How does an ancient Church live in a modern world like this? A world where the vast majority of Americans are shaped, influenced, and educated by easy answers and sound bite news reporting. A culture that wants its religion packaged to taste like its entertainment. How does Orthodoxy find a voice in the middle of this culture?
Some well-meaning Christians may suggest ignoring popular culture all together. Let’s cocoon in our own little religious or ethnic “world,” they say, and keep all the bad influences away from us. Others, equally well-meaning but equally misguided, may suggest adopting a “seeker sensitive” approach to embrace the current culture as the model for outreach and relevance.
But each of these paths has serious problems. If we cocoon ourselves “away” from American culture, we will reduce the Orthodox Christian faith to nothing more than an ethnic oddity in a boutique religious museum. If we adopt the popular culture wholesale in an attempt to appear “relevant” or “modern,” we risk abandoning the very essence of our faith just to “fit in.” (see Rom. 12:2)
Either of these paths represents the “easy” answer to how the Church should engage the culture of America, indeed, of the Western world. The easy path, whether of withdrawal or uncritical embrace, has never been the Christian path. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14)
Christianity calls us to do the hard work of being faithful to the faith of our fathers AND communicating, translating, and offering that same faith to today’s world. This is not easy. It will cause conflict. It will require grace and courage, but it is absolutely necessary work if we Orthodox Christians ever hope to have “the right answer before the awesome judgment seat of Christ.”
Here are three insights into how to accomplish this difficult task.
First, We MUST know our own faith. St. Peter said we must “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15b) We cannot hope to be able to affect our modern culture with our faith if we are not diligent in knowing it. Orthodoxy is a treasure house filled with wisdom learned in the crucible of real life. This Orthodox wisdom is exactly the antidote for a shallow culture that is literally “entertaining itself to death.” But Orthodox Christians do no favors by allowing that same culture to lull them into a stupor of mediocrity. We do not pass on a strong faith to our children if we remain ignorant of the treasure given to us at our baptism. Be a student of Orthodoxy, not just recipes and dance steps.
Second, We MUST know the culture around us. St. Paul told the Corinthians: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-21, 23) Being a student of our culture helps us understand how to communicate to those around us. It calls us to be compassionate and to remain aware of the world we and our children live and work in. Knowing the world around you without surrendering to the weaknesses of modernity is part of being faithful to the message of Orthodoxy.
Finally, We MUST care about our neighbor. Jesus loves the whole of creation. That means that God’s message of love and salvation is true for everyone. Part of the hard work of being “in the world but not of the world” is having compassion on those around you. And that compassion should show itself by your willingness to share the Orthodox faith with hurting people, since it is in Orthodoxy that their soul can be anointed with all the healing spiritual medicine of Christ and brought to the fullness of the faith. We cannot rightly call ourselves compassionate and withhold the greatest treasure we possess – our Orthodox faith – from those around us.
If we are to truly do the hard work of being faithful Orthodox Christians in a modern world, we must be willing to be counter-cultural and welcoming at the same time. Our neighbors, our children, our grandchildren, are all longing for us to pass on to them the timeless treasure of Orthodox Christianity. We cannot fail any of them!
This week Terry Mattingly joins us to talk about his new book “Pop Goes Religion.” In this book Terry talks about the popular view of religious faith and what Orthodoxy has to say to this culture. Don’t miss it.
Yours for the spread of Orthodoxy,
Fr. Chris Metropulos
P.S. Its been a while since I heard from you. Drop me an email this week and let me know you are listening and being helped by the ministry. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org