As faithful Orthodox Christians, we are called to live in the world yet not be of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified (John 17:15-21).
These words may seem contradictory if we are not looking through spiritual eyes; but when we do, they are completely congruent and in harmony with God’s plan for His children. All of His children. We are also to have righteous judgment but guard against self-righteousness. Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment (John 7:24). I find myself, especially in today’s polarized world, walking the fine line every day to be vigilant, careful, and prudent in my judgment of my brother and sister, so that the judgment is for correction and not condemnation. The line between the two is becoming blurred, distorted, even celebrated.
We know the foundation of our faith. We know that we are the Early Church, the Church of the Apostles, and we also know that we are called to be disciples of Christ and ambassadors in His Kingdom. God sent His Son for the lost sheep, the broken, and the suffering. This includes all of us.
This does not mean that we revel in sinfulness. It means that we are aware of the workings of darkness and stand firm in sharing the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. But how do we minister to God’s children when we are filled with condemnation and criticism? How do we show the world the hope and joy found in a personal relationship with Jesus when we present ourselves as bitter, vengeful, and bent on warfare?
Physical warfare is not the only type of warfare. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). Spiritual warfare is what we fight against daily; but let us remember that in fighting the darkness and the adverse powers, we must not open the portals in our armor to become agents of the darkness itself. How is this possible?
This is possible when we foment hatred and anger in our hearts. When we judge our brothers and sisters because we see them as the enemy, as someone to overcome and defeat. Christ already defeated death with death. The thief comes but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy, I come that they may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
We are not here to be agents of death, darkness, destruction, nor division. We are here to shine the Light of Christ that was given to us at our baptism. When our Lord said: I will not leave you as orphans, He meant I will not leave you as orphans. We not only experience the Light of Christ inside our holy Orthodox Churches, but we are meant to be the light outside the doors of our churches.
My heart is heavy, but my burden is light. Instead of seeing the deep and rooted reasons why sinfulness permeates our hearts and our world, we instead want to rally and rage against the symptoms, the branches if you will. In doing so, we sometimes employ the tactics of ridicule, stereotyping, and bias. These serve no edifying nor sanctifying purpose.
It is not the branches that we should be fighting. It is the very root that fuels the sap of the branches, which is not life-giving, but life-depleting. The root of working against God’s plan for our lives; the root of why we miss the mark, the very essence of amartia.
I have no desire to wake up everyday and look at the world and see only hopelessness. God did not create us to be hopeless. He created us, knowing us even before we were born, because of His infinite love and mercy. We too, are called to have love and mercy for each other.
How can we show the world love and mercy when we are in a constant state of battle and argument? The truth is—we cannot. We defeat ourselves even before we have the chance to sow seeds in the field—even before we have the chance to be seed planters for God.
We do not call a child names. We do not bully. We do not personally attack but speak to the act in need of correction. When we limit our ability to see the wholeness of another human being, we limit the potential for ministering to them in Jesus’ name. We close the door on the possibility of them coming to God.
I am weary. I am weary of seeing both sides of the battle. I am weary of the sinfulness in the world, but I am also weary of well-meaning Orthodox Christians who are missing the mark of being ambassadors in Christ’s kingdom. Our faith is not based in politics, ideology, nor in a worldly agenda nor running narrative. Our faith is based in God’s Word, His teachings, and the foundation and teachings of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church. This is our anchor, this is our guiding light, this is the mark that we aim for—not the acceptance nor praise of man, but the approval and pleasing from our God.
Let us be courageous like the early Christians, the ones who risked and gave their lives for the faith. The ones who knew that the Light of Christ was not contained inside our houses of worship to be visited one day a week, but a living, breathing Light, that resides in each of us. Let us be the light in the world and share the good news of salvation.
Recently, in a moment of contemplative prayer, in the midst of my own physical pain, I saw flashed before my eyes the faces of so many that I know, who are suffering in their own ways right now. Some are suffering because of personal and conscious decisions that have led to their struggles, even downfall. Others suffer in ways that are more mysterious, where one cannot always discern the “why” of their hardship. Yet in prayer this is what I received—have compassion. As soon as I was able to be compassionate regardless of the “why”, I immediately felt my own pain not only lessen, but release.
Love and mercy are the gifts we give others, they are also the gifts we give ourselves when we allow our hearts to fill with compassion for our brothers and sisters. I have been told more than once by Greek Orthodox pastors that to love God and love our neighbor is a message given to us in the New Testament. This is a lesson of which we need to be reminded.
The time is now to draw a line in the sand. The time is now to stand against the darkness in all its forms and at the same time to show righteous judgment not self-righteousness. The time is now to be the light and love in the world so desperately in need of light and love. One is the path to hope and the other is the path to hopelessness. Let us always choose hope.
Jackie Morfesis is an “author, advocate, and creative”. She held a one-year Rotary International Ambassadorial scholarship to Greece, and currently serves in prison ministry.