Why Are You Orthodox?Fr. Barnabas Powell
I was talking to someone the other day and we were discussing a fairly important subject when it dawned on me “We are not really speaking the same language.” It frustrated me and, I confess, I was at a loss as to how to bridge this gap in our understanding each other. You see, this person came from a vastly different place that I had. Our experiences were different. Our relationships were different. Our understandings were certainly different. And I was frustrated. Why doesn’t he get what I’m trying to say? Why can’t he see my point? Ugh!
Of course, my arrogance aside that someone should defer to my own opinion, this is a common situation when you are communicating with anyone. All of us are shaped by our past, our experiences, and our personal understandings. The hard work of communication means we will either “bully” others into seeing things our way, or we will choose to learn the power of persuasion to both try to understand where the other is coming from and then find the common ground necessary to move to a mutual agreement. This latter path is certainly harder and more time consuming, but love demands nothing less. I guess that’s why I am so disturbed by the societal and political discussions of our day. They seem to be based on bullying rather than an attempt at understanding. This will not end well.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 9:14-17:
At that time, the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guest mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. And no one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Jesus is making a very important insight into reality here. He declares that His very presence changes the situation completely. Of course it’s not everyday that God incarnates Himself in humanity and walks among us, so I guess I can understand the paradigm shift He means. But the Lord confronts the very foundation of the religious system of His day by using the very practical and common religious discipline of fasting. His disciples don’t fast the way John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast and that causes some conflict!
Jesus is saying to them and us that the fasting isn’t the problem; it’s the motivation and the timing of the fasting that is the problem. You see, the coming of Christ initiates what St. Paul called “a new and living way.” (Hebrews 10:20) And this new and living way doesn’t dismiss the discipline of fasting but transforms the motivation for fasting from mere rote habit to an actual participation with the Holy Spirit in the deifying work of God in my life. I fast, not to “please” God, but because I understand that training my desires to be disciplined and focused sets me free to become like my Lord. And being like my Lord means the family resemblance will be unmistakable on the “last Day.” No wonder the Lord warns against putting this “new wine” of insight and motivation into the “old wineskin” of mere self centered desire to “make God happy so He will give me a prize!”
Today, why do you call yourself a Christian? Why are you Orthodox? Is it just out of habit or the happy accident of your birth? Or are you beginning to realize that this “new and living way” Christ brings to us all really explodes the old ways of understanding what faith is all about. Isn’t it time for you and God to get on the same page when it comes to your motivation for your faith and your following Him? There is no way the “new wine” of this radical message of communion and transformation is going to fit in the “old wineskins” of thoughtless habit. If you try, you are going to ruin both! But, if you have the courage and humility to continue to become Orthodox on Purpose you’ll find the Spirit will make you a “new creature.” Well, are you coming or not?
P.S. I am so enjoying being at the Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting Conference at Antiochian Village. Meeting co-laborers in this filed of producing Orthodox Christian media is both invigorating and encouraging. Please pray for us as we meet!