In the last 24 hours since my previous post, traffic has been way up to levels I have not seen since I posted this last year about the Church as a Hospital rather than an Asylum. Obviously, I hit a nerve.
I think many of us are frustrated that the Orthodox Church community here in the US (and Canada as well, though I presume to know far less about Canadians as a whole) seems so intent on what one of my friends referred to as 'navel-gazing.' Funny thing, but this refers to an actual Orthodox practice of omphaloskepsis. Don't ask me how I remembered that word.
However, Palamite practices aside, Orthodox navel-gazing is supposed to be about repentance rather than self-indulgence. We look inward for the things that prevent us from reaching outward... to God and our neighbor. God is also within, just as within is the same humanity as our neighbor, and so our neighbor is within us.
Yet, we so proudly flaunt the obvious truth. Even our bishops collectively miss this. Let's look at the stated purpose of the "Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America (formerly known as the Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America)" [my comments in red]:
The purpose of the Assembly of Bishops of North and Central America is to preserve and contribute to the unity of the Orthodox Church by helping to further her spiritual, theological, ecclesiological, canonical, educational, missionary and philanthropic aims. To accomplish this, the Assembly has as its goals:
i) the promotion and accomplishment of Church unity in North and Central America; [we want to get our act together, though we have not quite figured out how to deal with totally unrelated peoples across these vast geographical zones]
ii) the strengthening of the common pastoral ministry to all the Orthodox faithful of this region; and [we want to help our people]
iii) a common witness by the Church to all those outside her. [we want to look a little less disorganized to our neighbors]
In addition, the Assembly has as an express goal iv) the organization of the Church in North and Central America in accordance with the ecclesiological and the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church. [restatement of Goal i]
Isn't this rather tragic? No mention of serving those outside the community, just 'witnessing,' which most often is translated as 'telling the heterodox how naughty they are.... and telling them in English so they really understand.'
I love our bishops, and I hope they will understand that I'm not dishing on them as person, but I am calling into question the stated purpose. There should be a totally different approach.
We need to stop looking only at ourselves. No, I'm not calling for rock bands in the sanctuary and Dr. Seuss liturgies... we know where being 'relevant' leads... irrelevance. We must remember that if we have been given anything at all by God, them we are obligated to share it.
With other people, that it. It is that obligation to others that is missing from the "Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America (formerly known as the Episcopal Assembly of North and Central America)"'s statement of purpose. We can look inwards, but that should lead us to look up.
This is why the 12 Steps work... because there is a 12th Step: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all in all our affairs.
If we have had a true spiritual awakening through our experience of the Church, why are we so slow to carry this message to fellow sinners outside the Church? Are we all not 'recovering sinners'? The answer should be yes, and we should be moved to compassion for the world outside the Church, rather than combing our hair in the mirror and hoping we look OK.
We can carry the message of God's love and hope by serving our communities rather than ourselves. Frankly, we've been doing that for 90 years, and that's why we have dozens of jurisdictions and dioceses. Shuffling the borders won't help. What it takes is a real gut-check: do you really want all these noisy, smelly Americans in your Church, or not?
If you don't let them in, God will pull the plug as he has in many communities that were once powerful. They are empty, and the neighbors know full well not to go there because it is 'for those people.'
Some Orthodox do get it, and they are doing things like welcoming new people... and not just to sell them food. They are trying to help these visitors who are looking for Christ to stay and be part of the community.
They are also running charity projects, and contributing not only to far-off missionaries, but preparing themselves to bear witness as martyrs. yes, many of us know that we must be better Christians and die to ourselves. Only then will we be believed.
The most powerful witness to the Orthodox faith hold true for the most powerful witnesses of the 12 Step programs: transformed people seeking to serve.
This is what we should aspire to. Sure, gaze at your navel. Then, repent and get to work.