Who are we? It seems that the devil has just called us out on the very way that we build God’s kingdom. At a very precise time, Satan manipulated the secular governments of the world to pull the rug out from under our feet. We built temples all over America and other non-Orthodox countries only to have them closed on us in a matter of days. Sure, we could likely get them back open if things settle. But where does this leave us? Who are we? Have we really been building Orthodox community like we should have been? Or have we simply been building “better” worship services and doctrine than the west offers? Is the gospel primarily about reception of the Eucharist or is the gospel about much more than that?
There are many things that the early, Pre-Nicene Church retained as she grew from the persecuted Church to the Imperial Church. She retained the personhood of Christ and all of the doctrines that were attached to that. She retained the way we worship and pray, but she also retained something that is extremely important in the Christian faith: Community.
When Christ commanded us to love our neighbor, to feed the poor, to not chase after wealth, and to turn the other cheek, he was not teaching us these things for the sake of an intellectualized dogma-message, rather, these things were meant for us to use for actual community.
In Acts of the Apostles, Chapter Four, we see how this fleshed out, where the entire Church sold all they had to “have all things in common.” There are some modern day scholars and teachers that claim this was for the sake of persecution, and certainly this is true…The Church had to take extreme measure to stand against the pagans of that time. But what happens when we are not being persecuted like that of the first three centuries? Are we to abandon community simply because there is no one being slaughtered in our immediate area? Or was Christian community meant to have a much deeper meaning behind it? If we look to Christ and what he commanded from us, we can indeed see that community is far more than about escaping persecution, or somehow saving our flesh.
We do not need to rebuild a “Byzantine,” imperial community. This would be ideal, but it’s not necessary. The necessities of Christian community revolve around the very way that the saints have traditionally evangelized:
The traditional way of evangelizing a community is with the help and support of the monastics. We can take St Herman and his monastic community within North America as a contemporary example. St Herman built mission through not just Eucharistic services and catechizing but through how Jesus taught us to build mission. He labored through gospel relationships by organizing a school, caring for the sick and the poor, as well as offering prayer and Eucharist. This is how Orthodox have always built missions. But this is not how America has been building mission in recent times. We have been building a more cathedral, imperial model, as if Orthodox community is already established here in America. And now it has been swept out right from under us in this virus situation.
Are Modern Societies Restructuring our Faith?
Take a close look at the definition below, found in the latest Webster’s Dictionary. One cannot help but notice how modernized the definition is, offering the traditional definition (Number 1) and the modern (Number 2).
1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
“Rhode Island’s Japanese community”
|.a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”The sense of community that organized religion can provide”|
Here is the 1828 Webster Dictionary definition:
2. A society of people, having common rights and privileges, or common interests, civil, political or ecclesiastical; or living under the same laws and regulations. This word may signify a commonwealth or state, a body politic, or a particular society or order of men within a state, as a community of monks; and it is often used for the public or people in general, without very definite limits.
There seems to be some confusion amongst us, today! We have gone from understanding community in a very real way to understanding it in a very artificial way, as Christians. We have somehow been divided by someone or something and we have actually been accepting it, especially in the West (with America as the heartbeat of this acceptance).
- Is community a real concept, where people actually organize their lives together, forming villages and even entire nations? Or is community something that only involves our senses, as the modern definition above suggests it can be?
- Can community be either one of the two definitions? If so, how do we reconcile almost two thousand years of the traditional definition?
- Why are western – especially American – Christians not willing to embrace the traditional definition?
The Ultimate Deception
The ultimate deception of our age involves us becoming numb to what the Christian life is all about, and that is to be the salt of the earth. When Christ commands us to be the salt and light of the earth, he does not ask us to establish good feelings of community, he commands us to build actual community. This is why the Church became an empire, and continued to grow across the earth as an empire for many centuries. We are called to evangelize people into a very movement that is both spiritual as well as existential. Christ does not call us to form “a feeling of fellowship with others” as the modern definition states.
No Christian will deny that our good feelings and postures are to manifest into good works, but many, I think, will deny that these good works manifest into even the very risk of martyrdom! Imagine if the early Christians were not willing to be martyred. Imagine if they simply submitted to the Roman government and only became a ceremonial community. Imagine if they did not insist that the community at large be infiltrated by Christ’s community. This is what they did: they refused to allow the government to place Christ as just one of the many pagan gods. They refused to give allegiance to the state, rather than the community of Christ. They could have escaped much persecution if they just bowed to the pagan czar, and then walked out of the court believing that bow was only “outward,” and that the real work was to evangelize into a ceremonial community alone!
When we read the stories of the early martyrs we see how men and women stood for the very advancement of real and living community, a community that was interdependent on one another; where Christians were dedicated to much more than a system of feelings brought on by modern leaders within the given society.
So, what do we do? We cannot all move to Greece or Russia to help them revive. We really cannot even take a stand for “the east,” within America. We cannot say “I stand for Russian, etc.” The reason is that Russia may or may not make it back to being the empire of Christ. Prophesy says they will for a short time, but where does that leave us Western people, if it is only temporal, just before Christ’s return? Our identity is not wrapped up in what will one day come to pass, but it is wrapped up in what we actual do with each day of our lives.
Does this leave us to just throw in the towel and enjoy what many Americans believe to be the “freedom” that God has given us through Walmart, Costco, Hollywood, etc? Or does it perhaps leave us with making serious and positive changes in our lives, regarding our family and church? Whatever this may look like in each of our lives, it is likely going to revolve around something that the current secular culture does not approve of. The road is narrow, and there are few who find it, Christ says!