It’s a Different World

Presented by His Grace Bishop Demetri
at the
The 2000 College Conference
December 27, 2000
Antiochian Village – Ligonier, PA

Introduction:

(+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) Yes, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and on behalf of our Father Metropolitan Philip and all the other Hierarchs of SCOBA, I welcome you here to this year’s College Conference. I am very happy to be here with you, as we to continue to celebrate the wonderful Nativity our Lord.

The expressed aim of this conference is “to promote fellowship and unity among Orthodox young people and to renew them in their individual journeys to salvation.” This, is indeed, a great part of the express aim of the Church itself.

This evening, I will be speaking briefly on the various subjects you will be dealing with during this conference namely:

* “It’s a Different World”
* “Love, Orthodox Style”
* “Orthodoxy and the Environment”
* “New Frontiers: Modern day Missions”
* “Christianity in Action: Almsgiving”
* “Solutions for The (Not Always) Holy Land”

We know, as Orthodox, that we are never saved alone. Just as you are gathered together from different jurisdictions, you do, at the same time, represent One Holy Church! Together we represent the Body of Christ, made up of different members, but still ONE BODY! Together we can change the world with the love and salvation of Jesus Christ!

I. “It’s a Different World”

A. The “world” that we know as Orthodox Christians is very different from our non-Christian counterparts. In fact, as Christians we are called to “be in the world, but not of the world.” We are called to live in the Kingdom of God, here and now. We are called to see with spiritual eyes, the greater reality of the Universe – which is that God is the only objective truth which exists!

1. This world tells us to watch out for “number one” in order that we may get what we want.

a. But Christ teaches us to put the Kingdom of Heaven first and its righteousness, and then all things we need will be supplied to us!

2. The world tells us to be assertive, and forceful, and defend ourselves at all costs, and thereby protect our little corner of the world.

a. But Christ teaches us to be humble, compassionate, gentle, and defenseless as lambs, and thereby gain the salvation of our souls and the Kingdom of Heaven!

3. The world tells us to love those who love us, and do good only to those who do good to us – and thus secure our position in the world!

a. Yet, Christ teaches us to love those who hate us; do good to those who misuse us. In fact, He tells us – when people attack us, and persecute us, and say all manner of evil against us for Christ’s name sake – that we should rejoice and be glad, for our reward in heaven will be great!

4. Yes, our Orthodox world is, indeed, a very “different world,” from the world around us!

B. It is a world in which we, as Orthodox Christians, understand that a constant battles rages for all human souls. Yet, we also know that Jesus Christ, the God-man, has already won the victory for our souls.

1. However, we are called to live Christ’s victorious life, here and now! This means that today we must live the life which Christ has set before us.

C. Of what does this life consist? It consists of:

1. Faithfulness to God — that is, believing what God has told me through His Holy Word and through the Church; and then living in accordance with what God has said;

2. Prayfulness – this means, standing before God in intimate conversation, having my deepest self revealed to me (discovering my true-self), and gaining the strength to correct my life according to God’s will for my life;

3. Stillness of mind and soul – which is also related to prayer, means, sitting before the feet of Jesus, listening to His voice, and heeding the spiritual direction He gives me;

4. Watchfulness over thoughts and actions – this means, always guarding my heart and mind from thoughts of evil and sin; and immediately doing battle with any such thought(s) which attempts to capture me (i.e., attempts entry into my heart or mind);

5. Humility – which is the beginning of true spirituality, requires a death to my own selfish desires and self-centered thoughts and actions; humility always leads one to live a life of service to God and neighbor;

6. Last, but by no means least, is Love of God and all Creation – St. Isaac the Syrian says that deep love for God comes through faith, prayer, stillness, watchfulness, and humility.

a. Likewise, he tells us that true love of neighbor only comes if we first love God. Thus, to a great extent, the love we have for our neighbor is an indicator of our spiritual health and life!

b. This means that our love is a direct reflection of the life we live with regard to faith, prayer, stillness, watchfulness, and humility.

(1) If we are not living a healthy spiritual life, then we will live a carnal, worldly, life – which is filled only with “self” and “self-gratification!”

(2) A life, which is not filled with love for God, will not be filled with a wholesome love for our neighbor.

(3) Indeed, we are told in Holy Scripture:

(a) “Let all that you do be done with love.”(1 Cor 16:14 NKJV)

II. “Love, Orthodox Style”

A. However, what too often passes for love in today’s world, is not the same thing understood as love within an Orthodox Christian context. “Love, Orthodox Style,” is far removed from that represented in most of today’s movies, plays and popular songs.

1. Lust is not love! Sex is not love! Possessiveness is not love! Love is not a plaything!

2. St. Theophilus of Antioch said that: “God created Adam and Eve that there might be great love between them, reflecting the mystery of the Divine unity.”

3. Our love for another is to reflect the love of the Holy Trinity. For love — true love – is a HOLY thing, come directly from heaven!

B. We have been given a mystical mirror, if you will, by which we can measure if we truly love. It is the image of Godly love as found in 1 Corinthians 13:

1. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant {5} or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; {6} it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. {7} It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. {8} Love never ends…” (1 Cor 13:4-8 NRSV)

2. This is love Orthodox Style! This ethic of love requires an object. True love is that which places the object of its love first, even at its own expense! It is the image of the triune God – eternally a community of persons in love and unity.

3. Jesus is our example.

a. He, Who is Supreme LOVE, lowered Himself for our sakes, and for our salvation He paid the price of our sins with His very life!

b. Christ shows us that Love “bears all things . . . [love] endures all things.”

C. Thus, we know when we truly love — for it is at that point in our lives when we place the person, who is the object of our love, first in everything.

1. St. Paul tells us that “… love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom 13:10)

2. Love, not only for other humans, but for all of God’s creation.

III. “Orthodoxy and the Environment”

A. Since 1989, every September1st, throughout the Orthodox world, the beginning of the ecclesiastical calendar has been designated as a day of prayer for the protection of the environment, a sharing of mutual love for all God’s creation.

1. In the Vespers service for that date we chant:

Lover of mankind, keep unharmed the environment that clothes the earth, through which, by your will, we who inhabit the earth live and move and have our being, so that we, your unworthy suppliants, may be delivered from destruction and ruin.

a. This Orthodox prayer recognizes that human beings and the environment form a seamless garment of existence fashioned by God.

b. Accordingly, when we talk in terms of “Orthodoxy and the Environment,” we are really speaking about a combined spiritual and ethical theme — that of human responsibility and duty, to both God and the rest of the created world

B. In the West, there was, and to a great extent still is, a prevalent theory that creation is nothing more than a “resource,” which mankind is entitled to tame, cultivate and exploit by the power of his spiritual and intellectual superiority.

1. Within this theory it is customary to think of religion as indifferent to material things and as concerned only with “spiritual” matters.

a. Viewed from this prospective mankind is entitled to use the environment and its inhabitants however he sees fit!

(1) His primary responsibility is to “exploit” those things around him in the most beneficial, or in economic terms, the most profitable manner.

(2) This view implies that the material world is not part of God\’s creation, and not blessed with His love and with eternal divine meaning.

C. However, the Eastern Orthodox Christian has a different focus altogether when it comes to mankind’s responsibility and duty to his environment and its other inhabitants.

1. When God finished the Creation, we are told that all things were “very good” – not just mankind.

2. When He created mankind, God endowed him with dominion over all other “good” created things in the world. This dominion is both expressed and evident when God gave man the authority to name the animals. BUT, with this authority also came responsibility.

a. This responsibility included realizing man’s interdependence on the rest of creation.

b. From an Orthodox perspective, mankind’s authority or dominion, demonstrates not ownership – not the right to exploit – not domination – but interdependence!

(1) This interdependence calls us to live in harmony with our environment.

3. In our Liturgy we celebrate the beauty of creation, and consecrate the life of the entire world, returning it to God with thanks.

(1) We share the world in joy as a living mystical communion with the Divine.

(2) We offer the fullness of creation at the Eucharist, and receive it back as a blessing, in the form of the living presence of God.

(3) We thus view life and the creation as a sacrament of thanksgiving, and as a gift of constant communion with God.

4. Thus, as His Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew has noted, from an Orthodox perspective our sin toward the world, or the spiritual root of all our abuse of the environment, lies in our refusal to view life and the world as a sacrament of thanksgiving, and as a gift of constant communion with God on a global scale.

a. There is an awful day of repentance coming for the harm we have done. That is, unless we come to a consensus of renewed vision and purpose to respect and nurture our precious environment.

IV. “New Frontiers: Modern day Missions”

A. You live in today’s modern mission field. Your are a vital part of today’s modern mission Frontier. You no longer have to go to another country or continent. Today’s mission field is as close as your neighbor, as close as your own family, as close as your own Church, or particularly, as close as yourself!

1. When we speak about Missions, we are speaking about one of Christ’s most basic ministry commandments to His disciples: “And He [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15).

2. The term Evangelism is what we use to describe the efforts of someone who does mission work.

a. What is the work of an Evangelist? It is to share the Good News (Gospel) of God’s love and way of salvation for all people. It is to let them know that God came in human flesh, to be like we are (except without sin), and to redeem our lives from sin and death.

(1) To do the work of an evangelist in today’s modern mission field is to let people know that God loves them, and wants to have a relationship with them, and give them new life! And, that this new life was made possible through the life, death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

b. Evangelism is also to equip people to share their faith confidently, to stir up a love for lost people and ensure that the entire church has a strong focus on spreading this wonderful Gospel message!

3. Do you know that recent statistics show that 9 out of 10 people who give their lives to Christ and His church do so as the result of personal relationships?

a. This means that you and I are the means to bringing the world to Jesus Christ!

b. If this is true, then the place to begin – or the person to begin with, is you and me!

B. We are the first person we need to work on!

1. If we earnestly want to engage in modern missions, then we must first be evangelized ourselves.

2. But, you are possibly thinking to yourself, “But I am an Orthodox Christian already! Why do I need to work on myself?”

a. Jesus tells us that we must make sure we are not just Christians on the outside, but on the inside as well.

(1) This means that not only are we to confess our faith with our mouth, and participate in the Divine Services of the Church, although these things are very important as well.

(a) But what He is getting at is that we must also be living our faith in our heart, in our thoughts, and by the way we live even when no one is looking!

3. This does not mean that we must be perfect before we begin to evangelize or do mission work.

a. But is does mean that we must realize our shortcomings, and be giving our lives over to God, moment by moment, hour by hour, and day by day!

b. It means that we are willing to confess our need for a Savior – that we recognize our inability to save ourselves.

(1) It means that we begin to consistently recognize Jesus Christ as the only way to God, the only object of truth in the universe, and our only hope for new and vibrant life with God!

c. When we have approached this point in our Christian lives, then we are able to move forward to help evangelize the world for Christ.

(1) For, it is a vital truth for all Christian workers, that, “we can’t give away what we do not have.”

4. Thus, the “New Frontier of Modern Missions” begins as mission work has begun in every age of the Church: With our own conversion and dedication to living the Christian life.

C. Thus, once we have worked on ourselves, and cleaned the inside of the cup (our own hearts), we are ready to begin to enter the mission field, which is all around us.

1. This includes our own churches, our colleges, our place of employment.

a. What do you do when a visitor comes to your church? Do you welcome them with open arms? Do you go out of your way to greet them and make them feel at home?

(1) Many people will come to Christ through coming into our churches. But, they first come to see if God is really working in peoples lives. If they see people in Church engaged in a vibrant and living faith in God, then they will begin to seek God in their own lives.

(2) You see here again why it is so important that we first have a living faith in Jesus Christ. When people see Jesus in us, then they want Jesus in them!

(a) A vibrant and living church is an excellent testimony for Jesus Christ.

(b) And thus, it is an excellent tool for evangelism and missions.

b. Within our churches, then, we see three layers of mission work: ourselves, our church family, and those who come to visit our churches!

2. Another modern mission is our family and friends!

a. Each Christian already has a built in network of mission opportunities. God has placed us in a strategic position to reach those who otherwise would not be reached!

(1) Do you realize that God has a very specific purpose in making you who you are. He has a wonderful plan for you to touch the world with His love in a way that no one else can touch it!

(2) Each day of your life God brings people into your life who are hungry for the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Often they are people who you would not dream of being interested in such things. But they are!

(a) St. Paul tells us that the whole creation groans for redemption! This means that within the heart of every person there is a part of them that is reaching out for God. They are reaching out for someone to tell them that God loves them, and wants to make them into new people.

(b) Are you willing to be that person?

3. You are called by God to be an evangelist!

a. We are all called to at least be live a life filled with God and His great love, so that all can see Him in us – if they care to look.

b. We must ask God to fill our hearts and souls with His love for all people. Where you are today (tonight), God is calling you to love all people with His love. Let your heart burn with Divine Love. By this great love alone you are equipped to change the world for Jesus Christ!

V. “Christianity in Action: Almsgiving”

A. Perhaps, one of the most misunderstood, and thus, overlooked areas of the Christian life is that of Stewardship, and its sister, Almsgiving — which is truly “Christianity in Action.”

B. Almsgiving is a very important spiritual practice in the Orthodox tradition. It is when we give to those who are in need.

1. Almsgiving is different from our regular offerings given to the Church.

a. For when we give our offerings we give knowing that we are supporting our church’s programs, its pastor, the church building, and so on.

b. But, when we give alms to the needy, we don’t expect to ever be paid back in any tangible way – i.e., there is not an expectation of receiving anything in return.

2. Almsgiving is giving to those in need, whoever or wherever they are – the homeless, the needy in third world countries, your next door neighbor who has been sick, lost their job, or are otherwise in need.

3. There are two main reasons why we should give alms.

a. The first reason is to help others – or in the words of our Lord, to help “the least of these my brethren.”

b. The second reason is to help ourselves by helping others.

C. The first reason, helping others, should be obvious to us.

1. Throughout our world there are people in need – in great need in fact.

a. There are people who have been the victims of either man-made or natural disasters. Some have been the victims of both. Such disasters can be on a geographical basis, or on a personal basis.

(1) An earthquake, famine, flood, among others, are natural disasters.

(2) War, poverty, political upheavals, contamination of our environment, among others, are man-made disasters.

(3) We also must include those personal disasters in which there has perhaps been server illness, death of an individual, loss of employment, whereby a family or even an individual has been devastated, and thus, are in need of our help.

2. People all over need help, and we have more than we need. We live in the most prosperous nation in the world. Therefore, we are called upon by God to do something for those in need!

a. God has commanded us to love one another. Whether we really love someone is made evident when we help others in times of their need.

b. Such love requires ACTION!

(1) St. James reminds us that, a faith which tells our cold brother that we will pray for him, but which does not also give him a means of warmth, is not real faith.

D. The second reason to give alms is to help ourselves. Yes, we help ourselves by helping others.

1. This does not mean that if we give alms we should expect to receive money back, or any type of financial or material reward. In fact, we should never expect to profit when we give alms. Giving alms is a selfless act.

2. However, this does not mean that we are not benefitted by giving to others, only that we are never to expect a benefit. In fact, by giving selflessly, we begin to act as God acts, and we procedure further on the path of theosis (the path of sanctification).

a. Thus, there is a benefit to us in this life in spiritual growth.

(1) The Church Fathers are in agreement that almsgiving is one of the best ways to work towards becoming a mature and healthy Christian.

3. Another reason why giving our money away is so spiritually beneficial is because it is part of dying to ourselves.

a. If we are honest we will all admit that we greatly appreciate money and what it can do for us. Thus, giving it away is hard – often very hard.

(1) Yet, it is one of the most tangible ways of practicing self-denial, of taking up our cross and following Christ.

E. Do you wish to grow rich spiritually? Then, start giving alms (money) to the poor.

1. But, you must heed the warning of our Lord.

2. We are to give in such a way that others don’t know about it and so that even our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing.

a. Guard against pride and showing off or you will end up spiritually ill instead of blessed

3. God is our perfect example. He gives generously to each of us every moment.

a. He gives us the food we eat.

b. He gives us the air we breath.

c. He gives us life.

d. He gives us salvation in Jesus Christ.

(1) Everything – absolutely, everything good is given to us by God!

F. Then, let us, in gratitude, give to others who are in need.

1. In doing so, we are giving to God.

a. Our Lord, in Matthew 25, says that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison, we are actually doing it unto Him.

(1) Let us, therefore, zealously serve our Lord in this holy manner.

VI. “Solutions for The (Not Always) Holy Land”

A. When we speak about the Holy Land, we must first understand that the Holy Land is not so named because of the people who live in it. Rather, it is Holy because of what God has accomplished therein, and because of what He tells us He will yet accomplish therein. Where God is, there is also His holiness!

1. Yet, it goes without saying that the Holy Land is almost constantly without peace. And even when there is “peace”, it is more often only the appearance of peace.

a. This is a very complex and old problem. Yet, the solution for the Holy Land and its people is the same as that of every human soul!

B. The “Mystical Jerusalem” is indeed the human soul — the City of Peace that resides within the heart of each person.

1. But we know that there is no peace or holiness in our hearts until such time as we surrender ourselves to God and His Truth. Until we surrender to God, and let Him take His rightful place on the throne of our hearts, we will be at war with ourselves and our neighbors.

a. We will suffer from sin which leads to inner conflict, fear, anger, misunderstanding, and hatred.

b. Our Lord tells us that “[I]f My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chr 7:14 NKJV)

C. This is the way to peace in the Holy Land – for it is the way to peace in the human heart. We cannot expect to change an entire geographical area until such time as the hearts of the people who live there turn towards God.

VII. Conclusion:

A. There is much work for each of us to do to change the world for Jesus Christ! 1. As individuals we can do a little. But as the body of Christ, working together in harmony and unity, we can achieve much, much more.

1. But first of all, let us look to our own spiritual health. Let us purify our hearts with the Divine reality that is Christ. Let us become cities set upon hills, which shine with the light of Christ’s love and salvation.

2. The Church Fathers remind us time and time again, that if we first find peace in our own souls, then those around us will also find peace.

B. I conclude and encourage you, then, with these words of St. Paul:

“Finally, [my children], farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11 NKJV)

May HIS holy name be blessed; Always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. AMEN!