Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Are Sheep Leaving the Church?

Dear all:

Of the reasons usually submitted on this subject, I don’t think any are particularly new. St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians clearly deals with factionalism, immorality, and disunity within the fledgling Church. The people who make up the Church have never been perfect, and they never will be. The First Century Church was able to grow in a world without religious freedom. We have religious freedom but can’t even fathom anything resembling growth. Instead the best we can do is “slow” the exodus. I for one believe the teachings of the Orthodox Church are objectively true; we are the Church that Christ established. That being said, what good is having the fullness of the Gospel in theory when in practice we are either ignorant of or simply don’t care about the real content of our Faith?

In my own spiritual journey I can honestly say I had no idea about my Faith until I made a concerted effort to learn about it on my own. I never learned about our Patristic mindset or monastic heritage until I encountered it in books first and then within my college Orthodox Christian Fellowship. I learned that there is an unbelievable depth to our Faith which spends most of the time sitting on the shelf. For example, within Orthodoxy we have innumerable Saints, Fathers, and Mothers of the Church who have had a hand in forming our Tradition. In actual liturgical practice though, we venerate about five. And while I’ve heard countless references to Gandhi from the pulpit; not once have I heard a mention of the venerable saints who really exist within our tradition such as St. John Chrysostom or the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.

There is much to be offered within Orthodoxy that simply does not get taught or actualized within our daily experience of the Church. How much have we emasculated the Sacrament of Confession by giving no-questions-asked absolution? We have neither interest in iconography nor any theological reasoning behind our Church art and layout. We don’t preach that each and every person can truly pursue a profound personal relationship with Christ within the corporate body of the Church. We have no catechesis program for new converts into the faith (especially by marriage), and we have rationalized our way out of doing any meaningful evangelism work. Therefore, I ask the question: Are people really leaving the Orthodox Church, or are they leaving a shell organization with the word “Orthodox” written on the sign outside?

I realize that I am, of course, painting with broad brush strokes and there are very many reasons to be optimistic. My point though remains the same: people don’t leave the Church because we are “too Orthodox.” They leave because we aren’t “Orthodox” enough and they get a stronger, clearer message elsewhere which gives them a better feeling of fulfillment. We have the tools within the Church, yet we need the resolve to act accordingly. Overcoming the language barrier is but the first step in the process. We can no longer be simply carriers of the Faith, but rather proclaimers of the Gospel as we believe it was really intended to be.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

St. Basil on "In the Beginning"

"Thus the writer who wisely tells us of the birth of the Universe does not fail to put these words at the head of the narrative. "In the beginning God created;" that is to say, in the beginning of time. Therefore, if he makes the world appear in the beginning, it is not a proof that its birth has preceded that of all other things that were made. He only wishes to tell us that, after the invisible and intellectual world, the visible world, the world of the senses, began to exist."
-St. Basil of Caesarea, Hexaemeron, Homily I

If "In the beginning God created," the presupposition must necessarily be that God existed even before time itself, in a manner of existence which must be beyond our understanding. This means that God does not "change" nor is subject to change, but works within the universe of time from outside of it.

We perceive God in time because we are created beings, but God Himself is beyond the beginning and end of things; He knew exactly that Adam would sin, and when he did sin God knew exactly how He would redeem humanity. He knows exactly what will become of each and everyone of us because all of time and space are held in His hand.

-Steve K.