How should we preach Christ in today’s society? As a rule, modern people are very proud of themselves. In our days nearly every person believes that he forms his worldview on his own: “so many men, so many opinions”.
“See how they love one another!”
We usually don’t pay special attention to the very important missionary words spoken by Christ to His disciples during the Last Supper: That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me (Jn. 17:21). That is, we only can tell the world that God sent Jesus Christ to mankind—the most important thing in our faith—by demonstrating our Christian unity.
So, in my view, today our main missionary task is to ensure that every parish becomes a close-knit community of people, united in love. So that pagans, as it was in ancient times, could point at us Christians and say: “See how they love one another!” We have no other path. True, we could just tell them about Christ, but we must show Him in practice: “Come to our parish and see us for yourself.”
We forget that sincerity is one of the key arguments in missionary talks or communications. It is when those to whom our preaching is directed see that we are not insincere or haughty, that what we say matches what we believe in and live by. Sincerity is a powerful missionary instrument—although we are afraid to use it because sincerity makes us open. By deciding to be sincere we choose to be vulnerable. We can be humiliated and ridiculed. We reveal ourselves more about than is accepted between people who don’t know one another.
But, nevertheless, it is one of the main instruments of a missionary. The same can be said about prayer. A missionary should pray for those to whom he preaches. He is supposed to pray this way: “Lord, give me the words to touch the mind and heart of this person.” And also: “Lord, guard me against vainglory.” For once a missionary has allowed vanity to enter his heart, his endeavors turn out to be fruitless.
“We are only witnesses”
St. Theophan the Recluse once said: “The time will come when there will be so many men, so many faiths.” The Lord didn’t create us like products which are churned out using a template. We are not the same, neither are our lives. The Almighty created us in His image and likeness, and this involves freedom, conscience, and the ability to think.
If someone chooses the missionary path, his criterion will always be the Word of God, the Holy Scripture. On its pages we see the unfading image of the Savior, we contemplate how God revealed Himself to us in the Persons of the Holy Trinity; we see how the apostles received the grace of preaching… All has been said, we don’t have to add any other details of our own invention.
What will we preach then? What was given to all of us. The law, saving grace, the image that Christ revealed to us when He revealed Himself and (through Himself) the Heavenly Father to humanity—this is the essence of our preaching. Everybody is called to heed Divine revelation, from the first to the last man in the world.
We are only witnesses. We testify that this is our faith. And we cannot change a single word. The subject of our preaching is God and His saving power working in the world; His love for the human race; and the laws that God laid down not only in human nature but also in the whole universe. In every natural phenomenon we find one or another law of life given by the Creator; and we cannot avoid these visible laws in our preaching.
But if we just say whatever comes into our heads, it will be superficial compared to what the Lord Himself revealed to us and charged us with, blessing us to preach (cf. Mt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15, etc.).
“We can only talk about spiritual life based on our own experience”
The most eloquent preaching is performed through deeds. These are not necessarily large-scale acts of charity. It is when you, obeying the commandment, hold your tongue or, to the contrary, say the word of truth while all the others are silent for fear; when you behave humbly and do not show off, be concieted, or hypocritically parade your faith or fasting—then you have already won by your good disposition. Faith cannot be concealed; and then, when it comes to light that such-and-such a person—upright, fair, reliable, and modest—is an Orthodox Christian, then it has a far greater effect than any shallow daily preaching and ostentatious ritualism.
So, I believe we should follow several rules. Firstly, we can only talk about spiritual life based on our own experience. Secondly, we should write on abstract historical and theological subjects only if they really concern us and, as we know, concern others, and write only about the things we have studied thoroughly and do it in a balanced manner, without trying to present our own points of views as being those of the Church. By the way, this is exactly what journalism teaches us to do—to consider one or another question from all sides. And, lastly, we should write only when we simply cannot be silent anymore, otherwise the stones would immediately cry (Lk. 19:40).
“The Orthodox faith is comprehensible to highly intelligent and simple people alike”
Evil is aggressive. Pride, nurtured by idle chatter and twaddle, usually sings with somebody else’s voice. Information is ample, yet knowledge is poor. Meanwhile, IQ levels have been falling steadily. It is difficult to choose a correct answer. True, there are also the elect of God, those who have been kissed by the Lord. They will surely find Him, no matter where you hide Him. But what about the others?
They will need time. Time accumulates life experience—the experience of disappointments. The chaff should be left aside. The Orthodox faith is comprehensible to highly intelligent and simple people alike, and in both cases purity of heart and humility of spirit are needed. Yet without a desire for a personal meeting with God all efforts are doomed to failure. What is needed is a personal search in the hope of meeting somebody who knows Christ and brings this knowledge with love. Anyone who seeks (or even simply desires) will find (cf. Mt. 7:8).
Preaching Christ, either today or tomorrow, we are sure to return where a worthy example, a look of love, and a warm touch of hand led us to repentance, creating a new reality inside us.
“Above all, we should tell people that God is love”
I think that our contemporaries, choked up in the general atmosphere of enmity (because of the lack of love), above all expect love from the Church. That is why above all we should tell those on the outside that God is love. Our words should testify to the fact that the God of Love is deeply involved in our lives and instill hope in the hearts of people through correct interpretations of events and circumstances.
All people in all times pursue happiness for themselves and their loved ones. Why not use this natural desire and channel it in the right direction, explaining to people in a language they understand where they can find this happiness? Human beings never want to suffer and try to avoid suffering. Why not use this drive and tell them about sin as a cause of suffering, which they could avoid?
In any case, preachers should follow the Holy Apostle Paul, who said: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (1 Cor. 9:22), and preach Christ, relying on the painful places in society. And there is no end of them in our society.
“People thirst for common kindness and not rhetorical skills”
I may surprise many by this statement, but people are very responsive to the preaching of Christ. That has always been and will always be the case. For human souls feel miserable without God, they thirst for the truth, light, goodness, and warmth. People are drawn to this. If you a man of candor, if you are driven by sincerity in your relations with God, your neighbors, and everything around you, then people are quickly drawn to you, even if you have never thought about it and have never had any missionary aims.
Actually, preaching in the sense of coming out onto the streets and announcing the Gospel, looking down on people, would be extremely unwise. Human souls thirst for living, heart-to-heart talk, for cordial treatment and common kindness, and not rhetorical skills or psychotherapeutic counselling. True, being a good person is not sufficient to awaken faith in people; what is needed is something “other-worldly”, something that is higher than our earthly passions—that is, our life in Christ, for life only life awakens life.
As soon as the fire of somebody’s live communication with God begins to glow, we are ready to hurry there because something awakens in our hearts after contact with the soul that lives in God. We feel something that is close to us and necessary for us, yet something that we have not achieved or have lost.
So, I believe that genuineness is the most important thing in our Christian life. If you are a liar, if you say one thing and think another—who will believe you? People will feel your hypocrisy and won’t follow you. But when people feel genuineness, it inspires respect and prompts the desire to come into contact with the treasure that a believer possesses.
“The main problem of our time is doing little with a general habit of verbosity”