“Walking the Talk” — Epilogue Part I
— Fr. Bohdan Hladio
May, 2009 A.D.
High Heels or Hiking Boots?
People attend Church for many reasons – some because they love God; others because they truly believe in the teachings of the Bible, Fathers, and Saints; still others because they understand the need for worship, community, the sacraments, etc.
Some “do the right thing for the wrong reason” – they affiliate themselves with a Church, but strictly for reasons of culture, ethnicity, identity, language, music, art, ideology, nostalgia, or even to “lord it over” others by serving on council, in the altar, or as clergymen.
We belong to a Church and confess a faith which can positively influence our world, our communities, and our earthly lives. Ultimately, however, the only truly meaningful reason to confess the Orthodox Christian faith is because through it we are given the opportunity to experience resurrection to eternal life and the unending delight of God’s presence.
This Faith has been passed down to us by devout forebears who for the most part weren’t theologians, or philosophers, or great saints, just simple, pious people who believed in God, trusted His word, said their prayers, went to Church, and tried to follow His commandments.
It’s no secret that nowadays many Churches are losing members. Some individuals and ecclesiastical bodies attempt to respond to this challenge in a “modern” or “progressive” way, by drafting “vision statements”, “mission statements” and “strategic plans”, all hammered out and approved by “the membership” with the expectation that the existence of such statements and documents will somehow solve the problems which led to the decline in the first place.
While certain aspects of corporate business administration can be successfully integrated into certain aspects of Church life, the most important thing necessary for the Church to prosper is simply that the Church be the Church.
Our “vision statement” is the Gospel. Anyone can easily obtain a copy of the New Testament at their local book store. What do we find written therein?
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. . . for this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments”
(I Jn. 4:20–21, 5:3)
“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2: 15-16)
“Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Mt. 5:44).
If an atheist, or a communist, or a humanist were to read these words and then look objectively at my life, or the life of my parish or diocese, would s/he perceive congruence between the teaching of Christ and our conduct, or simply be struck by a feeling of cognitive dissonance?
The Church’s mission statement is found in the 28th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Mt. 28: 19-20).
This three-fold mission – evangelizing, sanctifying, and educating – is impossible if we, the members of the Church, are not “walking the talk”. We’ll certainly have no possibility whatsoever of convincing others (first and foremost our children!) to observe Christ’s commandments if we’re not observing them ourselves.
Our “strategic plan” consists of nothing more than living a pious life – going to Church, saying our prayers, remembering God, and observing His commandments.
Orthodox Christians don’t believe in “religion” understood as a human construct consisting of rituals, doctrines, and practices intended to help us find meaning in our lives. We believe in Truth. We believe in God.
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Saviour of mankind, the “Lord’s Christ”, the Messiah who took upon Himself the sins of the world – our sins. We unite ourselves to Him in His suffering for us in order that we might, having died with Him, be raised with Him. We believe that the Church is Christ’s body here on earth, the ark of salvation which nurtures us and leads us into the Heavenly Kingdom. Everything we do in our corporate and communal life should be rooted in and guided by these convictions.
Now step back for a moment and consider everything which has been presented in this column over the past eleven months – prayer, fasting, almsgiving, morality, worship, participation in the Holy Mysteries, etc. – and consider how closely it approximates the reality of your life, your parish, and your eparchy.
Common sense dictates that we should always try to do the right thing for the right reason. When we don’t, we always cause confusion, conflict, and chaos. This series of articles was motivated by experiences I and others have had with people who, while claiming to believe in Christ, act and speak ways which make you scratch your head and wonder how someone who does or says such things can claim to believe in God at all. After witnessing such conduct it would be easy to conclude that “if this is the result of Christian teaching I don’t want any part of it!”