Our Personal Role in Healing the Divided Christian Witness

I admit it. I was totally fangirling the whole time Pope Francis was in the United States. I wanted to see what he would say, how he would challenge both government and Roman Catholic leaders. It’s exciting to see such an important Christian figure welcomed into the American public sphere. Plus, I actually like the man; he’s a likeable guy!

But once I got past the curiosity of what Pope Francis would say next, and how the media would fail to adequately report on religion, I was reminded of the pain that comes from a divided Christian community. The Pope of Rome just represents one fraction of the Christian world. For a non-Christian looking in from the outside, there’s a smorgasbord of Christian groups – people can choose whatever flavor they’d like. But is this “choose your own adventure” approach to American religion really the paradigm that Christ set for us when He established His Church?  

Jesus desires that all who follow Him be one, just as He and the Father are one (John 17:21). But today, Christians are divided into Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Non-Denominations, etc. So where does that leave us as Christians? We could despair over living in a broken world, or we can consider ways we can do our part to heal the brokenness in our neck of the woods.  

An important point of clarity before we proceed, though. The Orthodox Church – a community of believers, the Body of Christ knit together through our common baptism – is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I say this, not to be triumphalist (as we discussed last week), but because this is our identity.  

As much as we long for unity with other Christians, the Church is not divided in itself. I do not receive only partial sacraments, nor is the Church substantially lacking. The Orthodox Church does not need the Roman Church to be whole, nor would it be more Orthodox if everyone converted. Instead, our divisions are sad simply because we hope for all people to share in the unity that is in Christ.

And, on a more practical level, Christians today cannot offer a unified witness to Jesus Christ when we are so deeply divided. That’s tragic, because the world so deeply yearns for Him.

With that said, here are some things each of us can begin to do today to bring healing to our divisions.

1. Know your own tradition

Before you can talk to someone about who they are, you need to know who you are.  So before you can talk with someone about their faith, you have to learn about your own. This is particularly true for us Orthodox in America since we are such a small percentage of the population. You may be the only Orthodox Christian your neighbor ever meets. That means we all have a responsibility to accurately represent our faith in Christ to those around us.

That can feel overwhelming, so where can you start?

First, participate in the Liturgy regularly and attend a new service you haven’t yet (matins, vespers, paraklesis, etc.) Ask your priest questions. Check out a Bible study at a local Orthodox parish. Pick up a book on Orthodox Christianity and read it. (I recommend “The Orthodox Church," which deals with history and teachings, and “The Way of the Pilgrim,” which is a sort of spiritual fiction on prayer.) Get a prayer book and use it. Open up your Bible and get to know it. Catch up on episodes of “Be the Bee,” “The Trench,” and “Coffee With Sister Vassa,” as well as the great podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio.

If you don’t know your own faith, it’s easy to paint broad strokes and assume that all churches are essentially the same. What we may dismiss as mere details actually matter. Allowing our ignorance to lead us into assuming that we know better disrespects the deeply held beliefs of all churches, not just our own.

Bottom line: when we are engaged and knowledgeable of our own tradition, we will be prepared to encounter others.

2. Make friends with people in other churches

I cannot have a relationship with an idea; I can only know and love another person.

If I am to see Christ in my neighbors, and share Christ with my neighbors, I must get to know them as persons. Trust and friendship will pave the way for honest dialogue and protect against unfruitful argument, judgment, and stereotypes.

Too often, people talk about other Christian churches without having actually made friends with people of that tradition. This leads to the creation of caricatures that exist only in our minds and uncharitable arguments that do not come from the love of Christ. So make friends with faithful Roman Catholics, faithful Evangelicals, faithful Protestants of any tradition. Share meals together, get to know one another’s families. Once you are invested in who they are, then you are on an appropriate footing to talk about Orthodoxy – naturally and in its proper context: a relationship. We’ve got to love one another to properly share the Lord’s love.

3. Be obedient and trust in the Holy Spirit

Our society distrusts rules and regulations. We hear a rule and want to challenge it. We are given a boundary and want to cross it. When it comes to faith, the temptation to question authority is just as common. Questioning can be good and healthy, but it must be accompanied by trust that the Holy Spirit is also at work. If the Holy Spirit is working in the Church, then the guidelines that we are given might actually be inspired by God and not simply created by men.  These boundaries may prove to be the evidence and consequences of real division rather than the causes of it.

In particular, I have in mind the issue of Holy Communion. The Orthodox Church teaches that only baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians can receive the Eucharist (Holy Communion) in the Orthodox Church. That means that Roman Catholics and other Christians cannot receive unless they become Orthodox. Many people could see this as uninviting or inhospitable if we forget the first point: know your own faith first.

In the Orthodox Church, the Eucharist is the climax of a relationship that we have not only with Jesus Christ but with one another in the Church. We receive the Body of Christ because we already are His Body, the Church. Yet we also receive to better become His Body through living out our life in Christ as a community. We partake of the Eucharist after a common work of prayer and fasting, and also after something else we do together during the Liturgy: a confession of Faith when we recite the Creed. We cannot partake of the same meal if we are not sitting at the same table.

We cannot receive communion together, an expression of unity, if we are not actually and substantively united. There can be no communion without community. Receiving the Eucharist in a church to which we do not belong takes Holy Communion from being a life-giving demonstration of community and turns it into a public act of self-will and disobedience, no matter how good the intention may be.


It’s natural for Christians to mourn the divisions that exist between the churches, but we must not mourn as those who have no hope. As individuals we cannot force union between the churches, but we can build relationships with people in other faith communities. We can root ourselves more strongly in our own faith while not being afraid to make friendships with members of other churches.  And finally, we can practice obedience to God and reliance on His will, instead of insisting upon our own.

Each of us can follow this model of mutual respect and friendship, because ultimately we all yearn for relationship instead of division. And in these small ways we can make great strides at healing our divided Christian witness as we follow Jesus’ commandment: “love one another: just as I have loved you…all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Watch Your Heart; Till the Ground - Third Sunday of Luke

When I lived in Illinois, one of my favorite winter activities was attempting to slide across long patches of ice on the sidewalk. The challenge was, of course, to make it all the way to the end of the patch still standing, without slipping and landing on your rear-end or cracking your head open.

I’m happy to say that I never did the latter, but a few failed attempted definitely ended with a bruised bottom. Yet I succeeded many times and made it all the way to the end of patch. And it felt great.

The difference between success and failure was simple; when I succeeded, it was because I was all in. I didn’t think about falling. I didn’t get scared. I didn’t worry that I wouldn’t make it.

I just went for it.

Yet when I worried about falling, when I thought, “Oh, dear, this might not turn out so well,” it was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. My double-mindedness would almost always lead to falling down.

Sometimes, I would attempt the ice-skid once more after completing it successfully, and these anxious thoughts would still creep into my mind. That was always when I felt the most crazy: I just did this a second ago, I would think. Why is this so hard right now?

Looking back, it’s hard to make sense of why I was sometimes scared and why I was sometimes confident. In the end, it just seemed that some days were better than others. Things changed from day to day.

I changed from day to day.

We may be tempted to think that things ought to be the same, or at least that they ought to maintain their general direction. But our lives are dynamic, and so are we.

This Sunday, the Lord tells the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. In it, a man throws seed on the ground and the seed responds in various ways based on what kind of soil receives it. Interpreting the parable for his disciples, the Lord says:

The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Lk. 8:11-15)

If we aren’t careful, it might be very easy to read this interpretation and assume that we are one kind of a soil or another. We may even be tempted to think that we are generally doing a pretty good (or pretty bad) job of being soil that receives God’s word, as if  the state of our soil has already been determined.

But maybe our receptivity to God’s word is just as dynamic as the rest of our lives. Maybe we aren’t just one kind of soil, but instead we are each of the different soils from one day to the next.

Life happens in seasons. It is full of ups and downs, ascents and falls, hills and valleys. Sometimes I need to be reminded of this in my relationship with the Lord.

Some days I wake up and I can’t wait to greet the Lord and commend my day to him. Other days, I’m so overwhelmed with things I need to do that I can barely breathe, and God doesn’t even cross my mind. Other days, the first thought on my mind is, Breakfast.

My heart changes from day to day. That’s all part of life. We wake up to discover that the soil of our garden is different today than it was yesterday, even though we aren’t doing anything differently.

Some days its just easier to receive the Lords word. But that doesn’t mean we can just sit back and wallow in the fact that today our soil has more thorns than it did yesterday.

In our life, we are called to till the ground of our hearts at all times, every day. If today happens to be a difficult day, we’ll need more than a pep talk and positive thinking, more than just psyching ourselves up and saying, “Okay, time to focus on the Lord! I just did this! Why is this so hard right now?

What we need is real work; the ascetic work of the life in Christ.

The task of tilling the ground is going to be different everyday. And everyday, we need to honestly confront the soil in our hearts and cultivate it.

It’s not easy.

If our hearts are full of thorns, for instance, the only thing we can do is deal with them rather than ignore them.

And that means, sometimes, we’re going to get pricked.

Of course, this responsibility doesn’t mean that we are totally on our own when it comes to tilling the garden of our hearts. We have spiritual fathers, we have the Church, and most importantly, we have the Lord.

We must present ourselves to the Lord daily, offering whatever soil we have, asking for His wisdom and help to till the garden of our hearts as we hope to receive His word (and His Word) with gladness.

Roll up your sleeves; there’s work to be done. 

Photo Credit:

Winter: marla_rochester via Compfight cc

Weeds: elixir b 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 cultivating a life of prayer with Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on relating openly with God, check out this episode of Y2AM's new YouTube series, The Trench:

Podcast Monday - Is Orthodoxy in Decline?

You’ve probably heard it. You may have even said it yourself. That alarmist cry: “the Church is shrinking!” And why shouldn’t we be alarmed when studies and polls seem to regularly support the idea that the Church in America has a rapidly dwindling future?

Even without professional studies and statistics, many would agree from personal experience that the Church is quickly becoming marginalized in the face of popular culture and other influences of the modern era.

Perhaps all of this has led you to ask yourself, “Is Orthodoxy in decline”? Fr. John Ivanoff, director of the Orthodox Natural Church Development program, and our own Steven Christoforou, explore this question in a thought-provoking podcast hosted by Ancient Faith’s Kevin Allen, located here.

As you listen, consider:

  1. How does one measure the “vitality” of a church? Is it a matter of numbers, or a certain level of outreach, of growth, or of something else?
  2. What does it look like to be a practicing Orthodox Christian? How would an Orthodox Christian’s day-to-day life appear, and what would be essential components of this practice of Orthodoxy?
  3. What might be some of the problems in the Church that lead to a low retention of its baptized members? Are our youth simply no longer interested in God, or is the Church not providing what lost young people are looking for?
  4. What unique traits does the Church possess that can fill the particular emptiness of many people today?
  5. How might we, as Orthodox Christians, act to reverse this decline? As faithful friends, parents, and evangelists?

- Anthony
Anthony Ladas is a student at Fordham University and currently an intern for Y2AM.

My Authentic Self

I’m going to tell you a secret.  


Writing these posts every week terrifies me.  


It has nothing to do with being self-conscious (trust me), or thinking my writing isn’t good (I’m sure it’s fine), or worrying that I don’t have something to say (that’s rarely the case).


It’s because this is a representation of who I am as a person.  And for those of you who don’t know me in real life, this may be the only representation you ever get.  


And that is truly terrifying.  


I want people to have a honest understanding of who I am, and what I am struggling with.  But trying to present my authentic self is also so much more exposing than I had anticipated it being.  


One of the first blog posts I ever wrote (looking back now is a little cringe inducing) [link] was about the struggle I have explaining to people that I work for the Church.  I was concerned that presenting myself as a religious person upfront would alienate some people.  Honestly, it did and frequently still does.  But now I also struggle with how to present myself within the Orthodox community.  


How can I be authentic and relatable without overexposing myself?


It’s a difficult balance to strike.    


And I’m increasingly aware that the things I write and publish here are out there in the world for anyone to stumble upon.  Which inevitably leads me to wonder, am I presenting who I really am?


Of course, some days even I have no idea who I am, so how could I expect you to?


It’s the same with the way I manage my social media.  I’m so careful (I think we all are) to make sure I’m highlighting the things I want seen in my life.  Every post constructs an image of the me that I want you to see, which isn’t me in my raw form.  It’s something painstakingly created to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives.  


Which is fine, I guess.  But it’s not real.  


And it’s not particularly comforting to be presented with only the best versions of everyone you know, as if you’re the only one struggling and having bad days.  It makes it that much harder to feel like the best version of yourself.


Facebook is really good at letting you know that every single person you went to high school with is having a baby (or so it seems) but less good at reminding you that sometimes it’s hard to make friends as an adult, or that it’s okay if you’re the ONLY ONE not getting a Master’s Degree.


It’s very tempting to run from these struggles, to hide them.  But they help define who I am, whether I’d like to discuss them or not.  


These are the hardest things to be honest and open about.  And that’s a big part of why these posts make me nervous every week.  


Whatever version of myself I choose to present to the outside world doesn’t change the person that I actually am.  I can’t hide that from myself and I can’t hide that from God.  And no matter how scary vulnerability and authenticity are, I like to think that it’s more helpful to discuss our shortcomings than to pretend we don’t have any.  


Which is why (despite the internal struggle I face every week of how personal is too personal) I still try and share stories that will actually help people get to know me.  Because (as I talk about a lot) the Church isn’t just you or me, it’s the Body of Christ.  We’re a community that should be helping lift each other up.  


And if I can’t be honest about where I am, I can’t expect anyone to be honest with me about where they are.  Which leads us all to the shallow place of being simply Facebook-style friends, sharing carefully crafted posts rather than who we actually are.  If that’s all we are, then we can’t help each other, or at the very least offer solace and help others realize that they aren’t alone in this struggle.  


So while it’s unlikely that I’ll share all the intricacies of my life here (you wouldn’t be interested anyway) I am striving to be as authentic as I can in the way I present myself, not just in these blog posts, but in all interactions.  So that I can come together with the people I meet in our shortcomings and strive to be better Orthodox Christians.  

Which is all I want for any of us.


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


For more:

For more on being open about our struggles, check out this episode of Be the Bee:


And for more on building relationships, check out this episode of The Trench

I Was Welcomed, Not Argued, Into the Church

When I visit a friend’s house, the first things I notice are the family photos.  I especially love seeing baby pictures and proof that once upon a time, my friend – like me – went through an awkward stage. 

It seems natural for people to surround themselves with memories of the people they love.  These memories lead to closeness. After seeing photos and hearing stories and learning family histories, I can’t help but feel more connected to my friends, which makes the time we spend together and the food we share mean so much more.  

This past weekend, my parish (Saint Nicholas in Wyckoff, New Jersey) hosted our Greek Festival. It was a wonderful opportunity to give people a taste not only of the Greek kitchen, but also of the joy and hospitality that is shared around a Greek table.  But like a visit to a friend’s home, I felt closest with our visitors when they took a Church tour to learn what makes our community unique.

When they saw our family photos and heard our stories.

When you walk into a Greek Orthodox Church building, the first things you see are the images of our loved ones: Christ and the saints. Icons are the images of our family, and Church tours are an opportunity to introduce them to new people.

As I gave tour after tour, I reflected on how easy it can be to drift from living encounter and reduce our Faith to abstract explanations and words. I talked a lot about Jesus Christ and His Body, the Orthodox Church.  The more we talk about Orthodoxy, rather than live Orthodoxy, the more likely we are to rely on oversimplified statements.  Sometimes I worried that I might just be offering mere slogans: phrases that were more newspaper headline than explanation, mere lip service to difficult and nuanced issues.

We should be wary of diluting our witness to Christ and His Church to soundbites.

Our Faith is more than a system of beliefs; it’s an encounter with persons. It’s like when friends visit our homes: we don’t just talk about our family, we introduce them to our family.  Instead of just talking about our Faith, we can share our experience with the Lord and even give our friends a taste.

So instead of talking at people about Orthodoxy, we should invite them to come and see.

Of course, words are involved in this invitation, and how we speak can make a world of difference. But there’s a difference between talking to and talking at. There’s a difference between enthusiastically and joyfully proclaiming Christ, on the one hand, and demeaning another’s beliefs, on the other. There’s a difference between positively sharing the Faith and negatively tearing someone else down.

For example, of course every Orthodox Christian believes that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, but a joyous and evangelical statement can easily become triumphalist and divisive if it’s reduced to a sound bite. Theology, and theological dialogues, cannot be reduced to bumper stickers proclaiming that “Orthodoxy is the True Church.” How does it help others drawn nearer to Christ if we begin our conversation by telling them what they are not?

Soundbites are partial truths, but Jesus Christ is the Truth; He is a person, not a soundbite. This means any discussion of Him – as with anyone else in our family – transcends words; we must encounter Him and lead others to do the same.

Like resorting to soundbites, we might focus on defining the differences between the Orthodox Church and “fill in the blank.” We might want to answer the question, “What is the difference between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church?” with bullet points and broad oversimplifications. But reducing a faith to simple differences treats it as just another choice to be made, which reduces the Orthodox Church to just another option on the religious menu. But it also reduces a believer’s convictions to shallow ideas, capable of being uprooted by a brief conversation.  

Let’s not talk about following Christ and the Orthodox Church as if we’re choosing between Greek and Caesar Salads.

For me, none of this is hypothetical. When I was 16, I was one of those curious Greek festival goers who took a Church tour. Thank God, I didn’t hear diatribes about my religious tradition (I had been raised an Independent Baptist) or triumphalist slogans proclaiming that the Orthodox Church is true.  Instead, I was introduced to a family rich with its own history and traditions.

I wasn’t berated for why my ideas were wrong; I was lovingly invited into the Kingdom.

I recently watched a news story about a woman who was adopted and later in life was introduced to her birth mother. Though they didn’t know each other – likes and dislikes, interests, life story – they could see themselves in the face of the other. That’s what it was like for me when I began to learn about Orthodoxy. The Church put words to things I had always intuitively felt.  I knew I had found my family because I recognized myself in Her.

I try not to forget this now that I’m an Orthodox Christian. Talking to others isn’t about having the best arguments or the most clever soundbites. It’s not about out-debating the other. We just have to be ourselves. This reminds me of something that Elder Amphilochios Makris told Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

"As an Orthodox in the West, you will be often isolated and always in a small minority. Do not make compromises but do not attack other Christians; do not be either defensive or aggressive; simply be yourself."

If we resist the urge to be combative and work in soundbites, we can cultivate our call to invite people to come and see (John 1:46). We have no problem inviting friends over for dinner or getting folks to come to our Greek festivals, so why not do the same with our Faith? As we share our tables with our friends, there’s another banquet that all are called to share in as a family: the Liturgy.

So instead of arguments or convenient soundbites, invite others to come and see. They too might recognize in the Church their family.

They might see in the Church the face of their Mother, just like I did.

Sam Williams
Posts: 3
Stars: 0
Date: 10/8/15
Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 27
Stars: 8
Date: 10/7/15
Charissa Giannopoulos
Posts: 13
Stars: 2
Date: 10/2/15
Theodore Pritsis
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 9/14/15
Jamil Samara
Posts: 10
Stars: 0
Date: 8/12/15
Fr. Nathanael Symeonides
Posts: 13
Stars: 1
Date: 7/21/15
Steven Christoforou
Posts: 18
Stars: 0
Date: 7/10/15
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
Posts: 19
Stars: 10
Date: 7/6/15
George E. Demacopoulos
Posts: 4
Stars: 10
Date: 6/24/15
Father Evagoras Constantinides
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 5/28/15