By Jackie Morfesis
Two events happened recently that speak to a wound in the Orthodox Church and in the hearts of many of the faithful. Simply, we are rightly proud that we are the Church of the Apostles. That we are the church embedded in the glorious history of the early disciples of Christ. However, we are not only the Early Church in history, but we are also the living and breathing Early Church in the very present moment.
And this is the rub. We do not always understand nor embrace this reality and truth. We must stop resting on the laurels of the past and move our faith as in the Jesus Prayer of our holy Orthodox monasteries from our head to our hearts. How many times must we revisit this wound before we, as in scripture, pour it with oil, bind it up with linen, and allow it to heal?
The first reminder of how even in speaking about someone who lived in the Byzantine era and later became an Orthodox monastic, we still stand on the ever shifting and shaky ground of disbelief and secularist concerns. I came across the article: published by the Medieval Institute of Notre Dame University: “Theodore Metochites’s “Lament on Human Life,” A Later Byzantine Perspective on the Anxiety of “Instability” by Nicole Paxton Sullo.
This article addresses the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the life and work of this Byzantine elite. The author looks to the past to specifically “find some solace and insight by exploring the ways in which humanity has previously coped with such feelings of uncertainty.” The irony is again that the article focuses on a Byzantine statesman who later became an Orthodox monastic. Yet, once again, through the lens of this article and in reflection upon the writings of Metochites’ himself (for we all fall short of God’s glory) – we see through the eyes of ever-changing fate, fortune, and good and bad luck. As Orthodox Christians, we do not rely on nor pray for “good fortune” nor “good luck.” We pray for God’s ever-lasting providence and His ever-present love and mercy.
We all suffer for to suffer is not only part of the human condition, but also a condition of our fallen nature. Suffering also serves to draw us nearer to the Lord and strengthen our faith walk. “For the Lord draws near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34.18).
The article aptly addresses the notion of “walls,” especially as unveiled and revealed during the pandemic. There are many walls in society that are erected not from a place of love and mercy, but from a place of inequity and a desire for separation. However, the “walls” that we should be concerned about are the walls around our own hearts that separate us not only from our Lord but from our neighbor. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:36).
We must break the walls around our hearts and the walls that hold our faith safely and securely within the confines of our houses of worship. Not only for me, but across our nation and world, faith followers saw firsthand that our houses of worship “lost their walls.” If we could not physically attend service, we were attending virtually and like the early Christians, the streets became our church and our ministry. We found new ways to serve God and His children.
Scripture abounds with imagery about breaking walls. Most notably, “Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down,” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.” (Nehemiah 1:3-4). Anyone who has experienced deliverance ministry knows very well how God will not only bring down walls and strongholds around our lives, but how He will then resurrect a wall of protection, a hedge of protection, that we will never again be harmed by the offenses once committed against our souls and bodies.
It is also worth mentioning when the ground shakes beneath our feet and fear and anxiety ensue, we must rely on Matthew 7: “Jesus said everyone who hears His words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. He said: “everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matthew 7:24-26). We do not wait until tragedy strikes to start building a firm foundation beneath our lives. We build the foundation beneath our feet every day in our faith walk with Christ.
The second reminder to me that we need to not only praise the fact that we are the Early Church and rest on the laurels of the past is when an Orthodox man became fiery that someone who was Orthodox would convert to another Christian denomination. Granted, I have no interest in arguing nor dissecting why someone would make this decision. We serve one God and God sent His Son for all of humanity, not only for Orthodox Christians, which should suffice. Though this man’s outrage may have very well been justified to him, what is questionable is that we have passion defending the history of our Church and are quick to mention the disciples of Christ without knowing and claiming our own discipleship to our Lord.
We honor both our faith, the Early Church, and the early disciples, when we stand in full authority that we too are a child of God, disciple of Christ, and ambassador in His kingdom, right here on this earth. Until then, we will, just as displayed in the scholarly article I recently read on the Byzantine statesman, Theodore Metochites, and in the reaction of an Orthodox Christian, keep our faith neatly and safely secured in history, within the confines of the walls of our churches, and in our intellect but not in our heart where it belongs.
If we choose to identify as an Orthodox Christian – then we need to be on fire for God. We need to hunger for His Word. Know His Word. Speak His Word. Serve His children. Be spiritual warriors. Be prayer warriors. Know our gifts and use the gifts that He gave us for His glory, not ours. And move in the world not only pontificating about the Early Church but indeed being the Early Church.