By Jackie Morfesis
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Holy words that should be embedded in our tongues and in our hearts. Yet, a gaping wound exists in the Greek Orthodox Church that has affected its parishioners for far too long. A wound so deep and insidious that its effects are destructive in ways with far-reaching and dire consequences. The absence of hunger and lack of knowledge for God’s Holy Word.
One need only to visit other parishes of differing Christian denominations to see this wound revealed. Why? Because once we step out of the Greek Orthodox Church, particularly in the United States, we find a fire for God’s Holy Word. And we find parishioners who know God’s Word. And until we know God’s Word, we cannot truly live God’s Word.
Here is a blaring example of which I speak. Ancient Faith Ministries posted an online bible verse speaking to our need to serve those in need. I commented on the post and mentioned that yes, indeed, we are to serve others, and I expounded on the scripture citing Matthew 25:35. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after, me, I was in prison and you came to visit.”
And then it hit. Boom. Father Andrew Stephen Damick, the Chief Content Officer of Ancient Faith Ministries sent me a swift and immediate response chastising me, for in his words attempting to “correct” the disciples of Christ. How tragic. How completely missing the mark.
When the day arrives that our own clergy reprimand the faithful for knowing God’s Word, for loving God’s Word, and for reaching out to have a genuine and thoughtful discussion on God’s Word, we know that we have entered a sinful and shadowed place that requires restoration and healing. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” Psalm 119:105). Instead of continuing the discussion, to the benefit of everyone, Father Damick attempted to cover God’s light and put a roadblock on my path.
This interaction and posting by Ancient Faith Ministries drew a chorus of “Amen” from the faithful because, in truth, that is sadly our go-to response to most posts and to any scripture posted because we have nothing else to offer in terms of genuine and thoughtful reflection. Only a few had the courage to see and voice that I had the right to expound on the scripture posted.
What has happened to us? Do we not know that as St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 6:17, that the “Word of God is the sword of the spirit”? What has happened that we do not even know God’s Holy Word? That the words we know from scripture, are the ones repeated by our clergy, if even then? Here is the answer. We are not encouraged nor taught to hunger for God’s Word. I was blessed to go to a Bible Study class as a child in a neighborhood church that was not Orthodox. I learned more about the Bible from Faith Community Church than I did in all the years of attendance at the Orthodox Church. And this is the great amartia.
Orthodox clergy have a responsibility, a mandate, to teach us, to encourage us, and to embolden us, as workers in the kingdom. And instead, for the vast majority, they shy from doing so, because in truth, many of them do not feel the fire of God’s Word as their daily bread. They were also not taught to hunger in the way we are supposed to hunger.
We should not be fed crumbs when we deserve to have a banquet laid before us. And if we do not understand this very basic concept, then we in truth, cannot lay a banquet before others and will instead respond as I was responded to by Father Andrew Stephen Damick of Ancient Faith Ministries with criticism, disdain, and reprimand. How sad. How tragically and soulfully sad that God’s appointed spiritual leaders do not know how to shepherd in ways that lift us but instead in ways that seek to diminish our light, our love, and our devotion.
We need a major reset. We need a revival. We need to infuse our faith with a hunger that has long been missing. And this is not the “reset” that was voiced by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, that spoke to reimagining and reenvisioning our traditions and liturgies. No. They do not need to be “reinfused”. They are holy, have been holy, and will remain holy, for all eternity.
What we need is a reset and refueling of our hearts. And that will be supported and indeed, again, emboldened by our leaders. Let’s honor God’s Word by planting the seeds in every Orthodox child’s heart to love God’s Word. So that when we grow in the church, we simultaneously grow in knowing God’s Holy Word. And let’s take a hard, deep, and reflective look inside ourselves, especially as clergy and leaders of the church, to not covet, contain, and restrict, the love for God’s Word, but shout from the mountaintops His glory, power, and strength. For we know that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).