Do I Love Him?Fr. Barnabas Powell
Why does a church exist? What is the purpose that drives a church community to continue from generation to generation? What is the motivating force that causes people to adhere and perpetuate this or that ideology, theology, practice, and behavior? And, why does a faith community survive from one generation to another?
Big questions. And I caution you against quick answers, because they are usually too shallow to actually answer the questions mentioned above.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I prepare to speak to a national group this summer concerning this very topic. And I’ve been doing some reading on the topic that builds on the central, driving, force behind why Orthodox on Purpose exists. Here’s a startling quote from an article on www,goarch.org: “…statistics disclose over 60% of Greek Orthodox families of the last generation and 90% of Americans with Greek roots are no longer in communion with the Church.” (http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/marriage/interfaith/guest-writers/challengeforGOC)
Demographic studies of similar groups suggest this is far from only a Greek American reality. It is the norm among most religious bodies in the West.
This suggests that the vivifying power behind a faith community’s success and perpetual existence doesn’t lie in merely perpetuating a strong connection to ethnic identity. To be sure, these strong connections can be very helpful, but they tend to run out of steam as ethnic identity passes into the third and fourth generation and so on. This has been the common experience of every defined ethnic group here in the USA.
So, what are the elements that transcend both time and place to perpetuate the faith “once, for all, delivered to the saints?” More and more it is clear that the key to passing on a robust faith lies in the faith itself, and not merely in the nostalgic attachments to memories of “how we use to be” and “what we use to do.”
Look at our Scripture Lesson today from Isaiah, the prophet. In Isaiah 49:6-10 the Lord declares that the People of God will be “…a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Listen to the Lord as He continues telling the People of God what they are to be to the whole world: “In a time of favor I have answered you, in a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, ‘Come forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways, on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall smite them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.”
What drives a faith forward is what makes our faith deep and substantial. What motivates us to do the hard work of purposeful Orthodoxy and overcome the constant temptation to reduce our faith to mere “window dressing” is the reality of our foundational purpose: We are meant to participate with God in the redemption of the whole creation. We are called to be the LIGHT that helps all humanity “see” clearly the path to peace and freedom and true eternal joy. We are meant to know God so well that we are comfortable enough being with Him we invite others by our simple existence in this world to Him!
Nothing less than this cosmic vision of our purpose will ever be strong enough to break the stranglehold of mediocrity so easily and hypnotically experienced by far too many of those who wear the name “Christian.” And we will never be able to see this cosmic vision of our true calling without first being in love. In love with Him Who first loved us.
And there is no time of year more powerfully designed by the Holy Spirit led wisdom of our Orthodox faith than this time of year to both create and renew that passionate love for God than now. We approach the Holy Week of our loving Lord where He will not just talk about His love for us, but dramatically display through His determination, courage, focus, and vision, just to what extent He is willing to go to heal the sickness in my heart and restore me to Him.
Today, my dearest, we can either turn a blind eye to reality, become angry that someone has brought our challenging demographics to light, or we can abandon that which enslaves the teeming power of our Faith to transform our lives and thereby transform the world. It all begins with a confrontation with myself: Do I love Him?