But They Are Supposed to Be Christians!Fr. Barnabas Powell
Otto von Bismarck once said, “There are two things you don’t want to see being made – sausage and legislation.” Why do I want to add “Because both are usually unhealthy.”
I find this also applies many times to the inner politics in churches. Too many times it isn’t a pretty picture.
All too often this describes the backroom politics of any organization. Watching how some groups work to lead their organizations can make you cynical and even scandalized. I heard as much about how the Church operates at times. Just read church history and you will uncover some very unsavory moments, even, and especially among leaders of the Church through the centuries. When I was just learning about Orthodoxy and church history, I confess, I was shocked at the behavior of some leaders in the Church through the centuries.
I was warned, “Stay away from the Greeks.” They will make you become ‘Greek’ before they let you be Orthodox.” As a priest in the GOA for 14 years, I can tell you this never happened to me. Now, I’m not saying I haven’t faced subtle challenges, but what do you expect from a community that has been persecuted and hounded for centuries? Still, I confess I’ve been scandalized several; times by the Church politics of we Orthodox.
And yet, the Faith, the Church survives the weaknesses of Her leaders. The Church survives the sins of Her priests and bishops and laypeople. The Church even thrives in spite of the mediocrity of we leaders from time to time, and even the desperate attempts to “maintain” our status no matter how much we have to compromise with the enemy to do so. How? Why?
Look at our lesson in Romans 11:2-12:
Brethren, do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs for ever.” So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean?
St. Paul tells the Roman Church that Elijah, one of the great prophets of Israel, actually asked God to judge Israel for their unfaithfulness. Elijah watched as the people chosen by God to be a witness of God’s Kingdom and love to the whole world seemed to be committed to doing the very opposite! They “killed the prophets” and “they demolished” the altars of God. Elijah was convinced he was the only “good” Israelite left. He had seen how unfaithful the People were even after God had preserved them and saved them and even established His Temple and Faith in their nation. He saw how they behaved, even the leaders, and he was convinced God should just forget about Israel. They were all bad!
He was wrong!
St. Paul reminds the Romans that God told Elijah that there was a “remnant” a group of people in the nation who were still faithful and that Elijah wasn’t alone in still loving and following God.
But then Paul tells the Romans an amazing truth! This whole sorted history has been used by God to open the door of salvation to those outside Israel! Amazing! What looked like a hopeless, all-bad, situation is actually a powerful expression of God’s love to take even the worst situation and turn it for good! And I love how St. Paul says that God brought the Gentiles into the Faith would “make Israel jealous.” Look, those strangers are embracing what we’ve taken for granted all these years! Perhaps we should get serious about our Faith! See, good news all the way around! Dear Orthodox, doesn’t that sound familiar?
The famous Monastery of Valaam was founded by Sts. Sergius and Herman. These two men were given the description of “Righteous Fathers.” They founded this monastery while they were sharing the Orthodox Faith with Finnish tribes in the area as they were being persecuted by the Swedes. This famous monastery became a center of monastic wisdom to this day and it shows that we Orthodox are willing to go anywhere to make anyone, no matter what their background is, part of our Orthodox Faith even in spite of our mistakes and our faults. God still uses us to enrich the world with the wisdom of the True Faith!
Today, are you tempted to despair when you see people in the Church acting in very unchristian ways? Have you fallen into the delusion that you are the only one left who really takes the Faith seriously? Well, not to worry. There are many like you and even those who seem to be strangers and “outsiders” who are discovering the Orthodox Faith and embracing it. Maybe it will make the lifelong Orthodox who seem to have forgotten their Faith wake up and start living a Normal Orthodox life!
P.S. You both appeared as true fulfillers of the Gospel of Christ, living for the sake of Christ as though the world and all therein did not exist. You both settled on an island in the sea, whereon you struggled assiduously against the invisible foe; by fasts, vigils, and all-night standing you wisely subjected your bodies to the spirit; for this cause did you receive worthy crowns from the right hand of the Almighty One. And now as you stand before the All-holy Trinity, O all-blessed Fathers Sergius and Herman, pray that we be preserved in peace and that our souls be saved.