By Anonymous contributor
We have missed the mark. The chasm between Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy must be addressed and healed within our churches and within the hearts of the faithful. How can I make such a bold and audacious statement? Because it is true.
I, like most Orthodox Christians, grew up in a loving, supportive, celebratory, and spiritually grounding community. We created in essence our own world inside the “American” world. In fact, the language of being Greek and being American were always clearly delineated, even though, of course, we were all Americans. We loved our country. Many of our families and ancestors fought to protect our nation. Including my father and uncles.
However, when it comes to truly see the larger community outside of our church grounds as our community, and indeed our extended family we are deeply challenged. Certainly, we have the Philoptochos, our philanthropic organization. We have the AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) and the Daughters of Penelope. They do good work and cannot be underestimated.
Our youth groups also contribute a myriad of ways to bringing joy and support not only to our parishes but to the larger community with food drives, clothing drives, fundraising efforts, and sharing their talents. None of this can be denied nor underestimated. Yet, there is something so blatantly obvious, so hurtful, and tragic that we turn a blind eye every single day because to see it and name it would cause shock waves within our churches and upon our souls.
I will illustrate to give credence to what I am saying. It speaks to the very heart of the difference between Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy. Orthodoxy refers to doctrinal correctness and Orthopraxy refers to right practice. One gives us knowledge of our faith and the other puts faith into action. We need both.
One day, after church, as we walked towards our vehicles, I noticed that there was a pile of clothes on the bench by the street at the edge of our church parking lot. My friend corrected me and said: “That’s not a pile of clothes. That’s a person, there is an arm hanging out.” Indeed, there was an arm hanging out on the other side of the bench obstructed by my view.
I was surprised by this revelation, yet we continued speaking until they went to their vehicle to go home. Before going to my car, I walked to the bench and spoke to the person buried beneath the clothing. “Is anyone there? Can I speak with you? I’d like to help you.” Then like a furled-up butterfly opening up and shedding the layers of a cocoon, the piled-up layers of clothing fell off and a beautiful, yes, beautiful, but tired, torn, and broken woman emerged and appeared before me.
It was a moment that will forever be embedded in my consciousness and memory. As if I was witnessing a birth from the caverns of darkness. From the deepest cave of captivity. In many ways, it was a birth. Let me explain.
I gave her money for food. I then asked if I could pray for her. She said yes. I prayed the prayer of deliverance to break whatever chains were holding her down. Whatever chains were keeping her in spiritual bondage and tormenting her. The chains of homelessness, hunger, illness, addiction, abuse, loneliness, and abandonment. I prayed for the restoration of her health and relationships. I prayed for her to be loved. I reminded her of her true identity – child of God. I told her she was beautiful and worthy and that her life mattered. She was visibly and emotionally moved. She prayed along with me affirming Amen, Amen, Amen.
She then asked if I had any clothes to give her and fortunately, I had clothes in my car as I was going to deliver them to a church in my neighborhood. I gave her clothes and a large weekender bag that I also had in my car. I gave her information about a homeless shelter, and she told me she is already on the waiting list.
I am not sharing this story to pat myself on the back. Just the opposite. I came home that day and cried. Because I realized how many Christians walked past this woman lying on the bench and showed her no mercy. I also cried because I was the one in need of repentance. There I was talking about our faith when less than thirty feet away from me was a woman waiting to be ministered to as instructed by our Lord and Savior.
We must have this scripture embedded in our hearts from the book of Matthew: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”. (Matthew 25:40-46).
We need a major reset. We need a major reset in our faith. Not the type of reset that is being advocated by church authorities, hierarchy, leaders, even clergy, who want to upend two thousand years of Orthodoxy with their “progressive” political and social agenda. We need a major reset to be bold and to be not only Orthodox in words but to live Orthopraxy. To bring to life our faith in our hearts and souls and not only in our mind, intellect, and knowledge base.
My experience was a powerful reminder that God always leaves the door open and a pathway for us to return to Him. We do not fall off the ladder of St. John Climacus as some would like us to believe. There is no rung too low that we cannot climb back to God. There is no amartia nor sinfulness so widely angled that cannot be brought back to the single perfect center point as was taught to us by Father Thomas Hopko at the Lentin Retreat: Sin: Primordial, Generational, and Personal at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Repentance, forgiveness, and redemption are not intellectual concepts, they are God’s love in action.
We must reaffirm our true identity. We are children of God, disciples of Christ, and ambassadors in the Kingdom. Because of this, we have a duty and mandate to live out our faith not just know about our faith. To give mercy and serve those who suffer is the absolute living of our faith.
We must not be afraid, have disdain nor distrust to approach the shattered and shaken among us. They are the fertile ground for God’s power and glory to be revealed. We should not be ashamed to stand and show the world that we are witnesses to a mighty God. We should not care what the world thinks of us but what God thinks of us. Every day is one more opportunity to not only see Christ in our midst but to be Christ in our midst.
God help us. God have mercy on us. God bless us all.