Offering Our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America (part 4)
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios
Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of four articles by Archbishop Demetrios in a series on the theme of this year’s Clergy Laity Congress in Los Angeles.
In acknowledging the significance and the meaning of our theme of the 36th Biennial Clergy Laity Congress, Offering Our Orthodox Faith to Contemporary America, we have affirmed both the priority of offering and the tremendous content and quality of our Orthodox Faith. Offering is the manner of life, being, and relationship of the Orthodox Christian, and what we offer has been granted to us by God to guide us and others unto abundant life (John 10:10), and ultimately, unto eternal life.
To offer, though, and to have something to offer, signifies several things. First, it is a recognition of the value of what is offered. “What I have is worthy of sharing, so I will do so.” Second, and more important to our understanding of our sacred mission, is our awareness of those in need. To offer is to know that we live in a world, a country, and a society where the needs are immense. To offer our Orthodox Faith is to affirm that what we have is appropriate and indispensable in addressing these needs and in bringing truth and life to those around us.
When we offer our faith we believe that Christ and faith in Him are able to satisfy the longings of human beings in an enduring way. We know and we celebrate that this offering brings salvation to all suffering under sin and evil. We are assured that our Orthodox Faith offers a sure foundation that upholds the potential of the heart and mind, that fosters acceptance of others and concern for their lives, and that leads people beyond themselves to true communion with God and one another.
The question, then, is to whom do we offer our faith. In following the Great Commission of our Lord, we are sent to make an offering to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19), to be His witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In terms of our theme for structuring this Congress, the focus has been placed on Contemporary America. How do we define contemporary America? How does this American context affect the message and the means of our offering? Who or what should be our primary concern? What is the role of each Orthodox Christian in making this offering a reality?
What is Contemporary America?
We could define Contemporary America in very broad, recognizable ways that show the uniqueness of this country within our modern world. America could be described as the wealthiest, the strongest, and the most technologically advanced country in the world. Politically, our country could be identified as providing the most freedom, the best democratic system, and the highest levels of civic involvement and responsibility. Demographically, we could show that America is a nation of nationalities and the most pluralistic society in the world in terms of religious association. In this line we could continue with economics, scientific and medical advancement, law, etc.
We could also choose to address many of the difficult issues and challenges that define life in contemporary America. Some of these include moral crises that lead to the devaluation of the human being and to the destruction of life. Some of the challenges include the material things that enslave the minds and hearts of many people so that their relationships and abilities are limited. Other issues involve the lives of our youth and children who are facing a rapidly changing world, often in the midst of family crises. In addition, are attitudes and modes of being that perpetuate superficial relationships, excessive self-dependence, and a negation of anything that is related to God or that is truth. Further, in the aftermath of September 11, a defining event of contemporary America, is the experience of living under the threat of terrorism, knowing that personal and familial well-being are challenged in yet another way.
In thinking about the implications of the blessings and challenges of living in America, or in reviewing examples that illustrate much that is good as well as much that reflects the fallen nature of our world, one could easily raise again our questions of how we offer. The clarity of this task comes, however, when we see that all of the above are the conditions, the context in which we offer. All of these affirmations, facts, issues, and struggles affect the lives of each one of us and of those around us. This is the reality of where we live. These are the issues that challenge us on a daily basis, that affect our families, that influence our perceptions and decisions. These are the obstacles that have to be overcome. These are the uncertainties that must be faced. These are the resources that should be used wisely. This is the country, this is contemporary America in which we live, work, and worship, and it is within this context and to those with whom we share it that we must offer our Orthodox Faith.
How we offer our faith in Contemporary America?
The context and conditions of contemporary America do affect the manner in which we offer our Orthodox Faith. First, we are aware of these conditions, and as disciples of our Lord who are sent to help others and share His redeeming love, we recognize the needs that are inherent both to human life and to life in America.
It is important to recognize that we do this in a society that grants us the freedom to share our faith and to meet the needs of others. This freedom can and has been dangerous to the ministry of the Gospel when it leads to apathy. However, as Orthodox Christians with a tremendous offering to make, we must see that we have the greatest potential to offer. Our ministry, our parishes, and our outreach are expanding at a critical time in the life of our nation. More and more resources are available to enhance our programs and strengthen the work of our Hierarchs, Priests, and Laity.
Thus, the time and the challenge to offer is before us. We must fulfill our calling and answer the challenge by offering ourselves, our gifts, and our resources in true, unique, and effective ways. We offer in truth through the content of our faith, but more specifically through the life, worship, and fellowship of our parishes. Within and through the community of believers gathered in locations throughout this country, others must see the truth of God and the beauty of our faith exhibited in our worship. They must see the love of Christ offered through our fellowship and shared ministry. They must know that what is shared among brothers and sisters in Christ has the power to transform lives.
Our offering must be transmitted in unique ways. We live in an age where people are fascinated and captivated by technology and change. Certainly, this can be devastating to spirituality; however, it can also be the means by which a life encounters our Orthodox faith. As faithful stewards of the resources of this world, we must employ technology to share the message of truth. In addition, our Hellenic heritage, a heritage of superb and most effective communication constitutes a unique resource. Within our parishes, departments, and institutions we must also be aware of methods that can be used to enhance our work, expand our reach, and facilitate our ministry.
Our offering must be effective. We do not measure our success in numbers, though. One will plant. Another will nurture. Someone else will cultivate. And yet another will harvest. The priority is that we offer; and in offering we give ourselves completely to the service of the Lord, we pray and we strive to grow daily in our faith and witness. When we allow ourselves to be used by God for His work, we will be effective—effective in being "God's fellow workers" (I Corinthians 3:9).
Who is Contemporary America?
As Orthodox Christians we know that we must offer our faith, and we know that we must labor to live this faith and grow in our knowledge and understanding of it. We also know the context in which we must share it, i.e. contemporary America. This is no neglect of the Commission to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. However, our work here will be the foundation, the support, the impetus for our work all over the world.
We know the context of what is Contemporary America. But it is also important to ask: Who is Contemporary America?
Contemporary America is your son or daughter, your spouse or family member to whom you have the responsibility to nurture in faith and the life in Christ, so that they are equipped to face each day and the future with the strength and assurance that comes from a strong relationship with God.
Contemporary America is your neighbor whom you know or should know, who may share with you concerns, struggles, and joys in life, giving you the opportunity to listen, to love, to share.
Contemporary America is your co-worker who will benefit from your godly example of life and conduct, who longs for something stable and true, who may have deep pain but needs someone to trust.
Contemporary America is the family in your community that is Orthodox but does not come to the church and perhaps is waiting for someone other than the priest to visit, call, or invite.
Contemporary America is the person who lives near you or near your church who does not associate with any religious group and is in need of contact and would perhaps respond to people who love and show concern.
Contemporary America is that person who has special needs but lacks the resources or assistance to do the tasks that we take for granted.
Contemporary America is the child or young person who needs your time and attention because they have no one at home.
Contemporary America is the person sitting next to you in the pew at church who is suffering through a hardship of life and who needs to know that you are praying for him or her.Contemporary America are the persons you do not know who may one day in heaven thank you for your witness and offering that led them to live forever in the immensity of the love of God and the eternity of His joy.