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Responding to God with Those Who Are Joining Us

by His Grace Bishop John, from The Word Magazine, January-February 2017

Social scientists have been telling us that people are more and more interested in being spiritual, and less and less interested in following organized religion. Many want to have a relationship with god, but on their own terms. They want lots of nice feelings, assurance of some kind of salvation and a comfort in an enlightenment that they can control. In such a system, every one chooses how to be spiritual and makes up the rules.

Christian societies seem to have begun with a faith tradition based on Christ's Incarnation, which joined God and man, and developed into fractured and multiple churches with choices, and then to an individualized religion, in which everyone picks and chooses what to believe. At this stage, human beings attempt to dictate to God the "rules of engagement." How ironic it is that this development brought people back to what Christians call the original sin of Adam: that is, Adam choosing to be equal to God and needing no one greater than himself! From my vantage point, this is no development, but a great regression.

Like Adam Roberts and those who have been working on our Archdiocese's "Becoming Truly Human" ministry project, I have been paying attention to those who have been finding Orthodoxy. I say finding, because most have found us, rather than coming as a result of our meager efforts to evangelize. In listening to their stories, it seems that they have followed the world through the so-called "development" described above, which left their hearts wanting more. They have been looking for God, His message of love and abundant life, and service through caring for their neighbors. According to their own accounts, unable to find this authentically in the denominations or in Eastern religions, they have discovered Orthodoxy either through study of the early Church, stumbling upon it at an ethnic food festival, being invited by a co-worker or neighbor to a wedding or baptism, or perhaps just by walking past an odd looking building and taking a peek in.

What does this say to our Church as we experience some of the same exodus from our churches as our heterodox neighbors? Is it possible that somehow people who are in our church school programs, our SOYOs and camps miss the point that the Church is about joining us to God? Could it be that we haven't learned ourselves, and subsequently didn't teach our children, to pray as a dialogue with God which joins us to His very being? Have we forgotten that the Church is made up of relationships that let us encounter God, who is in our gatherings and midst? Could it be that our human fears bring us to worry more about recipes and the positioning of booths at the food festival, rather than doing what God calls us to do for the Kingdom? He calls us to live abundantly and to baptize all of the people of the world. He calls us to bring the world to God and God to the world. He calls us to show the world now the Kingdom to come!  Thy Kingdom come,  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9).

Adam Roberts shared with me a screen copy of the Becoming Truly Human DVD, which should be available through Ancient Faith Ministries of our Archdiocese before the printing of this editorial.  This DVD highlights the journey of a family that was once among those who had left organized religion and then found in Orthodoxy a way home. Parishes will be able to use this DVD as a discussion-starter with people who are seeking to understand what it means to be whole.  These people will hear the stories of others whose search for meaning in life has brought them to the Orthodox faith.  The DVD will come with a workbook. People from most of the Archdiocese's parishes have already been exposed to the project.  They have been schooled in how to present this material and conduct this ministry through guided listening and support, rather than by teaching or preaching. People that God is calling are already being guided by Him and we need to be supportive of His ministry, and not try to lead the process ourselves. God calls some people through beauty. We can do our part by getting rid of whatever in us is less than beautiful – that is, sin. Without an agenda, we can help others discover what God has delivered to us.

Those seeking God through beauty, understanding, or love, are all seeking union with God, a desire that God Himself has planted in every human heart. When we are at peace, we breathe God in and become able to listen. We hear His voice in the Scriptures and liturgy, and through people with whom we are in holy relationships. We as a church, and each of us as persons in the Church, are mystically wed to God, sharing time and perspectives, hardships and joys together. St. Paul says that Christ has espoused us, the Church, to be His bride. We, the Church members, know Him to be our Bridegroom.

How do we communicate these messages through all the noise and distractions of our modern world? How do we show one another that the perceived Christian messages that the world is rejecting are most often not our messages at all? How do we get the attention of those who have already been baptized, and those whom God is calling home, so that we can share the Gospel, that is, the Good News?

Certainly I have more questions than answers. Yet as we begin a new year, it is my hope that these questions might lead to discussions that, in turn, would help us minister in a more deliberate way. I hope, too, that we can contribute together to building up the Holy Church, given and sancti ed by Christ our Lord. In the recent Feast of the Nativity, God joined Himself to mankind. By acting with deliberation, and paying attention to our God, may we resolve this year to be attuned to God in us: Christ in us and us in Christ.  This is who we were baptized and anointed to be.

Bishop John