church, becomes a collective expression of that change, the Kingdom of God, providing hope, sustenance, and witness to the light of Christ. The more of each the greater potential there is for not just personal but national transformation.
And so, despite the temptation, and we know the source of that temptation, to hunker down, see to only our own needs, and minimize what that temptation identifies as risk, we need to do something different, higher, and better. The whole thought of our Church in this land needs to be redirected towards mission and evangelism.
Long gone are the days when we could gather ethnics together and hope that they would have children enough to start and grow a parish. Indeed, many of the children we counted on to make this work have left the Faith entirely. Also gone are the days when we could hope to concentrate our people and resources in one large pool often at great distances from the actual or potential faithful. Those models have left us with a faith that is a distinct, and often largely unknown, minority in this country. Repeating those models won’t change that.
Please also understand that this country has long ceased to be a Christian country in any meaningful sense of the word. Ask yourself as you look around “Are the things you see happening indicative of a culture where Christian ideals are norms?” Don’t let the many churches you see lead you to overestimate the actual presence of the Faith. A good number of those communities are deeply compromised by the spirit of this age, others, including Orthodox ones, are asleep in the light and their lukewarm life means little even within their own walls. The truth is that America is a mission field, the largest English speaking pagan country in the world and a place where the practicing Orthodox Christian community is a small fraction of the whole.
Yet God is good and there is always hope.
It starts with prayer, the mere act of which draws us closer to God and helps us to see reality, as it were, through His eyes. As we draw closer to God we begin to understand the world around us as God does and when we begin to act on that vision we become transformed and in that transformation other lives begin to change as well.
For example, in drawing close to God we can begin to understand that the people around us, like we ourselves, have needs that only God can meet. The things of the Faith, things which our culture often sees as curiosities at best, become deeply meaningful and profound as we put them in to practice and our sharing them with others, even if they’re not from our tribe, becomes a joyful overflowing of the water of life we discover within us.
The changes will come in small doses at first, little flickering lights of people who desire God and who, in desiring God, begin to pray and live our Faith. In time the joy of this becomes contagious and person after person in even the most dry parish begin to be transformed and in that transformation the love of God within starts flowing out to others in word and deed. Eventually whole parishes awake from their complacency with a new vigor, a vigor that includes sharing the Faith with others and transforming communities. With many small nudges even the largest of ships can change direction.
As this holy fire spreads people, like the early Christians, will become unafraid of lovingly sharing the gift of Life they’ve been given. When the request comes to support a good work or plant a new parish they will respond with generosity and fervor. Large and wealthy churches will be embarrassed, in a good way, if they don’t support missions and church planting. Those who truly understand will actively seeking out people from within their own ranks to form the nucleus of new communities. Men who attend our seminaries to become Bishops and Priests will not be trained so much as maintainers of institutions as missionaries because, in truth, mission within and without the parish walls is both the command of Christ and at the core of life. Parish councils and leaders will include, as this wind of God blows free again, outreach to the world as part of the core of everything they do and the souls of their neighbors considered as worthy of time, effort, and resources, as their own.
I know some folks will be the first to say this can’t be done. I have no intention of changing their minds because only God can do that. At the same time there will be people reading this who understand and hope for exactly what I’ve been talking about because in truth none of this is original or exclusive to me. To those people I say this “Your hunger for God, for beauty and holiness in yourselves and the Church, and your compassion for those outside the walls of your parish is natural, normal, and, in fact, a mark of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.” Spiritual apathy, deadness, and accommodation, even if they are prevalent, are not the normal lot for Christians. Without judging others nurture the holy fire within you and give it away as often as you can to everyone without regard for what you see in them in the present. Lift up your church and your leaders in prayer and be the change God wishes you to be wherever you are.
Things are dicey now, for sure. At times it may seem hopeless but with and in God there is no such thing as hopelessness. We need to get busy, to lovingly reach out to our culture in crisis by sharing the Gift we’ve been given and as we do we ourselves and the world around can never be the same.