Yes, God love us, yes, wants us to be happy and yes, He wants us to be successful.
But all of this comes on God’s terms not my own.
Unfortunately, too many Orthodox Christians have bought into the idea God’s love for them means God wants them to be happy and successful on their terms rather than His. We usually don’t say this explicitly.
But how often have we heard someone say “God doesn’t judge?” when what they meant is “Do what you want”?
Let me offer myself as an example.
I’m the pastor of a small mission on the campus of UW-Madison. Being on campus is important but presents a number of challenges. Pastoral challenges aside, it’s expensive to be right by the university. This means that my community will probably never be large, never have a great building. And while we are on campus for students—and my parishioners are enthusiastic about serving students—it is simply hard to get students involved in the life of the Church.
These challenges help me remember that true and lasting happiness and success only come from fidelity to what God has called us to do. AND NOTHING ELSE.
There isn’t an Orthodox Church that’s 100, 75, or even 50 years old that wasn’t started by the evangelical efforts of immigrants or first generation Orthodox Christians from the “Old Country.” Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians, Arabs, Serbians and Orthodox Christians from all over the world, came to America and started churches.
For these missionaries, America was a fertile missionary field. They may not have done things perfectly or even the way we do today but so what?
They used what they had at hand to plant the Church in America. In addition to their faith, what they had was their culture and language.
While culture is important, even under the best of conditions it is always only nominally Christian. The reason for this is that culture–all cultures–is always a mix of different traditions.
That said, culture can be, and often is, our life in Christ. This is as true for American culture as it is for traditional Orthodox cultures.
But however important culture is, we need something more. Why is this?
While religious education and apologetics are both important, we need to be careful that we don’t confuse saying things which are true with “speaking the truth in love.”
When Jesus speaks to someone, even when He tells them a hard truth (“Go sell all you have”) He is speaking as someone who has a deep, intimate knowledge to the person.
When Jesus speaks, He speaks as the God Who has called that person “out of non-existence into being” (Liturgy St John Chrysostom) and Who knitted him together in his “mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13).
And He does all this so that we can grow and become Who He has created us to be.
We have great programs and they work well for those who participate in them. To name only a few:
Orthodox Summer camps
Orthodox Christian Fellowship
ZOE for Life
Orthodox Christian Mission Center
International Orthodox Christian Charities
All do good work. The problem is that our programs aren’t reaching the majority of the faithful.
The practical result of this is that not all of the many gifts God has poured out on His People are being used. The pastoral result of this is that laypeople who want to be active in, for example, the philanthropic or educational or evangelical life of the Church don’t think they can do so. Why? Because there isn’t a program they can plug into.
But new programs aren’t really the answer. Not because programs are bad, they’re not, but because the life of the Church can’t be contained by programs. And, more importantly, even the best program can (even if unintentionally) stifle the creativity of the individual.