Christ is risen!
It seems we are a society of fads. To say that our modern culture is captured by the immediate and temporary seems to be a bit of an understatement! Just look around at what passes for actual conversation and see the effects of this faddish and tribal mentality at work. There is a lost art in true “diologos.” And there is a crushing lack of understanding about doing dialog with integrity and honest humility.
I confess I struggle with this. One of the main reasons is that I suffer from a great deal of disdain for much of modern ideology, to the point that when I hear typical jargon that reminds me of the childish narcissism so prevalent today, my mind tends to quarter off the speaker into one of the mindless “tribes” of modern madness and I simply can’t speak to the person. This is not healthy! In fact, it’s downright dangerous! Words really do mean things and the ability to understand another must start with the desire to know them and be known as well!
This is why the theology of the Church is so very instructive. The whole of Orthodoxy is centered on Communion, and I’m not just talking about the Bread and Wine of the Holy Eucharist, I’m talking about what it means to actually enter into the Eucharist as a way of Life. That’s the purpose of the Eucharist, to build authentic and difficult communion!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 14:20-28; 15:1-4:
IN THOSE DAYS, Paul went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to lconion and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. Then they passed through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples. But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. And when they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.
OK, here’s the situation, Sts. Paul and Barnabas are really racking up the Gentile converts. I mean Gentiles are turning to the Orthodox Christian message in droves. And this is making some of the Jewish converts to the Faith VERY nervous. They are reading the writing on the wall – there are more Gentiles than Jews and if this conversion thing keeps up, we will be outnumbered! But that’s not these folks’ only concern. They also had a legitimate problem about how are the Gentiles being formed in the Faith. They didn’t have the centuries of formation in the Way of God the Jews had. They didn’t know the Prophets and the Holy Scripture. They were coming into the Faith totally unprepared in these people’s minds. So, what was their solution? All the Gentiles had to become Jewish first if they wanted to become Christian!
Well, needless to say, when Paul got wind of this, there was “no small debate.” Yeah, no kidding. Paul argues that these Gentiles don’t have to become Jewish converts first. He says the Holy Spirit is strong enough to make up whatever may be deficient in the formation of the Gentiles. This dispute becomes so strong that it will lead to the very first Council of the Church in Acts 16 where all the Apostles gather and discuss “seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” (See Acts 16:28)
But look at the fruit of this moment of real conflict in the earliest formation of the Church. The controversy served the true purpose of the Church by drawing us together to work it out! The assumption was that this problem of the Gentiles was an opportunity for the People of God to speak and listen! And it was in the midst of this challenge that the Faith found a way to help everyone become more of what Christ called them to be! And the results are plain to see. The Fruit of this initial controversy was the conversion of the Roman Empire and the permanent transformation of human civilization!
On this 5th Thursday after Pascha, we are called to remember saints who gave their lives rather than deny Christ. Sts Peter, Dionysius, Andrew, Paul, Christina, Heraclius, Paulinus, and Benedimus, all contended for the Lord around 250 AD when Decius was emperor. All of them suffered torture and eventual martyrdom instead of denying the Christian faith! And this reality also means there is a place in “dialogos” where the ground is firm and the conversation comes to an impasse. We must always be willing to listen, but there is a point where we say “no” to endless “dialog” meant to drift from the Faith!
Today, the path to Christian unity lies in dialogue. The path to healing in a parish, a church, or a family, always must include face-to-face meetings and discussions. We cannot escape the soul-forming power of communion in honest, and even sometimes strenuous, debate based on two immovable attitudes – our love for Christ and our love for one another. We cannot move ancient foundation stones of wisdom that harm the very people Christ meant to save, but neither can we assume we know everything the Holy Spirit means to say to us all! Being Orthodox on Purpose always includes being willing to talk!
P.S. You all were born of earth, and came from diverse cities, but became the citizens of that blessed city in the heights, being united in one great choir, O stalwart Martyrs who championed the Trinity. Pray to God for us!
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