It is said that St. Anthony warned the believers with “A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”
For folks who read such words many will automatically assume this warning is about the times just before the Parousia (the Second Coming) We live in such an age where “End Time” mania. With the “reboot of the “Left Behind” movie, and shows like “The Leftovers” our popular culture is catching up to the “Rapture” mania that has been part of the small sub-culture of Evangelical Christianity since I was a boy.
But this would be a misreading of St. Anthony’s warning. To be sure, it will be true of the generation that will witness The Parousia. But, it has also been true since the beginning. Read the story of Noah building the Ark and you will know his kinsmen and the people surrounding him thought he was crazy. The Prophets of the past were accused of being “mad” when they warned their people of God’s message. And even Jesus Himself was accused of being “beside himself” by those who heard Him.
Look at Mark 3:13-21. At that time, Jesus went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew and Philip and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaios, and Thaddaios, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.”
If you expect your faith to help you “blend in” with the rest of society, too bad. Christianity, practiced well, ALWAYS makes abundantly clear the stark difference between dark and light. ALWAYS.
This is at the heart of why we Orthodox have the dual challenge of being both approachable AND different. But look at what this challenge offers us. This reality, that has always been true, invites us to a rigorous practice of our faith for the purpose of shaping our own souls AND the evangelical push to invite and make clear to all who hunger for God that this path can do for them what it does for us. But that becomes absolutely impossible if it isn’t doing that for us.
Today, you cannot escape this reality: If you are serious about practicing your faith, you WILL be seen as “counter culture” “strange” and even “judgemental” because of your focused and purposeful practice of the Faith. It’s going to happen. But, the joy of a serious practice of your faith will also set you free from the worry of trying to “fit in.” Jesus didn’t “fit in” and you won’t either if you follow Him. And that’s OK.