Cattle Drive, Fort Worth Stockyards, April 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Put some wheels on it...

I don't like to be negative. I really don't. It's not nearly so fun, but sometimes you've just got to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes.

I have a problem with the Orthodox Church. Yes, I'm an Orthodox priest... but I have a beef and I don't think it's a trivial problem. For what I'm about to say, I will admit that there are some notable exceptions. However, I believe (through experience and living as an Orthodox since 1991) that this is largely true.

Okay. Here's the problem. As Orthodox our theology is magnificent. Our spiritual theology and ascetics are a blessing. Our liturgical life is inspiring (although I must admit that I greatly miss my western liturgical life which is equally true and Orthodox, about this more anon). But we seem too often to be like a marvelous luxury car set up on blocks in the garage. Everything is in working order, gas in the tank, but there are no wheels on the blasted thing.

Theology, spirituality, liturgy are absolutely an essential part of Christianity, but we also need to get up off of our depository muscles and get busy in the society and culture we find ourselves right now. There are countless people who need our guidance and our correction (that's not very popular, but there you have it). We don't speak out. More specifically, our bishops are silent. It chaps me no end.

Why can't we speak out about abortion, homosexuality, pornography, responsibility with our money (and I don't just mean auditing church accounts here, I mean what is the real Christian sense of money and how does that relate to stewardship, economic policies in the government, the banking world and what are our responsibilities as Christians?). Can Orthodox Christians support a government that provides funding for abortions? I don't think so. I think we need to work against that with everything we have. Murder is murder.

I'm told, and this may be one of those editorial rumors that are so common in the Church, but it has the ring of truth, that the Greek bishops won't speak out about this because so many of the very wealthy Greeks support abortion. What ever happened to the courage of Saint John Chrysostom who spoke out against Empress Theodora? The gospel demands more.

And we Antiochians are no better. I'm told that some of our hierarchs gleefully passed out bumper stickers for our current President when people visited them. I was scandalized. He had already publicly stated he would support abortion and proved it by aiding legislation in Illinois that would protect partial birth abortion. Can our bishops support such policies? They may not have approved of McCain (I wasn't overly enamored with him either), but to participate in the campaign of a candidate without even a caveat is morally bankrupt. There have been no statements since about condemning these policies from our hierarchs... any of them, and I love our bishops.

Homosexuality? Seems pretty darned clear in the Scriptures. The Orthodox Church (like abortion) has an absolutely clear and unsullied mind about it. But it took a bill in California to force our hierarchs to say anything about it. Why?

All of this is endemic to a couple of problems. We have lived comfortably in ethnic ghettos for too long, preserving a cultural identity and failing to bring the gospel to all nations. The Gospel is the love of Christ. It is Christ himself. And we must begin to make the light of Christ known in all areas of life. That's the commonest statement about Orthodoxy, it's a way of life. We need to put some wheels on it and let it out of the garage. Let's let Life enter this living death we call life and bring hope, truth, mercy and love.

Now, I'm not a liberal Christian whose notion is the social gospel. I'm familiar with that and too often that goes to far and loses its foundation in Christ becoming little more than social activism. But all of this is not optional stuff. It is essential to the Gospel itself. It is of the essence of the Church, for we are called to be the light of the world, to be in the world but not of it. When we fail to engage the issues of our day with the eternal light of the Gospel, then we fail to be the Church.

Yes, ontologically we are the Church. But our spiritual theology requires synergy with God in all aspects of our lives. There is no separation between the Church and our daily lives. That's functionally the heresy of Nestorianism. If we are not in monasteries, then our work will necessarily involve the world, the culture and politics of where we live. Ironically, the most incarnated priest I know of is a monastic priest who happily went to help organize concern for black gangs and illiteracy among hispanics. He is neither, but the Gospel requires his efforts. I said there are exceptions...

As Orthodox we must be given marching orders by our hierarchs to do the work of Christ in this world in all areas. When Christ said the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church, it wasn't stated in a defensive attitude as though we would be protected. Rather, it is that hell has no protection against the movement of the Church!

We need to get out of our Cedar's clubs, and our Russian clubs, and Hellenic clubs and get on with being the Church right here and right now. Otherwise, we shall no longer be the Church and what we have shall be taken away from us.

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