More Strictness

I wonder sometimes why our churches are not growing more in America. The world is without hope, and the Church offers hope in Christ. The world is without light, and the Church offers the light of Christ. One would think that thousands would be flocking into the Church for light and hope. Yet, our churches in many cases remain small enclaves of faithful in an otherwise hostile world. This is exactly when the lives of the saints should inspire us.

Today is the Feast of Saint Efthimios the Great, who lived in 4th Century Palestine. Palestine, much like today, was the sight of constant upheavals between cultures and religions. Christianity might have been the official religion of the Empire, but in practice many still were unbelievers. I suspect it had a great deal in common with contemporary America. Christianity might be the dominant form of religion, but many Americans remain unbelievers.

When Saint Efthimios arrived in Palestine in 406AD, he became the leader of many monastics. I should point out that monasticism was in many ways the result of ‘legalized Christianity.’ As it socially easier for people to be Christians, many like in contemporary America, became Christians in name only, rarely attending Church services. Those seeking a life of “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me,” (Mark 8.34) and “he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10.39) departed for the desert to find their life in Christ, and many took notice.

It seems that when people take their faith serious enough to risk their life, people take notice. Prior to ‘legalized Christianity’ it was risky enough just to admit faith. Once the risk was removed, monasticism became the mode of struggle. It was also then that the Church began to establish strict canons of behavior for members of the Church. An honest review of Church history reveals a divide between strict adherents and members ‘in name only.’

Doesn’t that sound like the 21st Century Church? Thousands of baptisms per year, but Churches remain empty! I believe the answer can be found in the lives of saints like Saint Efthimios. His strictness of faith drew many to consider God, and he became known for attracting others to Christ. On the contrary it seems like the contemporary Church is taking the opposite approach.

Standards for membership on paper are one thing, while daily life remains another. For the most part, we are not at risk socially or physically by declaring our faith in Christ. As a result, much like the early 4th and 5th Centuries, many don’t’ take their faith seriously, and definitely not seriously enough to risk their lives. Could it be that the lack of strictness is why the churches remain empty?

In our desire to focus on the Saints this year, and to inspire by God’s grace, you to Live A New Life In Christ, we need more strictness and less laziness when it comes to life in the Church. We need to start showing our friends and neighbors that we take our faith seriously enough to risk our social standing in society, and even our livelihood.

I was blessed to visit the Monastery of Saint Efthimios in Jerusalem in 2020. Today, I pray our lives can reflect the same faith he expressed in a world that was not always kind to the Church. For more information on Saint Efthimios, click here.


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