With the “Fear” of God: Three Things Awe of God Can Teach Us

Many people replace the God of Love with the god of fear.

This replacement god is a vindictive perfectionist who punishes those who aren’t good enough. And this “god” character usually leads to either atheism or despair.

Thankfully, the God we worship isn’t Zeus.

But when we hear in the Liturgy that we are to have the “fear of God,” it might lead to some confusion.

So if the fear of God isn’t about being scared of or intimidated by some cosmic tyrant, how can we explain it?

Part of the problem is an imprecise translation: a better choice might be “awe” or “wonder.” So let’s see how having awe and wonder before God can bring us to a healthier relationship with Him.

1. It teaches us God’s greatness by comparison

If I’m in awe of something or someone, it’s because of my reaction to greatness. If I’m in awe of a beautiful sunset, I won’t be able to take my eyes off of it. It’s awe-inspiring because at that moment I can’t remember ever seeing such a wonderful sight. If I’m in awe of an artist’s work, it’s because I see something so incredibly beyond my skill level, something that inspires and shapes the way I see the world.

So when I experience the “fear of God” at the Liturgy, I am aware of God’s greatness. My eyes have been opened to the reality of my own limitations and to God’s limitlessness. To my own brokenness and God’s wholeness. I stand in awe of God and His power, in comparison to my own powerlessness.

The truly beautiful thing, though, is that God doesn’t stop there. When we hear “with the fear of God” we also hear, “with faith and love, draw near.” The God who created the universe, Who is awe-inspiringly beautiful and powerful, desires to be in an intimate relationship with us, personally.

What’s more awesome than that?

Fear, as the world uses the word, is destructive to relationships. But having a proper awe and wonder before the greatness of God pulls us into a relationship with Him. And it is precisely in knowing that God wants a relationship with us, even in acknowledging His greatness and our unworthiness before Him, that we begin to understand the power of His love.

But, of course, there’s only so far our understanding can go.

2. It opens us to God’s otherness or the mystery of God

If I stand in wonder of something, there’s an element of mystery or something you just can’t quite put your finger on. New parents might sit in wonder at the miracle of conception and childbirth, for instance.

There’s certainly a level of wonder in our relationship with God. In Orthodoxy, we try to balance between what we know about God and what we can’t know. In many ways, God is intimate, close and knowable…and in other ways, He is always going to be a mystery. We wrestle with the tension between these two realities. Even if we can’t fully grasp it, we can live it: God is the uncreated Creator who chose to become part of His creation to bring us all into a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.

What a gift! How then do we respond to this overwhelming sense of awe and wonder before God?

3. It inspires an active response

During the Liturgy, the priest directs the congregation how to respond as one, as the Body of Christ. We are told to “bow our heads to the Lord” and to “lift up our hearts.” There are times where it is appropriate to bow and cross ourselves (like during the Trisagion, the Thrice-Holy Hymn) or whenever the Holy Trinity is named. These aren’t simply private devotional practices; they are ways for every person in the congregation to move as if with one motion.

If we are in awe and in wonder of God during the Liturgy, we are also going to be attentive. We will be paying attention to the cues that the priest gives and we will be prepared to receive the grace that God gives us through our worship.

If we are zoned out during the Liturgy, checking our phone (or our watch) or having a conversation with our neighbor, we must not be experiencing awe and wonder. There’s no fear of God in that response to God’s presence. We have no connection. But God is already reaching out to us; we have to take a step forward to Him, too.

If God is truly present in the Body and Blood that we receive in the Eucharist, there is no other response before Him than to stand in awe and wonder. And then of course, to approach and receive Him.

The response to beauty is either silence or praise – not indifference. So our response to God’s beauty, our response to His presence with us cannot be to ignore it – we must either be silent or lift up our praise. That means, for example, that there’s no reason to be having a conversation with someone in the line for communion. We should be in prayer, in silent wonder of God both before and after we take communion. And if we, for whatever reason, aren’t taking communion, we should be respectful and attentive to the fact that others around us are.

This isn’t about fear of punishment (by God, the priest, or a yiayia) it’s about appreciating God for Who He Is and having the proper attitude when standing in the presence of the living God: an attitude of awe and wonder.

*****

There’s a good reason the Liturgy gives us the same cues each week. We need to constantly be told to pay attention, to “be attentive!” and to have awe and wonder before God. It’s all too easy in today’s self-sufficient world to be more in awe of ourselves than of the God who gives us breath and who lovingly cares for us throughout the day.

So ask yourself, how are you responding to God’s presence in your life today? Are you in awe and wonder before Him, or have you been ignoring His invitation to come forward?

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

 

Photo Credit:

Beautiful Mountain Sunset Wallpaper

Awe Child

Christ Administering Holy Eucharist

For more:

Invading Hell Isn’t Safe; Now Do It – Afterfeast of the Presentation

“Is he quite-safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,
C.S. Lewis

Security is such a tempting vision for “the good life.”

It’s easy to think that if we could only have enough safety and comfort, we would be in a position to really enjoy life. So we spend a lot of effort guarding ourselves against risk.

We buy big houses so we can feel safe from the elements. We invest in the best security systems so we don’t have to worry about thieves breaking into these houses. We spend incredible amounts of money on health insurance to guard ourselves against disease.

In past blog posts I’ve explored how these efforts stem from our fear of death. We store up our goods so that we will have plenty, terrified by the possibility of loss. But those who invest, those who know how to multiply their goods, will tell you that even the best investment involves a certain amount of risk.

Yet risk can also be a necessary path to reward; we intuitively know that, if something isn’t risky, it probably isn’t worth doing. Part of the fun of a roller coaster, for instance, is how exhilaratingly terrifying the ride is.

The risk leads to (and is part of) the payoff.

 God asks us to take a risk in becoming disciples of His Son. And we don’t do a very good job talking about that.

Sure, we talk about the battle against the passions, we talk about the labor of ascetic discipline, but what about the risk of participating in God’s Mission in the world?

In Christ, death has already been defeated. It’s like a roller coaster that has already been completed; we know the ride is a bit scary, but in the end, everything is going to work out okay. Yet much of the world still lies under the shadow of death: broken homes, exploited populations, abused children.

All these things are still colonies of Hell. God’s Mission is to fill Death with Himself, and He’s inviting us to join Him on this quest.

Frequently, I hear well-intentioned folks quoting Christ’s words, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Often, they interpret Christ’s words to mean that He built the Orthodox Church two thousand years ago, and (Look!) it’s still around, prevailing against all assaults of demonic heresies.

Folks aren’t wrong to say this, but it’s incomplete.

Yes, the Church is a rampart and fortress, protecting us from the darts of the evil one. But notice that Christ says that when He builds His Church, it is the gates of hell that shall not prevail; when was the last time you saw any army (even a demonic army) attack anything with gates?

Gates are defensive measures.

Let’s look at this verse with new eyes now. If Christ is saying that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, then this means that the Church is the army that is storming the province of Hades. It means that the gates will not prevail because they’ve already been roundhouse-kicked by Chuck Norris Christ.

The High King of Heaven has waged war against the armies of evil, and He has conquered the battlements of hell, and He is charging His army to follow in His footsteps.

He is charging the Church with the invasion of hell.

As baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians, persons who receive Christ’s very Life through His Body and Blood, we are each charged with this. And each of us has been given a set of gifts that our King wishes to use in His conquest.

This Sunday, we read about a master who entrusted three of his servants with various amounts of “talents;” one servant receives five, another two, and the last receives one.

The servant who received five invests his money and receives five more talents as a return for his risky (but well-planned) business venture. The second servant also doubles his amount, for a total of four talents. The last servant, however, afraid of what his master might do if he lost the talent, hides it, and ends with a net yield of zero.

When the master returns, the two who increased their talents are commended, while the servant who was afraid to use the one talent is duly reprimanded:

You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. (Matt. 25:26-27)

This image of money and investments is a helpful metaphor about participating in God’s Mission of overthrowing hell.

The Lord has given each of us talents, gifts, strengths, passions, drive – call it whatever you want, but it comes from God. And He has given us these gifts so that we might use them to invade the colonies of Hell and claim them for Christ’s Kingdom.

​Too often we assume that being a faithful Orthodox Christian only has to do with saying the right prayers or attending all the divine services. This is certainly part of it, because it is in prayer and the services where we receive marching orders and understand what life in Christ’s Kingdom is like: all are welcome, all drink from the same cup, all are invited to a life without fear, without pain, without sorrow.

As members of God’s Church, of His Kingdom, we are called to use these talents for the sake of the Master, not for our own lives. We are called into risky territories, to put our lives on the line as we seek to take back what is rightfully God’s, as we seek to reap the souls of all those in the world.

We cannot be afraid of hell. It’s already been defeated. It is the roller coaster that Christ has completed and shown us how to ride. Now the trick is getting on the ride, taking the risk of getting hurt, and greeting Christ as our Master when we reach the other side.

Where do you feel called to invade hell with Christ? What are your strengths? How has the story of your life prepared you to be God’s emissary in the territories of death?

Figure it out, and throw all your talents right there, for that is your entry place into the fight. To quote Fredrick Beuchner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Find that place.

Photo Credit:

Battlements: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

Bible: J. Mark Bertrand via Compfight cc

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

______________

For more:

For more on storming the gates of hell, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

Learning to Live "Synodically"

A Reflection on the Forthcoming Great and Holy Council.

A few weeks ago, at the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a couple of days in Istanbul for a gathering of Orthodox scholars from around the world. The purpose of the meeting was twofold: a) an opportunity for the Ecumenical Patriarch to learn about a “younger generation” of Orthodox scholars, our areas of concern and interest, and how these areas intersect with the work of the Patriarchate; b) a meeting with His Eminence Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon to discuss the forthcoming Great and Holy Council. The news about the gathering, including the statement from His All-Holiness to the group, photos, and the list of the participants can be found on the patriarchate’s website.

The discussions about the Council were wide ranging. Over four hours, we learned how challenging it has been to develop the statements that the Council will review for final ratification and even to plan for this historic event. Others have discussed many of those challenges. A statement made by Metropolitan John to us bears repeating and reflecting upon. He said, “We are learning to live ‘synodically.’”

The word “synod” in Greek is “synodos” and combines syn- for together, odos for road. In the Synaxarion, we read of a saint and his or her “synodia,” the companions, the fellow-travelers, as it were. A synod is an experience of walking together, to be on the same road. Is this what Metropolitan John meant?

When I was in elementary school, our teachers required a class to line up straight to move from one place to another (do they still do that?). It taught us discipline and kept order in the hallways. On the way home from school, my friends and I would walk as a group (do children walk to or from school any more?), with someone leading, some lagging, some off to the side. The loudest voices often dominated any conversations, but not always. On that walk, there could be many different conversations. Sometimes everyone talked about the same thing; sometimes the conversation would be just with the person walking closest to you; and we didn’t always agree on everything. But, we walked the same path. We walked together daily.

There are instances of “walking the same road” in the Gospels. As an itinerant teacher, we see Jesus teaching in many places, including as he moved from one place to another. As a result, his followers would walk with him as he taught, including “on the road.” For example in Mark 8:27, they traveled to Caesarea Phillipi. The pericope records only one conversation—the famous, “Who do you say that I am?” discussion—but it is easy to imagine that there could have been many conversations occurring between Jesus and his disciples, or between the disciples on their journey. They probably did not walk in a line, but in a group, with some closer to Jesus than others, some in the back, lagging behind, perhaps others off to one side. Yet they still walked the same road as one group.

Rarely are groups univocal, speaking with one voice. And we can be alarmed when a group does achieve that level (have you seen the political rallies on television lately?). But we pray in the Divine Liturgy, “Let us love one another so that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity, one in essence and inseparable.” The love we share as Christians unifies us and we are able to speak as one body and confess our Faith. The Holy Spirit empowers the Church to speak as one (See Acts 15:27, “it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord”. Recall how statements from the Councils are collective statements of the Church’s Faith, usually beginning “We…”). Conciliar documents direct the leaders on the path to follow in matters of doctrine and praxis. Our goal in the Church is to care and maintain for our unity through dialogue and conversation, to ask for the Holy Spirit to enable us to walk together, so that we may speak as one community and so that God speaks through the Church.

If I understood Metropolitan John correctly, the fourteen autocephalous churches—the four ancient patriarchates and the more modern nationally organized patriarchates and churches—are learning what it means to walk together as one group, as one Church. For decades and centuries, they have shared one Faith, but lived largely independently, making decisions for themselves. Now they are trying to walk together and make decisions for all. Like any group walking together, there are many voices, many conversations, many interests, making it challenging to speak as one. This Council’s great challenge will be to overcome local interest in favor of global commonality.

Two American aphorisms might be helpful to understand the challenges inherent in this forthcoming Council. As the US Congressman Tip O’Neill so famously put it, “all politics is local.” In this situation for the Council, local interests and conversations could prevail over the global. The second is “Will it play in Peoria?” refers to how any action may be received by a mainstream audience or consumer. In the case of the Council, statements and actions of any participant may be for consumption back home, rather than necessarily for the good of all. In response, perhaps the words of Augustine of Hippo are useful, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, compassion (should it be, love, since the Latin term is caritas?).”

The upcoming Council, will be a first step in learning to live synodically. Which or whose conversations will matter the most? Will it be only Constantinople and Moscow’s? Will it be possible for other voices to get a word in? Will it be possible to speak as one? Will the global needs of Orthodoxy prevail over any local or narrow parochial interests? Will the synod reach accord and agree to walk together on the same road?

Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech and Commitment to Christian Duty

Epiphany this year, January 6, 2016, marked the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech.  In his 1941 Annual Message to Congress (State of the Union Address), President Roosevelt braced the United States for a looming war against fascism by enunciating four fundamental principles—freedoms—that were imperiled and that he argued had to be defended and advanced as universal goals essential for all of humanity.  The first was freedom of speech and expression, everywhere in the world.  The second was freedom of worship, throughout the world.  The third was freedom from want, meaning economic health sufficient for all nations and people to live free from hunger and material insecurity.  The fourth freedom was freedom from fear, which meant the establishment of international conditions and relations for peace and security everywhere in the world.

President Roosevelt’s bold vision for humanity transformed the international system.  The ideas articulated in the Four Freedoms were the basis for the fundamental principles of the 1941 Atlantic Charter, an international policy statement that defined the Allied goals for the postwar world.  Those same principles drove the United Nations Declaration in 1942, which evolved into the United Nations after Roosevelt’s death in 1945.  Finally, the Four Freedoms became the conceptual catalyst for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 through the work of Eleanor Roosevelt, who consciously championed her husband’s global vision.      

Despite popular recognition of the Four Freedoms address as one of the most seminal speeches in American and world history, a salient, crucial source of inspiration behind the speech’s ideals—Franklin Roosevelt’s Christian faith—is generally overlooked by scholars and politicians alike.  Because the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt administration are commonly identified as the founding principles of modern American liberalism, both conservative and liberal scholars and politicians share an erroneous, stereotyped view of the role of religion in the life and politics of Franklin Roosevelt.  Liberals generally do not consider the possibility that religion could have been important to a modern liberal President like Roosevelt, while conservatives generally do not consider the possibility that a liberal modern President like Roosevelt could have been a man of faith, let alone a dedicated Christian.  As a result of these ideological prejudices and assumptions about Roosevelt’s supposedly secular orientation, both ideological camps—conservative and liberal—tend to ignore the role of faith in the President’s life.  Nonetheless, the historical reality makes it clear that Roosevelt was a religious man, whose faith informed not only his private life but was central to his worldview and political philosophy.

From childhood to the day of his first inauguration to the presidency in 1933, a convergence of influences shaped Franklin Roosevelt’s moral and political outlook.  The two most influential figures in Roosevelt’s life were his father, James, and Rev. Endicott Peabody, Episcopal priest and headmaster of Groton School for Boys, the elite Episcopalian boarding school in Massachusetts, where Franklin was educated as a youth, before attending Harvard University.  From these two men, the young Franklin Roosevelt absorbed the lesson he would one day preach to the nation: namely, that everyone is responsible for everyone else, a basic Christian precept with revolutionary social import. 

According to one of his most important biographers, the historian Mario R. DiNunzio, Roosevelt drew from both his father and his headmaster a deep sense of social obligation as a religious imperative.  Indeed, although the future President Roosevelt’s humanitarianism sometimes arguably flowed from political interests, as many of his critics often pointed out, it was nonetheless deeply rooted in three interwoven ideals: noblesse oblige, belief in human progress, and, above all, a firm dedication to Christian duty, all principles espoused by James Roosevelt and Endicott Peabody. 

Rev. Peabody, who became very important to Roosevelt, especially after James Roosevelt’s death while Franklin was still a teenager, understood that paramount to his role at Groton was the development of a religious commitment and a sense of Christian duty in his students.  He regularly addressed Groton’s students in chapel, promoting a kind of social gospel that stressed public service as a matter of religious obligation.  Indeed, Peabody exhorted his students to take up a vigorous, activist charitable Christian concern for the good of society.  Underscoring Roosevelt’s close lifelong bond with his former headmaster, Rev. Peabody officiated at Franklin’s marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as at the weddings of their children.       

Not surprisingly, religious commitment became an integral part of Franklin Roosevelt’s worldview and political outlook.  Yet, because Roosevelt, in keeping with his Episcopalian sensibilities, did not make a public spectacle of his faith, many historians and politicians have wrongly characterized him as decidedly secular, while his most extreme detractors have sought to identify him as a force for Godlessness in American public life.  Such fallacious representations of Roosevelt are the products of ideological prejudice, ignorance, or hostility.   

It is difficult for most current aggressive secular liberals, on the one hand, and self-anointed religious conservatives, on the other hand, to recognize and understand Roosevelt for who he actually was: an admittedly imperfect, but, nonetheless, sincere Christian.  After all, our current rigid and polarized political culture and corresponding social intolerance no longer accommodate or provide a place for a political leader like Franklin Roosevelt: a progressive East Coast aristocratic, public servant, and politician who was also a man of genuine faith—in short, an elite, urbane, religious, liberal.  

Both secular liberals and religious conservatives buttress their imagined constructions, their respective caricatures, of Franklin Roosevelt and faith by pointing to the fact that as President, Roosevelt was conspicuously absent from regular church services in Washington.  This observation underscores the unexamined superficiality of such views.  Roosevelt’s many serious biographers make it clear that he did not often attend church services in Washington because of the lack of privacy, not because of a lack of faith.  Indeed, both before and during his presidency, Roosevelt attended services regularly at his family’s parish when he was in residence at his home in Hyde Park, away from public intrusion.  In short, Roosevelt did not regularly attend church serves in Washington precisely because he took church attendance, worship, and prayer seriously.        

Roosevelt had little apparent interest in formal theology or doctrinal debates, but he was very interested in and knowledgeable about world religions.  He had close ties to many religious leaders in the United States, including Archbishop Athenagoras, the head of the then Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, whom he counted as a personal friend.  Roosevelt was acutely conscious of the importance of faith in his personal life and religion in the public and cultural life of the nation.  Indeed, Roosevelt often read the Bible and was fond of quoting from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  He routinely asserted the importance of the Bible in American history, declaring, "we cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic."  He felt strengthened by prayer and freely expressed a connection to Christ as a real, meaningful part of his life.  He referred to religion quite naturally and drew from Christian ideas and principles about how to improve the human condition.    

For Roosevelt, universal freedom of worship was a matter of paramount importance that grew out of his dedication to both democratic principles and Christian ideals and duty, which he understood as mutually supportive.  Roosevelt invoked freedom of worship in his famous Four Freedoms speech, not as a freedom of expression concession to the supposedly less enlightened who continued to cling to religion, but because he himself was a person of faith, who earnestly believed that religion itself was crucial to the progress of humanity, and that humanity could not realize its full potential without God. 

Frances Perkins, President Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945 (the first woman appointed to the US Cabinet), and a key figure in building the country’s New Deal coalition, observed that, “Roosevelt saw the betterment of life and people as part of God’s work, and felt that man’s devotion to God expressed itself by serving his fellow man.”  Eleanor Roosevelt, who embraced an intensely Christian identity in her own work, often discussed the importance of faith to her husband’s self-confidence and judgment, helping him through difficult decisions.  Reflecting on this aspect of Roosevelt’s life and political career and choices, Eleanor commented succinctly, “Franklin believed in God and His guidance.”  In an intensely revealing moment on a train to Washington for his presidential inauguration in 1933, Roosevelt’s thoughts turned to religion, which, he said in a conversation with his campaign manager, Jim Farley, “will be the means of bringing us out of the depths of despair into which so many have apparently fallen.”

A year after his Four Freedoms speech, in the 1942 State of the Union address, delivered to Congress less than one month after the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese and entered World War II, Roosevelt framed the conflict in religious terms: "Our enemies are guided by brutal cynicism, by unholy contempt for the human race.  We are inspired by a faith that goes back through all the years to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis: 'God created man in his own image.'  We on our side are striving to be true to that divine heritage.  We are fighting, as our fathers have fought, to uphold the doctrine that all men are equal in the sight of God."

Franklin Roosevelt regarded faith in God, Christian duty, and American democracy as joined by history in common purpose for the salvation and progress of humanity.  Before closing his Four Freedoms speech, in which he ultimately posited “freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere,” Roosevelt told the American people that, “This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God.”  The extent to which public moral sense has changed since Franklin Roosevelt spoke those words is evident in the fact that among the pitiable dearth of recent federal government acknowledgements of the anniversary of the Four Freedoms speech, all appear to reproduce that part of the speech’s conclusion emphasizing “the supremacy of human rights everywhere” while none include “faith in freedom under the guidance of God.”

It is a sad irony that Franklin Roosevelt’s own exercise of free speech expressing his faith in God is now sidestepped and expunged from official remembrance of his Four Freedoms speech.  The increasing public discomfort with religion, in general, and the intolerance of militant secularist positions, in particular, does not account for the loss of commitment to Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms in the United States, but it is not irrelevant to explaining our failure to protect those freedoms.  Ambivalence towards religion undermines our ability and willingness to take into account and to respect the Christian sources of Roosevelt’s social and political philosophy, ultimately articulated as universal human rights.  Given our neglect to recognize the inspiration and full purpose of the Four Freedoms, it is perhaps then not surprising that we have thus far failed to realize Roosevelt’s vision of a world free of oppression, persecution, hunger, and fear.    

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

You Can’t Build a Friendship on Gummy Bears

“Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.”

 

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

 

I didn’t have a lot of Orthodox friends growing up.

 

My family moved around a fair amount (the life of a Clergy kid!). The communities I lived in weren’t particularly large to begin with, so while I was around the Church all the time, very involved in GOYA and camp, I didn’t get to know that many Orthodox kids my age.  And in a time before cellphones and Facebook, the friends I did make were limited by proximity; so moving meant losing old friends and having to make new ones.  

 

Growing up, my friends were primarily people I met outside of Church—friends from school, or extracurricular actives.  They were people I had something in common with, people whose interests were similar to mine.  They are wonderful people, many of whom I’m still very close with, but I couldn’t help but think I was missing out.  

 

Even into my young adult life I found that most of the friends I made weren’t Orthodox.  I knew them from work and college.  They are people who like and read the same books I do; people with whom I’d bond over a shared love of some obscure band, or something arbitrary like how they prefer their coffee.

 

The Orthodox friends I made over the years shared a deeper connection with me—a similar love of our faith and common morals— but they were spread throughout the country.  

 

While I loved and valued their friendship, I didn’t have the opportunity to see them as frequently as I would have liked.  

 

And that left me with an entire part of my life, the most important part of my life, which I couldn’t share with many people.  My Faith became part of me, tucked away in a corner: I knew it was there, and I knew it was important, but I never had the opportunity to explore or experience it with other Orthodox Christians.

 

When you’re a kid all you need to establish a connection is for someone to share a toy with you, or to have the same favorite dinosaur.  When you’re in high school connection becomes based on proximity, so you become friends with people in your classes or who do the same extracurriculars.  In college you tend to connect with people who chose the same major as people with interests common enough to base their degrees around.

 

But as I got older I realized that, even if you and your friend both prefer gummy bears over gummy worms, it doesn’t mean that you have a strong foundation on which to build a friendship.

 

Your candy preference doesn’t necessarily mean that you share the same ideals, the same views on the world, or share the same values.  

 

Your candy preference, or some other shared interest, is just a piece of you.  But there’s a deeper form of friendship which demands, not just something about you, but you.  

 

In your entirety.

 

As my friends from high school or college all started to grow up and form our own vision of the world, it became clear that whatever common interests didn’t necessarily translate into the intimacy and vulnerability that characterizes true friendship.  

 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  (John 15:11-12)

 

In 2013 my sisters and I went Greece with a handful of other Orthodox young adults. Spiritual Odyssey (the young adult trip offered by Ionian Village) was only a short ten days long, yet by the end I had made better friends than during my entire four years in college.  

 

Of course, part of that is because we were forced to spend every minute of every day together, but we all went into that trip having one very important thing in common:

 

We were all Orthodox.  

 

And that connection was more important than anything else.  

 

Our common connection through church and faith allowed us to immediately know what was important to one another.  We were able to go into the trip comfortable with one another on a level most people don't reach even after a year of friendship.  

 

But after only a few days together, we had been able to have heartfelt and serious conversations about our personal lives, meaningful conversations about our relationships with God, and lighthearted conversations about similar interests and our lives back home.  But one thing was for certain: our friendships were more dynamic and meaningful than the relationships I’d been cultivating with other people my entire life.

 

No matter how many of the same books or movies you have in common with someone, it doesn’t mean they will be willing to lay down their life for you.  Or you for them.

 

But even at a young age, I always felt that the friends I made inside the Church were different than those I met at school or work.  My friendships were always built out of similar interests, but those Orthodox friends I made had something more than shared interests.  

 

We had shared beliefs.

 

Specifically, a shared belief in Christ, in a God who loves us so much that He was willing to die for us; a God who calls all of us to be ready to lay down our lives for those we love.

 

And that’s the most important thing you can build a friendship upon.

 

 

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.   

______________

Sam Williams
Posts: 16
Stars: 0
Date: 2/5/16
Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 42
Stars: 8
Date: 2/3/16
Dr. Tony Vrame
Posts: 19
Stars: 1
Date: 2/3/16
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
Posts: 20
Stars: 10
Date: 2/3/16
Charissa Giannopoulos
Posts: 30
Stars: 2
Date: 1/29/16
Will Thomas Cohen
Posts: 4
Stars: 2
Date: 1/26/16
Steven Christoforou
Posts: 19
Stars: 0
Date: 12/2/15
Theodore Pritsis
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 10/15/15
Jamil Samara
Posts: 10
Stars: 0
Date: 8/12/15
Fr. Nathanael Symeonides
Posts: 13
Stars: 1
Date: 7/21/15