“Nobody told me there’d be days like these!” Well, that not exactly true. St. Paul did warn that “in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Sound familiar?
Swirling around us nowadays are a multitude of opinions, teachings, marketing strategies, and gifted speakers all attempting to, in good old American entrepreneurial fashion, win “new customers” to their “style” of Christianity. And this is increasing every day! This is also the world our children are being raised in and this means they are going to be exposed to ideas and theologies very different from the Orthodox Christian faith. And they are already subject to the peer pressure that comes naturally as part of the growing up process.
So, what are we Orthodox Christian parents suppose to do?
Look at our Lesson today in Hebrews 13:7-16
Brethren, remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
As we said before about this passage; St. Paul is reaching out to a group of Christians who had converted from Judaism and were thinking of going back because of persecution, peer pressure, and problems. And he was trying to convince them that what they had in Christ was “better” than what they had left! By the way, the Book of Hebrews probably started out as a long homily or oration by St. Paul to this group because it “reads” different than all his other “Epistles” to different churches he founded.
But look at what Paul tells these folks. First, St. Paul reminds them of their communion: “Remember your leaders.” In the Orthodox faith, it is no accident that we look at our community, not as some civic organization, but as a family. Even our leaders are called “father.” This bond is not so easily dismissed if it is full and honest. I remember telling my parish family when I first arrived “I am grateful that the bishop has made me your priest, but I look forward to earning the place in the community as “father.”” So, if we want to arm our children to stay connected to the Faith, let’s make sure they are connected to the community as family and not just as a place of nostalgia, pizza parties, and “fun.” Give them the family of Faith!
Next, St. Paul tells these wavering Hebrews to find their strength in worship! We can face any persecution and doubt if we remain faithful to remember our focus on Christ! And the best way, the most perfect way, to maintain that focus is through our regular, faithful, and corporate (again, “family”) gathering to worship. When we are faithful to offer “the fruit of lips” in prayer together, in liturgy together, we instill in one another not just a mutual accountability, but a deepening awareness of the profound theology of our Faith. And the natural result of our prayer together, our regular worship is the strength for “good works.”
Today, as we face the “strange days” and strange teachings meant by the evil one to seduce us away from the fullness of the Faith, let’s remember our leaders and not forget to faithfully gather together to pray, and, in so doing, drive the solid foundation of Faith deep into our hearts so that we will have a sure foundation to share this eternal Faith with the next generation. If we are Orthodox on Purpose it will be more likely they will be too!
P.S. On the next Faith Encouraged LIVE, my dear friend and fellow priest Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou will join me to and we will discuss the theology and practice of Islam in the show entitled “Knowing Islam – an Orthodox Perspective.” That’s this Sunday night at 8 PM on AncientFaith.com