AN APPEAL FOR THE ALL – AMERICAN COUNCIL
by David Barrett
Through the various media carrying news items about the Orthodox Church in America (including OCANews.org), it is apparent that many faithful are preparing for the 16th All-American Council, to be held next month in Seattle. It is equally apparent, from what has occurred during the past three years since the Council in Pittsburgh, that these same faithful are quite concerned over where our Church has been and where it is headed. To be sure, papers, agendas, and proposals are being planned in advance. To me, having kept abreast of the current affairs of our Church these past few years, it is also apparent that many of us have lost sight of what our Lord referred to as “the one thing needful” (Lk 10:42). This Reflection is a humble attempt to remind us of what we really need to keep in mind.
Having been in a few Orthodox parishes in my life, having visited scores of others during the 1998 Summer Octet from St Vladimir’s Seminary and witnessed the life in those parishes, and having followed numerous comments on this site and press releases on the official OCA website, I can safely yet sadly say that there is a real disconnect between what our Church teaches and preaches on the one hand, and what is believed and is the perspective of our Orthodox people on the other. This disconnect cuts totally across the board, from bishops to priests to deacons to subdeacons to readers and chanters to monastics to the laity. Most of the posts I have seen show a profound manifestation of this disconnect. Many comments do not even refer to Christ! And quite a few show that the authors of the comments have no personal knowledge of the Scriptures! As Fr Georges Florovsky once said, “The Orthodox have lost the scriptural mind!” What is needed over and above any plans, pamphlets, and programs, is a return to that “one thing needful!”
The central core of our Orthodox Faith, the nexus that is the root of our theology, and the foundational cornerstone upon which our Church is built, is the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father, Who was sent by His Father as the Life of the world! “For, God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life!” (Jn 3:16) Christ is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6). It is only through Him that we can have life: “And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God [the Father] and Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent!” (Jn 17:3) It is only through Christ that we can come to fully know God the Father: “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him!” (Mt 11:27)
Yet, how and in what manner do we come to know Christ? The answer is provided by St Paul, and is “the center of the center” of our Faith: “We preach Christ Crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). For us, that is not only the crux of the matter, but the complete content of everything: “For, I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified!” (1 Cor 2:2) The Crucifixion of this 1st century Jew, in a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem for six hours on a specific Friday, is the total and absolute content of what we believe and what we preach! The Cross is the center of everything: It adores our churches; we wear It around our necks; we bless ourselves and others with Its sign; we bow down and worship before It (the hymn, “Before Your Cross”); It has two of Its own feast days: the 3rd Sunday of Great Lent (at Lent’s center, to show that the Cross is the center of our Faith), and 14 September (at the beginning of the Church New Year, to show us that we begin our life of Faith with the Cross); It is placed at the highest point on our churches, at the tops of our domes and cupolas! We bless everything with the sign of the Cross: water, wheat, wine, oil, bread, our bodies, our food, our churches, our homes, any and all items that are blessable (Bibles, books, chalices, choir stands, automobiles, etc.). As the hymns of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) tell us, the Cross is called the invincible Weapon, the Adversary of devils, the Glory of martyrs, the true Ornament of the saints, and the Haven of salvation! And, it leads us to the Kingdom of God, the only place of authentic joy. As our liturgical hymns proclaim, “Through the Cross, joy has come to all the world!”
If, then, the Cross is the center of our Faith, the way to know God through Christ, and the road to the Kingdom, how do we travel that road in “this world?” How, with Christ as the Head of His Body, the Church, do we become authentic members of that Body? Christ Himself provides the answer: “If any one would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me!” (Mt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23) In St Luke’s Gospel, the addendum is “take up his cross daily.” We must daily surrender our will to the Father, as Christ did Himself (“Your will be done,” said by our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, and included in the Lord’s Prayer). This is enumerated many times by no one less than St Paul himself: “For, if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him” (Rom 6:5-6); “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20); “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24); “But, far be it from me to glory, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). It is this path that we took at our Baptism, and we need to daily actualize this in our lives: “We were buried, therefore, with Him by Baptism into death, so that, as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we, too, might walk in newness of life!” (Rom 6:4)
This, then, is the life we are called to. And, more importantly, this is how we daily actualize the life we are given by God. It is the center of our Orthodox Faith. May all of us, and especially those participating in our upcoming All-American Council, live the life of the crucified Christ, so that we may bear witness to the Kingdom of God, for the life of the world!