“Walking the Talk” — The Moral Life
— Fr. Bohdan Hladio
March, 2009 A.D.
“A tree is known by its fruit; or, as we say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world. The war-time posters told us that Careless Talk costs Lives. It is equally true that Careless Lives cost Talk. Our careless lives set the outer world talking; and we give them grounds for talking in a way that throws doubt on the truth of Christianity itself.”
— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Religious faith which is verbally confessed, yet not practiced in deed, is nothing more than insufferable hypocrisy. As Christians our faith should inform and be evident in every facet of our life. As Christians, we are called to be examples of goodness, humility, and love. As Christians we are called to a higher standard of conduct – by the church, by our neighbours, and by God.
Family life offers excellent opportunities to manifest our faith. As a parent or child do I live a life of sacrifice and dedication? Is my home a “little church”, where the name of God is proclaimed and His commandments observed? Am I patient, kind, helpful and forgiving? Do I truly believe that marriage is a divine, life-long institution ordained by God, and that divorce is something permissible only as a last resort in extraordinary circumstances? After all, how can we as Christians expect our support for traditional marriage to be taken seriously if we de facto accept divorce as normal and practice or condone lives of nothing more than serial monogamy?
I am always edified when I hear my elderly parishioners tell me about their neighbours who are not Ukrainian or Orthodox but help them out by mowing their lawns, shoveling their snow, driving them to the doctor, etc. I am likewise pleased and proud when I discover that my own parishioners and their children do the same for their neighbours. As St. Paul says, we must “speak the truth in love” – and actions speak louder than words. Am I helpful and caring towards my neighbours? If not, what might they be thinking when they see me drive off to Church?
Hospitality is also important. It was a custom for the early Christians to have an extra mattress in the house for unexpected guests. Offering hospitality to the stranger is something we will be required to give an account of at the last judgment (cf. Mt. 25:35).
What about politics? Should Christians be involved in politics? As people who love their homeland it is perfectly normal that Christians be involved in politics. The important thing for us, whether as candidates for elected office, appointed officials, or simply voters, is to follow our conscience and the teachings of our faith in everything. It is impossible to be an “Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church” and an elected representative who votes in favour of abortion at the same time. Given the complexities of life and governance in a post-Christian secular society we are often forced to choose the lesser evil rather than the greater good. Our presence in the political arena, coupled with a firm Christian conscience, can only help society achieve the ideals of justice, respect, tolerance and peace.
What kind of witness do I offer at my job? Am I a good employee or employer? Do I give good value and do quality work? Am I honest and fair with my co-workers, employer, or customers?
One of the most striking ways we can witness to our faith is through our suffering. We live in a world which has no conception of the redemptive power of suffering. Fr. Alexander Elchaninov writes:
“There is no consolation for suffering except to consider it against the background of the ‘other world’. And this, indeed, is fundamentally the only correct point of view. If this world alone exists, then everything in it is absolute nonsense: separation, sickness, innocent suffering, death. But all these acquire a meaning in that ocean of life which invisibly washes the small island of our earthly being. Which of us has not experienced the breath of other worlds in dreams, in prayer? When a man finds in himself the power to acquiesce in the ordeal sent him by God, he achieves great progress in his spiritual life.”
As more people live longer the opportunity to suffer from age-related illnesses and conditions has become common. Familial and societal breakdown contribute to psychological suffering. Poverty and unemployment are great causes of physical, mental and spiritual anguish. Accepting trials without complaint; seeing in them a means of receiving grace; and not despairing in our sorrow or distress can be extremely powerful statements of our faith, hope, and trust in God when witnessed by non-believers.
Regarding Christian witness, we might simply ask “when other people look at me, what do they see? When I speak, what do they hear?” St. Isaac of Syria wrote that to see ourselves as we truly are is a greater miracle than raising the dead by our prayers. Many of us think we’re “good Christians”, but blessed is s/he whose spouse, child, neighbour, friend or boss looks at them and thinks the same thing.
A pious man once asked me — “if you were brought before a judge and accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” How many witnesses could you depend on?