Among the many struggles of being a Christian in 21st Century America is the reality that we are not living among fellow believers. Either we are among Christians who are not Orthodox, or we are among non-Christians. Worse than both is to be among Orthodox Christians who do not live nor believe as Orthodox Christians.
The Church has learned to endure all these conditions before by the grace of God. We only need to turn to the traditions of our Church with our Spiritual Father’s guidance and ‘be of one mind’ with each other and God in the face of temptations and struggles.
Brethren, let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear omen to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine. So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.Philippians 1:27-30;2:1-4
Today’s lesson from Saint Paul is one of unity and courage in the face of destruction. The world will always work to destroy the Church and our faith. The myriad martyr saints in our history are proof enough of that. It is unity with God and each other that will be our encouragement.
Don’t look to the world for accolades. Don’t wait for the world to praise your faith. It will do neither. In fact, the world will, more and more, try to stop you and smear you for your Christian faith. So, when members of the Church ‘join in’ with the world against faith it can be its own source of destruction.
When those who are supposed to lift us up tear us down, we feel alone and helpless. When those who are supposed to look after us as fellow believers turn against us, we feel defeated. This is why Saint Paul encourages us so strongly to stand up and endure the suffering of the world. It is proof of our faith and of their destruction.
It is also proof that we have a long way to go in our journey to salvation. It is much easier to ‘give in’ to the worldly agenda and ‘join the club’ to receive better business deals or bigger contracts in our businesses. But is it worth betraying our Orthodox Faith?
On December 1st I will celebrate thirty years of Church ministry, both as a layman and now as a clergyman. In that time, I noticed a dangerous trend. What used to be the admittance that we should ‘be better’ and ‘do more’ as Orthodox Christians has become a belief that we shouldn’t be rebels in our society.
Within the Church we encounter those who believe the Church morals are too strict or old-fashioned. Instead of being of one mind, which is united to the mind of Christ, we are divided and share more unity with the world than with the Church.
We are on a dangerous path. There is no more proof of this than the reality that it is difficult to determine where worldly thoughts end, and the Church’s teachings begin. We no longer look out for the interests of others because we are too busy looking after our interests. Instead of even trying to be of one mind with each other and God, we pride ourselves in standing up for our beliefs even if those beliefs are not aligned with Christ and the Church.
I suppose the silver lining is that the ancient Christians also struggled with the idea of unity and standing strong in the face of temptation. If not, Saint Paul would have had no reason to write what he wrote. That isn’t to say we should try and try harder. It means our struggle is nothing new.
Embrace the life of the Church. Struggle to be of one mind the Christ, the Church and each other. Stand up to the world. This is what strong people do.