Christ is risen!
Identity is a powerful reality, and filled with all kinds of information. But your own understanding of who you are and where you belong is central to how you order your life.
I never will forget my first post-liturgical coffee hour after being received into the Eastern Orthodox Church. I was at a local Greek Orthodox parish with my “visitors” name tag on that read “Barnabas Powell.” This precious little old lady came up to me and greeted me in her heavy Greek accent “Powell? Is not a Greek name.” and I responded “No, ma’am it isn’t. My family is Welsh and Irish in origin.” Then with a confused and quizzical look she responded “Then what are you doing here? Don’t you have your own church to go to?” My response confused her even more “Dear, this is my Church.” “What?!? Why?” was her amazed response.
You see, this precious lady wasn’t upset I was there. She was confused. Her self-identity had formed her thoughts in such a way that she simply couldn’t imagine someone from outside her “tribe” wanting and valuing what she had had all her life. As we talked more we became close friends and, as I explained to her my love for the Greek Orthodox Church and Orthodox theology, she later explained that she was so grateful that I was there.
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 for ever. 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.
Here St. Paul declares that we followers of Jesus have a citizenship that supercedes our allegiance to all other citizenships of human origin. None of those things that are temporary are more valuable than that which is eternal. And, in fact, it is our ultimate citizenship in the Kingdom of God that must inform, develop, and discern all other “citizenships” we may hold dear.
Now that is not to say our love for our family, our culture, or our country isn’t important or isn’t precious and valuable. Not at all. In fact, the miracle of our Orthodox faith is that it baptizes and makes beautiful all the diversity of humankind. Orthodoxy miraculously “Christianizes” our human culture and weeds out that which is temporary and makes even more beautiful that which reflects the beauty of eternal values.
But it is to say that, when we are pressed for our deepest allegiance, it is to Christ above all other loves! Here’s how one ancient writer says this: Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe… Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.
More recently our Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness Bartholomew of Constantinople and New Rome states “Whenever an Orthodox church succumbs to nationalist rhetoric and lends support to racial tendencies, it loses sight of the authentic theological principles and gives in to a fallen mindset, totally alien to the core of Orthodoxy”
So, today, what is the most powerful influence on your ultimate loyalty and self-identity? What do your priorities, your choices, your behavior, reveal about your own self-identity? If St. Paul is right in that “here we have no lasting City” then to place my ultimate loyalty on that which is temporary seems to be a foolish choice. And learning to place my ultimate loyalty, my ultimate self-identity in that which is eternal is the wise way of life. It’s being Orthodox on Purpose that sets me free from every temporary identity and sets my eternal citizenship FIRST in my life!
P.S. Hey, do you have friends or family that would appreciate a daily visit with scripture and a daily faith? Please forward this devotional to 5 friends and family members and invite them to join you in participating in this devotional community of Faith Encouraged! That will be a BIG HELP to Fr. Barnabas!