Elder Paisios said: Often we see a person and we say a couple spiritual words to him and he converts. Later we say, “Ah, I saved someone.” I believe that the person who has the disposition and goodness within him, if he doesn’t convert from what we say, would convert from the sight of a bear or a fox or from anything else. Let us beware of false evangelization.
The soul is a great mystery – greater still is the mystery of a soul’s turning to God. Argumentation is frequently misleading. For though we may mount the perfect rational case for turning to God – the heart will not receive it unless it is prepared. We never live our lives on a purely rational basis.
This does not make rational discussion of no value – but it recognizes that such discussions require the disposition of a good heart. Such a disposition in another person is utterly beyond our control (and even sometimes beyond their own). Kindness and prayer are thus of far greater importance than masterful argument.
It is always God Himself who is the desire of our heart (that is, according to our nature). Explanations, be they ever so good, are not the true hunger that haunts us: God Himself is the true explanation of all things. If in the course of discussion or even argumentation, someone comes to faith in God, it is because something has happened (in the heart) that allows God to be apparent.
By the same token, an evil disposition and a darkened heart, if found within a “believer,” will become the source of many dark thoughts. Such a heart will argue for the destruction of others and constantly misrepresent God. We cannot present the good God out of an evil heart.
A believer’s first concern, above all else, must be to acquire a good heart – one that is disposed to God and that loves everything and everyone. Only with such a good heart can we be of use to anyone in all of creation.
“Aquire the spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be converted” – St. Seraphim of Sarov
Well put Mark. Peace is acquired when Christ lives in us, for then our nature acquires the perfection of divine unity present in the incarnation; which is none other than the river which flowed from Eden to water the paradise (Genesis 2:10) of old.
Who of us has not lived long enough to know that the “great” things we do are usually surpassed by the seemingly incidental things? Is this not God’s reminder that only His work in us will last?
The quotation from Elder Paisios is an excellent reminder. “False evangelization” is a particularly pernicious problem.
And yet I’m sorry that some Orthodox don’t do a better job of evangelism and welcoming others into the church. My adult daughter liked the Orthodox church we’ve been visiting very much and liked everything she read. When she spoke with an Orthodox chaplain at her Navy boot camp, he was kind to her but couldn’t imagine her wanting to join. She didn’t belong to an ethnic group that he recognized as Orthodox. Now she is posted in Japan and can’t find an Orthodox presence near her. She has said she wants to join the Catholic church, since she appreciates the efforts Catholics have made to welcome her and the universality of Catholicism around the world. She is firm in seeking apostolic legitimacy at least, but although I’m supportive of her I’m a little sorry she feels compelled to make the choice she has.
Frankly, one man of peace may have a thousand converts, but those converts will need to spread out a bit. I understand the Orthodox church’s recent history, but I regret its effects. I saw the same thing in Kyrgyzstan when I lived there. Both the Russians and the Kyrgyz knew that the “Provoslavnye” church was Russian. Any new Christians in Kyrgyzstan were always Protestant.
God, create for me a pure heart. Give me a spirit of prayer for my bothers and sisters.
Somewhere I read recently that it is God who does the evangelizing and the Church which does the discipling.
On a personal note, my two experiences in learning more about the Orthodox Church have been one of welcoming but on the other hand, one of being a bit laid back and allowing God to do his thing with me. They seem to want to allow people to make their own decisions and are not forcing. My first venture was 18 years ago, but I left. Now God is saying that the time has come, “to come home” to Orthodoxy. I am now making the necessary adjustments, which are many.
Jason and Damaris,
You both raise very good concerns. It is definitely difficult to be Orthodox these days. I think we do need to watch out for false evangelism, even when it seems that such evangelism is what we need. Yet, if we overreact and do little, we run into Damaris’ problem. I honestly think the best thing we can do is be the kind of community where people look to us and see how we love each other. This, we should do on the parish level and if we did that well, we would do it at the diocesan, archdiocesan, and pan-jurisdictional level. If we can avoid the temptation to imitate the pop evangelical sub-culture on the one hand and truly be open, encouraging, and loving to those around us and interested in us on the other, we will evangelize as we should.
By way of a PS, there is a Japanese Orthodox Church, whose metropolitan went to St. Vladimir’s Seminary, an American seminary.
Thank you. I had heard good things about that church. It’s not visible where my daughter is, however.
I just finished reading The Gurus, The Young Man, and Elder Paisios. This book is very enligtning for me. There I got to meet Elder Paisios and regard him with much reverence. It is good to see his words here. Thanks!