One of the greatest blessings of being a priest is meeting people who have just become interested in the Church. It is energizing to hear the questions and to walk alongside someone discovering the faith for the first time or returning to it after years but with new eyes. Even greater perhaps is meeting someone who doesn’t know Christ or has even perhaps rejected Christianity for all kinds of reasons (many of them understandable!) but encounters something different in Orthodoxy that draws them in to ask the questions again.
I’m becoming convinced that the Lord’s call to evangelize – to share the good news of Christ – is as much about the mutual spiritual benefit that happens when we do step out in faith and remain curious about what work God is already doing in hearts. I’m certainly convinced that it is not I who does very much in this scenario, that God is already at work and pursuing all of His beloved. What I must do is stay awake and stay focused on Christ. My part is to keep seeing the good, the life, and seeking it out even in the hardest places that seem impossible. I think that’s the kind of faith Jesus speaks of when he talk about the faith that can move mountains.
Think about some of the mountains that can be present in hearts and seem impossible to overcome. It seems like we have a lot of mountains that need to be moved these days. These are the apparent barriers between one another that we get convinced we need to build up for our own safety, our own comfort and our own assurance. I don’t see anything though in the example of Christ, or of the apostles or saints that tells us anything about building barriers. Faith seems to be about moving them, tearing them down. I think its an invitation to stay alive and awake and I would add curious – curious about what God is doing – and being willing to risk our reputation, comfort, and sureness to do this.
There is a beautiful story in the life of St. Columba, the monk, mystic and missionary whose imprint and legacy looms large in the British Isles, especially Scotland. The account says that there was a monk Berach who was to sail that day. Berach went to St. Columba for a blessing. St. Columb, gifted with the ability to discern the future, tells the brother to be careful and perhaps go a different route for a great fish would be in the waters and would frighten them. Berach did not heed the warning and indeed did meet a great, fearful fish. The account says that it lifted out of the water like a mountain and showed its teeth. Berach turned and sailed back in fear. The next day another brother Baithene was to sail and also asked St. Columba’s blessing. Columba spoke of the great fish and Baithene responded “Both the fish and I are in God’s power.” St. Columba responded, seeing the great faith of Baithene and said “Go in peace – you will not be harmed, your faith will protect you.” Baithene encountered the great fish and with the sign of the cross blessed (did not curse) the fish and the ocean. The beast swam away no longer fearsome to the sailors.
You see, so long as the disposition between the sailor and the fish was that of separation – adversarial, fear based – the mutual aggression would remain. The divide would remain like a mountain. But one act of faith by Baithene made all the difference. For this faith noticed not the difference, but the sameness of him and the fish. They are both under God’s power, care and love. This tore down the wall of enmity. Both Baithene and the fish could live in peace.
I spoke at the beginning of how this call to evangelism, of curious faith is really something that is meant to be a mutual blessing. I believe it to be so and I want to share one story that recently truly encouraged me and really reset some things in my mind and heart in what it was to be Orthodox, and to be one who is called to servant leadership.
I was messaging with a seeker, someone interested in the faith. I had given the person some reading to do and bid the person to ask any questions he encountered as he read. There are many questions people seeking ask and I believe all questions are good. Some have doctrinal questions or practical questions about liturgical things. Some have historical questions, some want to know what the Orthodox church teaches on this or that or what our position is on various issues. These are all important questions. However this person floored me when I read the question posed.
“How can I be saved?”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is THE question to ask, whether as a seeker or someone who has been Orthodox their whole life. We as Orthodox see salvation as a continual process, a life of turning towards life. What if we began with this when we thought about why we are Orthodox? How can I be saved? This is so much more important and truly unifying for us than where the Church stands on this or that or what text we use or even what one Church Father says about this as opposed to another one. It’s much more important than what programs we should do to get this or that result. Those things are all fine but they are not the central, needful, essential, unifying thing.
Our unity as Orthodox is not even or ever has been in our complete agreement, except agreement we all know we need to be saved and somehow the mystery of God’s plan of salvation involves us being saved together, around a table, sharing in the Divine Meal Christ has prepared for us, all of us.
The thing about this kind of faith, the curious kind of faith, the fearless kind of faith, the one that looks for the work God is already doing, the faith that starts with “How can I be saved?” sure sounds like Good News to me as opposed to how the Church is sometimes presented. It takes an almost foolish level of trust in God to believe we could be unified, as different as we are, and that we and our perceived obstacle or enemy are under God’s power, care and love. But I think that’s the only kind of faith that moves mountains.