Offering Our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America (part 3)
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios
Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
"Our Orthodox Faith"
Editor’s Note: This is the third of four articles by Archbishop Demetrios in a series on the theme of this year’s Clergy Laity Congress in Los Angeles.
The theme of our upcoming 36th Biennial Clergy Laity Congress in Los Angeles, Offering Our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America, directs us to focus on the purpose and importance of “offering”. Essential, though, to an act of offering and to a life of offering is what is offered.
As a person, each one of us is receiving life and salvation through our faith in God. As a community, the Body of Christ, the Church, we are led in the path of salvation through the worship, teaching, and manner of life that has been offered through the centuries. All of this is God’s offering to us through Christ and through the Church, and we know and affirm that this, Our Orthodox Faith, is what we must offer to others.
Our Orthodox Faith could be analyzed in two main areas. First, we start with the “our”. This “our” is a very strong component in what we offer. It introduces, in a very clear way, the personal character of what is being offered, i.e. personal faith. It is personal because it belongs to a history that is ours, of generations that have gone before us who shared in the same faith. In some instances, we may have direct connections with martyrs, saints, and great people of the Church. Thus, our faith consists of a lineage of people who experienced and bore witness of true faith.
Our Orthodox Faith is also a personal faith in light of our own experience. For each one of us this experience is similar in many ways and also different. Faith may be nurtured, experienced, or understood through an extraordinary liturgical or worship experience, through the struggles and challenges of life, and/or through some external event that we witness and that affects us deeply. There are many ways in which we affirm and experience faith as very real and very personal, as a very dynamic connection with God, the object of our faith.
An example of this in Scripture that we have recently celebrated in the liturgical life of our Church is the confession of Saint Thomas the Apostle (John 20:19-31). Following his Resurrection, our Lord appeared to His disciples as they were gathered together. He stood among them, offered peace, blessed and strengthened them with the Holy Spirit, and they rejoiced in His presence. However, Thomas was not with them. When the disciples reported all of this to Thomas he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in His side, I will not believe” (20:25). A week later as the disciples were gathered together again, this time with Thomas, Jesus appeared to them. Jesus, Himself, invited Thomas to touch His wounds and see that it was the Lord. Thomas had a tremendous personal moment of faith as he saw Jesus and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (20:28).
Here we see this “my”, the recognition that this Lord and this God is not an abstract, absolute being somewhere in a distant place, completely disconnected from the real needs of any one person. He is “my” Lord. I am personally experiencing His presence, His action, and His love which is extended to me in a very personal and intimate way.
Throughout the book of Psalms we find further affirmations of this personal nature of faith. The acclamations “My God” and “You are my God” again reveal direct, personal experience of God. This person is not talking objectively about the existence of God; he is calling out in pain to a God who hears and answers, or he is extolling in jubilation a God that is triumphant. Through all of these confessions we are offered a personal witness of the power and presence of our Lord.
This “our” is thus a critical component of the theme of the Clergy Laity Congress. The Orthodox Faith that we offer to those around us is first and foremost “our faith.” We must also emphasize further that this personal nature of our faith is combined with tremendous content and substance. Through our experience and the testimony of the Church we know that Our Orthodox Faith is a faith that is a guiding, healing, teaching, comforting, saving, and transforming reality. It is a faith that has been very clearly, very carefully and very beautifully formulated down through the ages as recording in the Old and New Testaments, explained and applied by the Fathers of the Church, declared by the Ecumenical Councils, and manifested in the lives of saints, martyrs, and multitudes upon multitudes of Christians. It is a faith that has a tremendously large and diversified content that responds to all the needs of life. It is a faith that addresses every aspect of our human existence. It is a faith that resonates with our intelligence, our heart, our will..
The challenge before us is to offer Our Orthodox Faith in its completeness and wholeness, with all of its integral facets, rather than offering something that is truncated or distorted. Thus, when we speak about offering Our Orthodox Faith we must talk about offering a faith which we know and experience, which we offer in its fullness, totality, and genuineness. This, of course, points directly and inexorably to the need for constant training and growth in our faith. There is a need to become more and more aware of the content of our tremendous treasure. There is a need for each of us to be able to know the basics from which we can offer a true witness to others, so that what we offer is clear and convincing. This does not mean that if we offer our faith genuinely and completely the result will always be the conversion of others. We know that our Lord had opponents who never accepted what He said. We also know the struggle of many other confessors of the faith down through the history of the Church.
The question is not that we have to offer Our Orthodox Faith in a way that will be by necessity convincing to all people, but the necessity is that we offer Our Orthodox Faith to all people in all of its power, beauty, clarity, truth, and love.