By Jackie Morfesis
When I was a child, growing up in close-knit Greek Orthodox parish in New Jersey, I truly saw my faith walk not only through the Orthodox church but through the lens of my ethnic “Greekness.” To Orthodox Christians, fair to say, in the “old days”, we even thought of ourselves as Greeks and everyone else were “Americans”, notwithstanding the fact that were Greek Americans. This is not to say that the Greek community of the past wasn’t patriotic nor that they did not serve their country, including in the military. I am speaking directly to the use of language.
And we all know language betrays our thoughts, and our thoughts betray our minds. And our mind betrays our heart. My journey as a Christian outside the boundaries of my own church started in my childhood because on our block in New Jersey was a non-denominational church called Faith Community church. They held youth camps, of which I participated, and they also had after school Bible study classes where we learned and memorized scripture. We also sang songs from the hymnal books and enjoyed fellowship with each other. Little did I know the seeds that would be planted in my heart as a result as told to us in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8.
Another experience or major life event that pulled me outside of my traditional faith walk was a serious injury incurred years ago. Because of my injury and subsequent treatments, I searched far and wide for healing. Not only physical healing but spiritual healing.
Here is what I found in my journey: I found that we are strengthened by the Word of God. Not only the Word of God within our own services, our liturgies, but the Word of God that fortifies us as we spend time with the “sword of the spirit.” I am so hungry for God’s Word, the Bible is not only something whose words I may hear during a church service, it is foundational to my faith walk.
Next, I learned about spiritual warfare. In all the years I attended the Orthodox church, I never learned once how to “armor up.” I never learned Ephesians 6:12 by heart, which should be done daily as instructed by St. Paul. I never truly knew my power and purpose in God’s kingdom. “Behold, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19). This power was never told to me, instead I have heard over and over that we are to have humility. In fact, Orthodoxy is even framed as the path of humility. Humility is beautiful. Bold faith and courage is also beautiful and daresay even more beautiful. When someone is being abused or persecuted, they don’t need our humility, they need our fire. Holy fire. God’s fire.
In addition, I never learned that we are to “lay hands” and heal in Jesus’ name, (Mark 16:17-18). Healing was always something that was in the hands of the clergy. In the hands of the hierarchy of the church. Never something that I saw in the hands of parishioners. Moreso relegated to those in ecclesiastical authority. There was a time when we were allowed to take the sacramentals home. Holy water and holy oil. Now, we are only allowed to take holy water home. Jesus tells us that we are to heal in His holy name, yet if we want holy oil in our homes, we need to order it from an outside source or ask for it from a monastery, the last stronghold and fortress of true Orthodoxy.
Certainly, we are told again and again about the saints and the martyrs and about their deep faith, but that same passion and same testimony to the faith walk is never brought from the past to the present. Do we not know that we are all called to be saints? To have the same devotion and passion for God?
We are not told about the passion of those sitting in God’s house unless they are being eulogized or honored at a banquet or event. Then it is mostly about their worldly successes and accomplishments, usually material. We are missing the mark.
The ones right here, right now, not only the ones remembered from centuries even millennia ago should be lifted, edified, and fortified. Again and again, we hear the stories of those who have passed into eternity, yet what groundbreaking and earth-shattering movement would happen if the person sitting right next to us testified to what God has done in their lives? Have you ever heard an Orthodox Christian give testimony? Have you? Inside or outside our churches? What is our testimony? The amount of our stewardship?
We aren’t called to hide our light nor seal our lips. We are called to shine our light, the Lord’s Light, and tell the world what He has done for us. “Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:15).
What has happened to us? Why do faithful Orthodox Christians literally need to venture out in the big world to find a fire that we should be finding within our own houses of worship? A fire that should be burning within.
I previously wrote an article about the “Laodicean churches”, but there is even a bigger problem facing Orthodoxy today, “Laodicean hearts”. Yes, the Laodicean hearts of our very own parishioners, clergy, and hierarchy. God does not want the lukewarm, yet we do not even know many times how to identify the fallen condition of being lukewarm, because we do not even have nor are given the tools of being on fire for God.
Not long ago, I was in the presence of a man who was having an unexpected medical episode. He was in severe pain. My immediate response was to lay my right hand upon him and with my left hand in the air and pray for him. Pray for whatever was attacking him in that moment to be removed in Jesus’ name. I called upon the Lord, I called upon the Holy Spirit. I could literally feel the Holy Spirit physically and spiritually move through me and in that moment, he said: “I receive, I receive” and “Its gone.”
Not once in my whole life as an Orthodox Christian have I ever witnessed an Orthodox Christian “lay hands” to heal in the name of Jesus, something I did not learn until I ventured outside the doors of my own church and learned about the power and authority given to us as Christians. The most that ever happens inside an Orthodox church is the sacrament of Holy Unction where we are annointed with holy oil. By no means, am I dismissing this healing sacrament. The healing peace that overflows us in that moment is undeniable. I never remove the oil from my body with the cotton offered to us shortly after. Why would I? Another modern practice that makes no spiritual sense.
Nor do I dismiss any of the sacraments of the church. We also receive holy communion for the healing of our souls and bodies. But even this has been questioned and doubted by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros who advocated disposable spoons during the COVID pandemic. Imagine for one moment doubting the safety of receiving the blood and body our Lord. Now do you see our wound? God forgive anyone who doubts the healing power of Jesus.
My point is that our liturgical life is not the beginning, nor the end of our faith walk. Certainly, we can argue our faith walk begins at baptism when we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, but I am speaking in the broader context here. If we are not equipped as Orthodox Christians to move in the world as a child of God, disciple of Christ, ambassador, and kingdom worker, then not only our clergy, but our church, and the sacred legacy of our saints and martyrs are not honored and upheld. We serve the same God today as we served two thousand years ago. In fact, since the beginning of time.
The great tragedy of Orthodoxy is not that God has changed. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), it is that we have changed. We went from being the Early Church who bravely worshipped in the deserts and the caves, willing to give their lives in martyrdom, to modern day Christians who do not even have the courage to speak up in their own parishes to defend our God and His Holy Word for fear of not being liked or approved.
Likeability will never be the deciding factor in what I say or in what I write. Nor in how I live. Needing to be liked by man is a toxic casualty of the modern era. Being loved by God is what should concern us. From this, everything else follows.
I praise God that He opened the door. Not only one door but many doors. I praise God that He knew that I needed more to fulfill His purpose over my life. That He knew that the suffering and wounds of my life would be reworked for His glory.
I am thankful that I serve a God who taught me to hunger for His Word. To be unafraid to lay hands and call for healing in His Holy Name. To believe His promises and to be His promise. To be on fire for Him in a lukewarm world. A God who teaches us that we are not only to venerate our saints and martyrs but that we are all called to be saints, right here, right now, in His army on earth, and for all eternity.