The recent dustup over Archbishop Elpidophoros borrowing the historic St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City for a celebration of the Divine Liturgy and then subsequently meeting with its rector, Bishop Dean Wolfe, highlights the perennial debate among Orthodox about how we ought to relate to outsiders. Throughout church history some have seen threats where others see opportunity. But opportunities can be threatening, because they imply risk and change. And for churches to make the most of opportunities requires leaps says Charles Taylor, the eminent Canadian Catholic philosopher and author of the widely praised A Secular Age: “There can and must be leaps. Otherwise no significant forward steps will be made in response to God. Someone has to break altogether with some historic forms” (669).
This conflict over relating to outsiders is as old as the gospels. Jesus made a point of engaging with people “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13). While this was refreshing for some, among religious leaders and traditionalists it mostly ignited opposition. They saw Jesus and later the Apostles as threats to familiar and even God-given customs and traditions. Time and again throughout the gospels we see Jesus standing his ground in the pursuit of the mission to open new opportunities to generously advance God’s Kingdom through compassion, healing, offering a spiritual oasis, simplifying and widening access to grace. He does this often quietly and secretly, but at other times in open defiance of religious leaders and the expectations of his own family and disciples. Here are a few examples:
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.
Now that the American elections are over, it is time to assess the role of the Orthodox Churches in helping to shape our country. They could take a passive stand entirely apart from the political process, but then we would have to accept that everyone else would decide the conditions under which we live as Orthodox Christians. And we would then also have to admit that we don’t actively care about what happens to our country or about contributing to the common good. This would be entirely contrary to the history of the Orthodox Churches, which have almost all played central roles in shaping national cultures, even when they existed—as they did for most of history—under autocratic regimes. Continue Reading…