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Word Magazine April 1988 Page 15
CHRISTIAN LIFESTYLES — ONE SMALL CANDLE
The Very Rev. James C. Meena
One candle in a well-lit church makes no difference to the degree of light in the room. But imagine if you will what it would be like if it were night and if all the lights were turned out and you had to work your way through the church building without the benefit of even that one candle. Obviously, a person not familiar with the layout of the church, of its furnishings and its appointments would bump into things and stumble, might even injure himself because of that lack of familiarity and lack of light. So also in life.
Jesus said in the Gospel according to St. Matthew (5:14), “You are the light of the world.” Some of you are lights as bright as a chandelier and others are lights only as bright as that single candle that I referred to, yet each is important and needed for the illumination of the world. I suppose the wise scholars or the great preachers, the martyrs and the saints of the Church could be compared to a bright chandelier that hangs over our heads. The rest of us, I suppose, could be candles of various sizes. Nonetheless, it was a wise man who said, “I would rather light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”
The Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 5, compares the world to a void of darkness and challenges you and me to become luminaries in that void, to give spiritual direction by our examples to all those who would follow that light. Can a candle speak to you? Obviously not. A candle has no voice and no vocabulary. All it does is burn. For as long as it has a wick and wax with which to burn, it burns. It is for you to derive the benefit of the light or heat that comes from that candle.
The candle does not speak out to you and say come and follow my light, come and benefit by the warmth of my flame. The decision is yours to make whether you will benefit by that light or not.
I have walked through a darkened church many times, guided only by the light of one flickering flame, and never stumbled because that flame guided me through the darkness. So then can each of us be like that candle to others. It isn’t always necessary for us to go out and stand on street corners to shake people by the lapels and say, “I am a Christian, why aren’t you one too?” In fact for us as Orthodox Christians that’s the most abhorrent way of manifesting Christianity. Rather it should be manifested by our example.
Our lifestyle should be such that we become like candles or tapers or torches or beacon lights to all those with whom we come into contact, so that people looking upon the way we live will say that is the way of life and truth and I will choose for light and truth rather than darkness. If this man can live in peace with his wife and his children, with his neighbors, with his friends, with his fellow employees and his employers and with all those with whom he comes into contact, then he must have something of value. If this woman can associate with other people without being mean or small or catty, she must have something that other people don’t have and what she has, I’d like to have. That is the mission of every Orthodox Christian, to set an example for others to follow. By this ministry of example we preach more eloquent sermons than the most gifted preachers throughout history. By the ministry of our example, we actually confound theologians and defy them to explain the miracles which are accomplished as people follow that example.
Listen to all the preachers of the world. Turn on your TV set or radio any day of the week and listen to them. Go to any church in the world. Read any of the great orators of the past and I say to you that your positive Christian example is more eloquent than all of them put together. Your Christian life, day by day, setting examples for others to follow in your lifestyles, being so filled with the love of Christ and an understanding of what he expects of you that your lifestyle can be nothing other than Christian, that you are preaching sermons that could not be contained in hundreds of volumes of written words. This is why St. Paul teaches us not to get too bothered by foolish contentions and disputations, don’t get into arguments about religion and about the law, (Titus 3:8). You know if you admonish a man who is a heretic, a man who is so opinionated that he won’t listen to you, once or twice and he still won’t listen and you know in your heart of hearts that you are following the Orthodox teachings of Christ, then have nothing more to do with that person. Don’t keep after that poor man, because his judgment is in his own hands.
That’s why, I suppose, I get so bothered when I hear people disputing about religion or when I allow myself to become ensnared in a religious dispute, it tears me up because I know what St. Paul said is true.
“I would rather light one small candle than curse the darkness,” and I can do that by my example, by my lifestyle, by the way in which I live, by the way in which I shape and mold my life. I shape and mold my life not by a series of accidents but by a conscientious effort to know what my relationship to God is. What is it that God expects of me, of my spouse, of my children and of all those with whom I come into contact? How am I to relate to them? How am I to exemplify Christ manifestly to them in the way in which I live?
“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”