Entries with tag sharing the faith .

A Small Act of Sharing and Caring

I was raised in a way that has made my faith pretty private.

 

What I mean by that is that I came into my faith on my own; I was never asked or pushed into practicing Orthodox Christianity. And I was never really encouraged to share my triumphs and struggles in the faith. Obviously, our faith is a shared faith, but for a long time I kept mine very private; I didn’t realize how much there was to be shared.

 

Personal anecdote time. A few weeks ago, my grandfather was in the hospital, and there was an interfaith chapel down the hall from his room. My grandmother took me into the chapel to pray for my grandfather. It was a repository of icons, bibles, and other symbols of different faith traditions, but we didn’t see any representations of Orthodoxy. So I went into my bag and looked to see if I had any of the small icon cards that you can pick up at parishes, and I found one of St. George, so I left it in the chapel.

 

Now, I can’t really explain why, but in that moment, I felt that St. George was watching over me, and I felt so compelled to do a little research on him (I’m not very versed in the lives of the saints, and while I knew the basics of his life, I wanted to go into a little more detail). The next day, I uploaded a picture of an icon of St. George to Instagram.

 

A few weeks later, my mom asked me, out of the blue, having no idea of the events that transpired, “Now, why do you feel that St. George is watching over you?” It was honestly the first time in a long time that I can remember being asked about something going on in my spiritual life that directly. Because of the relationship that we have established with our faith in my household, I was going to say, “I just do,” and leave it at that.

 

But I took a deep breath after realizing...she asked. This is not something that happens often, if at all. So I answered. In detail.

 

I realized how stubborn I was being to not want to answer my mom in the first place. Like, “my faith is personal, and I don’t want to share it with her right now.” Yet I sucked up my pride and decided to share it anyway.


Generally, I think that I am pretty open about my faith now. I don’t try to hide it from the people I meet, like I used to. I know that if the fact that I am Orthodox bothers someone, then that person probably isn’t the kind of person that I want in my life.

 

But it got me thinking about when people ask me about my faith. I want to be the type of person who is open, who gets people thinking, who has stories to share that can keep them engaged. The type of person who is excited to talk about Christ because of the amazing effect that He has had on my life, and because of the fact that He gave me life. And I want to be asked questions about my faith. Personally, and on a more general level. So why was I scoffing at my mother when she asked?

 

Just as we have to open ourselves to Christ in order for Him to be able to come into us, to guide us towards His Kingdom, we have to be open to talking about Him.

 

Even though it’s not what I’m used to in my family, I want to be more open to changing what I’m used to, for the benefit of all involved. Talking things through and talking about our faith, about the saints who are active in our lives and about how Christ is active in our lives, is the most important way to share Him with others.

 

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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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.

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