Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | April 3, 2008

Bishop Thomas on the Draw of Orthodoxy

If you haven’t stumbled upon Generation Orthodox and their Icon New Media Network, you should. Through podcasts, these folks “delve into pop culture, technology and art from a Gen-X/Y Orthodox Christian Perspective”. But for my money, these folks seem to be able to deliver a touch of enthusiasm in their love for Orthodoxy, for its disciplines as well as its informality and authenticity that…. well, may just be one of the greatest gifts of unpretentious youth. Speaking as someone whose just crossed the mid-century mark, I hope these folks will forgive my perspective as I mean this as a compliment…. for as a geezer, it becomes increasingly clear that the value of what those who come after us see in our Church is indeed a gift that helps clarify our own vision.

Recently, Jacob Lee interviewed His Grace Bishop Thomas of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic (Antiochian). In this, you can hear His Grace’s love for Christ and the Church as he speaks of evangelism in particular. I found his comments on the appeal of Orthodoxy about as direct as any I’ve seen or heard, and with Jacob’s gracious permission, I have transcribed a portion to share here for the more time pressed. Nevertheless, there is much else to be gained in listening to the whole of his comments. Bishop Thomas’s specific thoughts on evangelism through “Come and See”, on the Hospital for Sinners vs. the Social Club , on the necessity of The Great Commission… and much else are worth hearing for yourself, so I commend the whole.

What is it that draws folks into Orthodoxy ? What do they want?

“Simply because people want something that is genuine… they want something that has an unbroken connection to the Church of the apostles. If you listen to the hymns of the Church… whether it be Christmas; whether it be Pascha; whether it be the Feast of the Presentation… they always refer to that particular event as being ‘today’: “Today Christ is born”; “Today Christ is risen”; “Today He is presented in the temple”… And I think the draw to Orthodoxy has to do with the fact that there is an unbroken chord from the Church that was established on the day of Pentecost to this Church. And we do everything we can… most especially those of us in the episcopacy… to make sure that chord is not broken. There have been schisms in the church, sadly… I mean there have been schisms, there have been protests… churches that have begun out of protest… because they’ve become schismatic in their formation and have been born in protest… (and) that chord is broken. I don’t think people want to go… I don’t think that they want Christ to be re-invented… I don’t think they want the scriptures to be re-invented. You can find churches that have rewritten the scriptures to make them politically correct…”

“You receive your station in life as the servant of God and you’re grateful for that. You don’t send God a job description or send him a resume and say, “Well… I want something different.” You’re thankful to God he gives you some sort of ministry. You’re thankful to him that he gives you a diaconate; he gives you a servant hood; and you’re thankful that you’re the clay that he made; and being that you accept what he gives you and you’re part of that, you don’t try in some way to change the Kingdom of God; you don’t change what he has intended you to be; you ask him to allow you to do his will.”

“The Orthodox Church’s appeal is to those people who wish to be slaves of God, servants of God; its appeal is to people who want to be deacons as (St.) Stephen was a deacon; its appeal is to people who really want to be friends with St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, Gregory the Theologian; who want to be in kinship with them; who want to converse with them as they experience the Church triumphant as we battle here in the Church militant. This is the appeal to Orthodoxy.”

“Now if you’re not particularly attached or not in love… not passionately in love with the day of Pentecost and the Book of Acts and the Church that was established by Jesus Christ, then you’re not going to be particularly in love with Orthodoxy. I’m sure there are many people who are not in love with Orthodoxy because they think it’s archaic; they think it’s strange; and they think it’s foreign. Y’know, if you’re a young child five-years-old, and somebody gives you a baseball bat or football or basketball for the first time, that’s as foreign as to you anything else. But you receive it, you watch others work with it, and you grow with it. It’s not too different with the Church. If you’ll open up your mind and your heart to it, you will be part of that continuous chord.”

“One of the great beauties of the Orthodox Church, the traditional Christian church, is that we don’t believe the scripture ended with the Book of Revelations. We hear in the Gospel of John, “Jesus did many other things” and “We suppose that if they were to be written down, all the books in the world could not contain them.” Well it continues, Jesus continues to do these things, Jesus continues to work in the Church; he continues to keep the Church connected; so that everything that happened on the Pentecost continues to happen; it’s an unbroken chord. And I think there’s a considerable number of people in America that are interested in being a part of that…..”

“It doesn’t even matter that this particular society that we live in, or this world that we live in is not particularly geared to piety. As a matter of fact during my time I’ve seen the beginnings of persecution of the Church and piety. But if you study traditional Christianity, if you study Christianity, the Church has always thrived, …it’s always… it’s flourished the most during persecution. I think that being the case, if we’re in times of minor persecution as traditional Christians, I think it means that we can look forward to meeting great saints, great witnesses in the Church, more martyrs, more saints. And if that’s what it takes, persecution is what brings about holiness, then it’s probably best that we say, “Bring on persecution!” so that we may be made perfect and made holy and be made servants of God.”

“You should be prepared… if you are Orthodox or considering to be Orthodox… you should be prepared to be part of that unbroken chord… and most especially in these present times part of that unbroken chord of martyrdom. If you don’t think martyrdom is for you, if you don’t think that giving yourself up for God is for you…then this church isn’t for you. This is a church of martyrs, this is a church of witnesses… and one of the titles that’s given to the saints is Fools for Christ. This is a church of Fools for Christ. and if you don’t feel that being a Fool for Christ is for you, then probably your courtship with Orthodoxy needs to be extended.”

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