It is important for us to continue to discuss evangelism. This is something that we should be making an effort in every day. Daily we should be making a sincere attempt to live the Gospel – the law of love that our Lord gave to us and which is our rich Christian inheritance. And when we live that inheritance – when we place love first – Christian love – we are conducting evangelism. And evangelism of the best kind: evangelism by example. Not evangelism that we should find pride in, but just quietly going about our everyday lives with Christ at the center. Love first. This is a good short prayer for us and which we could pray before every encounter with another: love first! The love that our Lord came to teach to us and which He instructed us to share: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)
The reading of the Gospel is not magic of course. And this is only a part of our spiritual struggle as Orthodox Christians. But it is a good part. And an important part. And a relatively easy way to add significant value to our Christian lives with a small investment of time. And the Gospel books are the simplest of the Scriptures to understand. The language is very accessible and easy to grasp. That is not to say that we never need any help understanding these books, but quite often we do not. And when we have trouble understanding we can ask one of our priests. Or ask our Librarian John Hill to help us with a recommendation on a scriptural commentary that would be useful for us.
We cannot share what we do not have! Let us begin to acquire the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in a zealous way, and let us begin by regularly reading His words in the Gospels. BUT: we often do share what we do have – what we all have – our falleness, pride, anger, fear, etc. Unfortunately we have all acquired – to a greater of lesser extent – these vices. And just as we share the love of Christ when He reigns in our hearts, we share a sharp word, an unkind remark, an evil glance when He does not. In fact, I would submit that whether we like it or not, we share what we have. We essentially cannot help ourselves. We need to understand this reality: whatever we have permeating our hearts is shared with others. If Christian Love – then we share Christ, whether we want to or not. If not Christian Love – then we share whatever vice saturates our heart, whether we want to or not. We cannot NOT share what reigns within us. Thus we must make a choice: allow ourselves to be filed with the love of Christ and share that – or allow ourselves to be filled with vices and share those.
On one hand we are tempted to think of this as a personal issue. But it is not, for as we often say: we perish alone and we are saved in community. Put another way: we cannot help those to be saved that we drive out of the community. And here we reach the crux of our sharing “problem.” We do not just hurt ourselves when we share the vices that we refuse to at least make a sincere effort to excise from ourselves. We often “share” others right out of the community. And we use our demonic superpower – self justification – to ensure we do not stop until we have driven away all those who do not conform to our personal standards. We forget Christ’s standards: He associated with Publicans, harlots, sinners, lepers, Samaritans, and others who were outcasts of proper society. He did not come to associate with the best of society, but quite frankly to associate with the worst. This is not to say that we should not have standards in our Christian community – of course we must. But these should be VERY broad. We should be MAXIMALLY welcoming. And the standards must be applied with Christian love. We must be maximally welcoming not just to strangers (that is easy), but to our children, our friends, our fellow Christian pilgrims.
Let me try to make this point clearer by providing an example. As our kids grow up they sometimes decide to grow out their hair, or cut it in a unique way, or maybe to get one too many piercings. I do not rejoice at this and I am not promoting this, but is it necessary for everyone to make some smart remark to a kid (because that is what they are – they may have an adult’s body but they still mostly have a child’s brain until they are 25 or so) who comes with an unusual haircut or a new earring? The answer is no. You don’t have to make that smart remark. You can actually be quiet. St. Seraphim of Sarov said that there will be few at the last judgment that will repent for having said too little. And if you just MUST say something, then say it to God: pray for the person that you judge must be instructed – let God instruct and do not trust yourself to do so, for you have not received a blessing for the ministry of instruction. You need to know that your silly judging of the child not only hurts your soul, but his or hers. And even more importantly: for every person you drive from the Church you will answer for that person’s life. Yes – their whole life, immoral as it may become uninformed by the guidance of the Church. And this holds true for an odd haircut, not quite being dressed just right, or whatever. It is MUCH better to shut one’s mouth and open one’s heart in prayer than to risk having to answer at the last judgment for driving “...one of these little ones...” (Matthew 18) from God’s House.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 18:10)
Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:14)
The driving of others from God’s House is reverse evangelism – not something we want to engage in to be sure. But something we are want to do if we do not fill ourselves with Christ. As a parish we are trying to bring more people to Christ – this doesn’t work well if most are welcoming and others are working hard to drive the new people out the door at the very same time!
We will be evangelists of one sort or another – we will conduct evangelism by sharing what we have. We cannot share what we do not have, but we cannot NOT share what we do have. What is in our hearts WILL come out. Let us decide today – this very minute as we finish reading this note – that we will make every effort to fill our hearts with the law of love that our Lord brought us in His Holy Gospel. And by doing so we can have great hope that we will be able to drive away from ourselves all those things that we do NOT want to share. That we will become so full of Christian Love that there will be no space in us whatsoever for anything opposed to Christ! With the Lord’s help all things are possible, so let us trust in Him, make our effort, and get to work on our evangelism – spreading the love of Christ that can be within us if we only sincerely try! And if we can all do this we will bring many others to Christ, for the world is seeking this authentic love and the peace that subsequently comes from this love residing in our hearts. St. Seraphim of Sarov said: “...acquire the spirit of peace and 1000 around you will be saved.” We are going to have to redesign our future parish church if that is the case, and it can be the case, and it must be the case if we will only earnestly try!
May the Lord help us all to get to our 1000! The directions on how to begin to do it are above.