The Cost of defiling God’s Image in others

Last year in Charlottesville


It is the anniversary of a difficult weekend in our nation. When we see the events of this weekend last year, the natural thing is for us to get angry (not that our anger is natural, but that it is what we are thrown to feel), and then to feel helpless and frustrated. We see violence against the unarmed. We see the images of actions taken by hate-filled men, and know that where we can’t see, that someone died as a result of their action.
We see people saying that one race is better and that other races are less. Yet this is a denial of Creation; it is a denial of all of mankind being in God’s Image. Saints Peter and Paul both denounce this. Indeed the Council of Constantinople in 1872 condemns phyletism — any superiority based on race, nationality, or ethnicity. It is heresy. And the very word “superiority” is an abrogation of humility. Humility is the fundamental virtue; without it, no one will be saved. We must reject this appeal to lack of humility. It is not hyperbole to say that what is happening in our nation is demonic. And this kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.
If we quiet ourselves enough, we can notice that underneath the anger and frustration, is fear: Our own fear that our country is falling apart, The fear that drives others to commit such acts of hate against their fellow humans. If we were to read the portion from Galatians before the appointed epistle reading we would see the fullness of it: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalry, dissension, partisanship. . . . these are the works of the flesh — and we have seen much of that recently. It is hard to look at what has happened and respond with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Yet this is the fruit of the Spirit.
Violence against any wounds all of us. The Spirit can heal our wounds — but we must be open to that healing. Jesus took our passions on Himself and nailed them with Himself to the cross. He bids us to come to Him with our passions and burdens and accept His burden instead of our own; for He is gentle and lowly in heart. (indeed gentleness is a pun for Christ in Greek) There we will find rest.
And He invites us to learn from Him. As He is humble and lowly, so He invites us to be humble and lowly . . . to lay our burden down — to take up His burden. Our burden is usually what our passions excite in us. For a time we enjoy that excitement; after a while what was exciting becomes tiresome, a drain, a burden.
Humility is very much lacking in our society. Yet this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to. Humility takes the sword and beats it to a plowshare, and then uses that plow to dig in to see what passions make our decisions for us. And thus exposed, our passions can be healed by our heavenly Physician. For from His fullness we receive grace upon grace.
God gives us the grace to bear the burden. Yet in a real sense, it is the grace bears us.

Orthodoxy and Phyletism (Ethnicity): Revisited

Orthodoxy and Phyletism (Ethnicity): Revisited

I grew up in the South. In the South that I grew up in, one of the most segregated times of the week was Sunday morning. People in many white churches would be (and were) aghast if someone from another race showed up on Sunday morning. It was made plain to them that someone from their race was not welcome. My own father (a Baptist minister) ended up having to leave his pastorate because he integrated the church kindergarten. It seemed that some of the deacons were afraid of a 4 year old black girl. My father and I were the rare white folks who would go across the lines. Fortunately people in the local black church were more welcoming. My uncle (also a Baptist minister) was forced to leave two different churches because he did not allow his daughters to go to the segregated white private schools that were set up to get around desegregation. What my baptist fathers taught me was that if someone were not welcome to a church because of his race, that Jesus was not welcome there either.

At the first Orthodox Church I walked into after graduating college I was asked why I was there; I was neither Greek nor Russian. It probably delayed me becoming Orthodox by many years. I was the wrong ethnicity.

Now I have been Orthodox for almost half my life now. I have noticed that this is not just a problem that inquirers face. It saddens me when even faithful Orthodox people are treated like Rats and discarded by clergy. These are people for whom Christ was Incarnate and gave Himself up; these are people who have been faithful through adversity, people who have endured much. Excluding them because of their ethnicity (or lack thereof) is no better than how I was treated when I walked into that Church.

A clergyman is responsible to God for all the souls he has been privilege to lead. He cannot divide between this ethnic or that ethnic or no ethnic. He must minister to all of them. He must minister without regard to race or ethnicity. If he excludes based on race or ethnicity, he excludes Christ who comes to them in the “least of these”

To exclude based on Race or ethnicity, or lack thereof is to wound. And after the racial or ethnic cleansing has occurred, the wound does not just go away because we pretend not to see; for by wounding, the wounder is also wounded. But it is not just for race and ethnicity that people are wounded. People who speak the truth, who sound the alarm, who hammer out “DANGER” are also wounded. This is nothing new. Killing the messenger is a time honoured solution to pretending it is the messenger’s fault and thus we don’t have to do anything. But the wounding wounds the wounder. Jeremiah had plenty of experience with this:

For from the least to the greatest of them, every one is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest every one deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly , saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not ashamed; they did not know how to blush. (Jeremiah 8:13-15)

People are excluded, wounded and left to wither; or worse, they are thrown under the bus. The indefensible is defended; the wounded are told they are not wounded. And we wonder why some are leaving the Church.