“I know how weak and puny my soul is. I know the magnitude of this ministry and the great difficulty of the work. More stormy billows vex the soul of the priest than the gales that trouble the sea.” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood)
At the end of the 4th Century, over 1600 years ago, a not-yet-ordained St. John Chrysostom was engaging with the deeply personal question of whether to move forward in answering a call to the priesthood. Many of his insights into the challenges of ordained ministry are no less relevant for 21st century Eastern Orthodoxy in America as they were for the Church of 4th and 5th century Antioch. Priests of the Eastern Orthodox Church are precious and unique members of the Body of Christ, with roles and expectations that place them at the center of the spiritual lives of the people and communities they have been called to serve. The challenges that they and their families face in carrying out their sacred work in an increasingly secular culture cannot be underestimated, something which both ancient patristic wisdom and modern social science affirm.
The American people are deeply divided and polarized in their political stances and choices. The divisiveness and polarization in the American political realm have also affected Christian churches and communities even though some of them have chosen not to formally address the challenges that politics raises for the people’s personal and communal lives. The relation of politics and Christian faith is a highly complex issue that deserves careful attention, since Christian faith and politics determine, to a great extent, people’s personal and collective life. As we address religion’s relation with politics, it is imperative to be cautious not to reduce or surrender the one to the other, or vice-versa. Furthermore, because of the complex nature of the relationship between religion and politics, we must resist the temptation to consider our thoughts on this matter as a final prescription for how the religious communities and the Christian churches should identify the root causes of the political challenges and choose the issues that deserve their thoughtful contribution.
In Christian circles, the Church’s witness to the world is often contrasted with her sacred otherworldly tradition. Through political actions and involvement, it is often suggested that the Church skirts from her primary sacred responsibility. She substitutes immanence for transcendence. She replaces the Gospel of love and forgiveness with social reforms, legislative change, political programs, and actions. Thus, by focusing so much on social and political matters, the churches increasingly fail in their sacred mission to unite the world with God. They become inauthentic. If such an attitude prevails, the churches consciously choose to ignore political challenges or be indifferent to violence, injustice, racism, homelessness, violations of human rights, and assaults on human dignity.
Ah, life’s ironies! As it turns out, many of those who are against abortion (quite a few of whom are President Trump’s supporters) are making excuses for Trump’s decision to accept therapies derived from aborted fetal tissue as a (so-called) “cure” for COVID-19; and yet, many of those in favor of abortion (who, more often than not, are the president’s opponents) are upset that Trump owes his (apparent) “rapid recovery” from COVID-19 to therapies they would otherwise welcome, or even celebrate, if used to help others.
In the meantime, God, who “is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), and for whom all events manifest the sovereignty of his providence, judges all hearts, using the events of the history we have made to teach us how far we have fallen short of his love. If only we would listen to his teachings within us.
This, I think, may be why the Lord (through Pope Francis, EcumenicalPatriarch Bartholomew, and so many others) seems to be calling special attention to the teaching of St. Francis today. Il Poverello (“the little poor one,” as St. Francis is known in Franciscan tradition) is not only a master teacher when it comes to issues related to racism, violence, interreligious rivalry, and intolerance, as well as poverty and economic injustice; he is also, as the Catholic patron saint of animals and ecology, a guide for all believers during our worldwide environmental collapse, and the COVID-19 pandemic that is its most recent manifestation.
Your children have been hearing a lot about the election in their schools, in your family, among friends, online and on television. As a Christian parent, priest, or teacher, what can you say? Does God care about the election? Here are some thoughts to help shape your conversation.
The answer is yes, God cares about elections. Because elections are about people, and God cares about everything that happens to people. In an election, we choose leaders to govern and care for the people at every level of our country’s life. Jesus said that even a sparrow is not forgotten by God. If God cares for the tiniest bird, then think how he cares for every single human being. “Even the hairs of your head are numbered,” said Jesus (Matthew 10:30). That’s how extreme God’s love is for us.