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What Do We Believe? How do we share it?

Fr. Luke A. Veronis

How many of you have ever had a conversation about your Orthodox Christian faith with a friend? How about with a co-worker, or even a stranger? Have any of you ever had the experience of talking about your faith, and someone looks perplexed at what Orthodoxy is, and they ask, “Are you Jewish?”  Or “Do you Greeks still worship the Greek gods?” What is Greek Orthodoxy, or Orthodox Christianity? Do you even believe in Jesus?”

Unfortunately, we Orthodox make up less than 1% of the American population, and are so unknown in American society that such bewildered responses may not be uncommon. If you did face such an inquiry, though, how did you respond? Would you have a clear idea of how to present our Faith? Maybe I should start off by asking, “Would you even get into such a faith-related conversation with a stranger?”

Regrettably, I think for too many of us, this issue of whether we would even talk about our faith in a public setting, and especially with a stranger, is questionable. I’ve preached many times about how our faith is not a private affair, but a public reality. Jesus calls His followers to be “the salt of the earth,” to be “the light of the world,” to be fully IN the world, although not to be OF the world. Christ commanded His disciples to be “fishers of men,” witnesses of His love within society, to go forth and make disciples of all peoples, to be sent out as the Father sent Jesus out into the world. Today’s Gospel reading highlights this call when we hear our Lord say, “YOU are the light of the world… Let YOUR LIGHT shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Christ is reminding His followers that each one of us is HIS LIGHT to the world. We are called to be mirrors reflecting His light, instruments which shine His light on to others! Each one of us, as a follower of Jesus Christ, has the great privilege and responsibility to share our Orthodox Christian faith – first and foremost through the way we live, as well as with our words of kindness, faith, love and humility - with everyone we encounter each day, to friends and strangers alike!

IF we understand and accept this serious responsibility, the next logical question would be whether we know what to say if we are trying to share God’s love and light with others? How many of us could clearly express our Orthodox Christian faith with someone? In other words, do we know the essence of our faith and the basics of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian? Could we tell someone what makes the Orthodox Church unique from the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical churches? Could we share the basic tenets of Christianity to the rising number of Americans who identify themselves as atheists, agnostics and non-religious? Could we say enough to simply pique the interest of another, or maybe plant a seed of faith that may lead the other to want to know something more?

Some years ago, I remember when some Department of Missions and Evangelism held a contest entitled the “Orthodox Elevator Speech Contest.” The idea comes from a business world model where a businessman meets a stranger in an elevator, and literally has 30 seconds or less to offer a brief explanation of what a person, or one’s company or organization does or stands for. The catch, of course, is that the businessman only has enough time to arouse the curiosity of the other – to create enough interest so that a person may look further into the topic discussed.

Thus, an “Orthodox Elevator Speech” attempts to capture and communicate the essence of our faith to someone who knows nothing about it. If we meet a stranger who has never heard of the Orthodox Church, and knows nothing about Orthodox Christianity, could we at the very least say something that would grab their attention, and possibly inspire them to pursue further conversation or research on Orthodox Christianity – maybe via the internet, or through a visit to a Church?

When I was asked to be a judge for this “Orthodox Elevator Speech” contest, I was intrigued by some of the responses. Remember, each responder had 30 second or less to answer the question “What is the Orthodox Church?” or “What is Orthodox Christianity?” Think for a moment about how you might respond such a challenge. Here are some responses:

“Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God — who came to earth to heal our brokenness and restore all of us, and all Creation, to our original beauty. Christ promises that we can be healed of all our brokenness, and filled once again with God’s Light and Life and Love, right now, when we follow Him and participate in the wonderful gifts He offers in and through His Church. And as we participate in these gifts, God pours His life into us, making us more and more like Him!”

“Orthodox Christianity is about an eternal love affair with God. We love God so much that we seek to become one with Him, by His grace, and He welcomes us into Himself. It's not an easy life, but it has great joys and extreme beauty. Come to Church with me on Sunday and see for yourself.”

“The Orthodox Church is the original church established by Christ through His disciples. Unlike Western Christianity that now has over 30,000 variations, the Orthodox Church’s beliefs and practices are essentially unchanged from the time of Christ. Since that time, the Church has acted as a hospital for broken humanity, offering God’s healing Presence to us and restoring us to our original beauty—making us more and more like Him.”

“Orthodox Christianity is an ancient faith about God’s love for us, and our call to one another through our thoughts and actions. It strips away the notion that Christ is an accountant or a lawyer who is focused on rule-breaking. Instead Orthodoxy focuses on how we show true co-suffering love in our relationships with other people, with the world around us and with God.

“Orthodox Christianity is the complete spiritual therapy of Christ, where the inner life of the Holy Trinity is poured out to us in the Church. Nobody is isolated or achieves anything artificially: we offer each other and ourselves to God in an unceasing movement of love. This is a profound and intimate love that the secular world cannot offer.”

“Most religions, including other forms of Christianity, are about what to believe or say or do so that you'll have the best life, and even the best after-life. Orthodox Christianity is about what to believe and say and do so that everyone you come in contact with will have the best life, and even the best after-life. The incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes it possible for us, through cooperation with the movement of the Holy Spirit within us, to see that the will of the Father for all of Creation is brought to fruition.”

Maybe the best answer, though, is to offer one of the above responses, followed by this: “Come and see! Come and join us on a Sunday, and see what our worship is like. Meet our warm Church Family, and even attend a small group Bible Study. Come and see!”

Remember, Jesus said, “YOU are the light of the world…YOU and I are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven!” May each of us start acting like mirrors of Christ’s light and love to all the world!