Orthodox Buzz Words 1: “Come and See”

A few years ago I read a humorous article that suggested that we could identify the make of the motorcycle a person rode by looking at their clothing. Those with fine, color matched, full body leathers, and the latest hi-tech gear were put into the BMW category. Those who favored jeans and t-shirts were thought likely to prefer Asian sports bikes. Those who wore heavy, black, mismatched, tattered, and low-tech equipment were probably Harley fans. While this is obviously a very superficial and potentially misleading caricature, what makes it interesting and a bit waggish is that there is a grain of truth in it.

In a similar way, it seems that we might be able to identify the members of various religious groupings based on the particular catchphrases and buzz words they use. If you can tell what kind of bike a person rides by looking at their clothing, then you might be able to tell which brand of Christianity a person belongs to just by listening to how they speak. It could really be quite interesting if we were able to peg a person’s denominational affiliation based, for example, on the presence or absence of typically Anglican, Evangelical, or Orthodox jargon. Since these markers are so generously sprinkled throughout everyday discourse, they act something like the taggants that authorities use to trace the origin of various chemicals and explosives. As with the motorcyclists, this could, no doubt, lead to a rather superficial caricature of the different groups, but as with the bikers, there just might be a grain of truth present, enough truth to, on the one hand, read these buzz words as a reflection of the speakers’ deeper convictions and, on the other hand, see them as indicators of particular behaviors or attitudes. If that is the case, then just listening to and reflecting on the way we speak could be both instructive and entertaining. These buzz words could give us clues as to how we think, how we are likely to behave, and, more important, provide an opportunity for self-reflection.

So, in the next few posts, I would like to consider a few of the things you are most likely to hear from your Orthodox friends. I plan to take a light-hearted approach to this. So, if I poke fun at some of these catchphrases, it is not to criticize or to pass judgement, but rather to prod all of us to be more intentional about the ways in which we use these important phrases and to reflect on the implications of the ways we use them.

Come and See: Excuse for in action or a Challenge to be Real

Looking back over my almost 20 years of being an Orthodox clergyman, I have to say that I am surprised at how often I heard the phrase “Come and See.” Sometimes this came in response to questions Christians from other traditions had about our services. Rather than explaining many of us simply said, “you will just have to come and see.“ At other times this could be heard as a somewhat defensive attempt to sidestep our responsibility to reach out to others with the message of Christ—rather than offering a clear forthright well-prepared witness, rather than stepping away from our own comfort zones and going out into all the world, we insisted that anyone who happened to be interested in our faith would simply have to come and see.

The biggest “come and see” surprise came when one of our parishioners showed me the latest thing in evangelistic tools that had been introduced at a seminar held by the national church’s department of evangelism. The amazing device turned out to be a small (3×5 inch) magnetic plaque that could be fixed to one’s kitchen refrigerator. On it was a very nicely done three-barred cross and the artfully arranged words “Ask me! I am Orthodox.” Whether intended or not, the plaque neatly encapsulated everything I had come to associate with the use of the phrase “come and see.” The message of the image and words was clear, just in case you happen to, quite on your own, without any help or prodding from us, develop some sudden curiosity in the Orthodox Church, then by all means come and ask your questions. In any case, the entire responsibility for seeking Christ is clearly shifted to the seeker. And as if to underscore our own avoidance of responsibility, we will keep the plaque in our kitchens where very few of our happy-go-lucky non-believing acquaintances are likely to see it and thus be prompted to ask a question. But, the advantage of this placement is that I will see it almost every day and it will serve as visible and undeniable proof that I, too, am actively reaching out to the world around me. As I said, to me this device, this so-called evangelistic aid, seemed to be just the latest use of the phrase “come and see” as an excuse for inaction.

So, as I indicated above, this example of Orthodox speak tells us a great deal about their willingness, or rather lack thereof, to engage the world with the teaching and practices of the Orthodox Church or to introduce to non-believers the person of our living and saving Lord Jesus Christ. But, in all fairness, it has to be said that there is, as with all catch phrases, a grain of truth in what these believers are saying. The idea of coming and seeing is, after all a pattern established by the earliest Christians and it is clearly documented in the New Testament. Consider what happened when some of the disciples came to Nathaniel and told him that they had found the savior (John 1:43-51). As we enter the story, Jesus already had four followers—Andrew and Peter, John and James. Now he is introduced to Phillip, perhaps by Andrew and Peter who lived in the same town. Notice what Phillip does next. He goes and finds Nathaniel and gives Nathaniel some information about Jesus, that he is the one “…of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” But, Nathaniel who hasn’t met Jesus yet responds skeptically, as if to say, “you can’t expect me to believe that.” Obviously information about Jesus was just not enough. What I find most fascinating is that Phillip doesn’t argue the point. He simply says come and see for yourself, in other words, come and meet Him yourself.

So, what can possibly be wrong with saying that someone should come and see? Well, that probably depends on what there is to see. In Nathaniel’s case, he came face-to-face with Christ and as a result became a follower. And then there is that other thing, the invitation was preceded by the disciples going out of their way to find Nathaniel and invite him to Christ. They did not expect the non-believers to spontaneously ignite with interest and come. No! Come and See was issued as a personal invitation to those who left the safety of their own kitchens and went out to find and invite others.

So, if we did that and someone were to respond to our invitation and come, what would they see? Certainly they can see Christ in the Liturgy. We say that he is really present with us. But, we may have to spend some time helping them process and understand what they have seen. But, they will (should) also be able to see Christ in us. At least, that is what St. Paul repeatedly tells us. We are the temples of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of God. In 1 Cor 3:16 St Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you.” In a way analogous to the Old Testament passages about the Tabernacle, we find that the individual Christian is both the temple and the altar of divine presence. So when we ask, where is Christ today? We have to answer that he is in us, the faithful. If that is the case, then those around us should be able to see that presence. Of course, for that to happen you and I will have to nurture our own spiritual lives and become so full of the light of Christ that others can see Him in us.

So you see, the phrase is actually a very good one. It can and has been used as an excuse for inaction, as a cover for avoiding our evangelistic responsibility to the world. But it is also a call to action, to going out and issuing the invitation and preparing ourselves spiritually so that those invited actually see Christ when they do come.

One comment:

  1. In expressing my great admiration for your pre-twenty-first-century work on contextualization, Fr. Ed, I gleefully suggest the website of my college buddy Carlo as tangential to Duke University! (bostonducati.net) – on a more serious note to address “where on earth is the Christ?” We can say with assurance that the temple in us is like Martin Smith said, “a river through the nations!” From heaven itself, the Holy One of Israel says, “I dwell in the high and holy place with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” Isaiah 57:15.

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