At a recent spiritual retreat I was asked to conduct, I was asked how one should prepare to deal with questions about the faith when others ask about it. Usually many of our Orthodox brothers and sisters get very nervous when somebody asks them about our Orthodox Faith.
It’s a good question, but it points to a deeper challenge, like most good questions do!
While it may be satisfying to get some basic talking points to share with folks, and it is actually a good thing to have some training in the basics of the faith so you can articulate your reasons for your serious commitment to the faith, you may find my answer to this question a bit counter-intuitive.
The best defense of the faith is silence. Kinda strange answer coming from someone who talks so much!
OK, I know that requires some explanation. What I mean is that the best testimony to the power of the faith isn’t well honed debate tactics and strong work in the apologetic jujitsu of verbal combat, but the serious commitment to the internal work of transformation in my own life. The best testimony and defense of the faith is faithfulness itself.
Now, that doesn’t mean we should be lax when it comes to the natural and good perfecting of our communication skills, our love for our neighbor that calls us to love them so much that we actually desire them to know the faith as well. And it doesn’t mean we neglect the intellectual work and serious development of our minds and our logical understanding of the faith. But it does mean we always see clearly the limitations of all that good work.
Look at today’s Gospel Lesson in Luke 21:12-19:
“The Lord said to his disciples, ‘Beware of men who will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.'”
No crafty rhetoric will suffice. No canned sales pitch. No lengthy training in debate tactics or apologetic skills will ever be as effective as a heart so internally prepared by love and faithfulness in the practice of the faith to overcome the broken and death gripped philosophy of the world without Christ. That world will always be suspicious of you and this suspicion will always degenerate into outright hostility at times. Just look around you today. Christians are the most persecuted people on the planet!
So, the best way to prepare for that inevitable reality is to practice the Faith, do the disciplines of the Church, learn to pray, fast, and give alms, and always strive to love God and others more than yourself. There is simply no argument strong enough to overcome love. And our love is toward God in an active practice of the wisdom of the Faith, and toward others in being an example of faithfulness to Christ. All rhetoric sounds shallow and tiny in the face of one who loves.
Today, you will be confronted with a world gripped by various ideologies that all have one thing in common: They get the Identity of Jesus wrong! You will work at an office where intrigue and gossip shape the politics of that place. You will be in family situations marred by dysfunction and learned behavior that only leads to co-dependency and not true communion. You may even attend a parish where loving others is difficult. The answer won’t be eternal arguments. The answer won’t be better rhetoric or more skilled communication tools. The answer will be your own interior practice of the Faith and the stubborn refusal to turn anyone you meet into an enemy! So, practice the faith and allow your “silence” to shout the Answer to the world! That’s what it means to be Orthodox on Purpose!