Word Magazine February 1967 Page 10-11
THE HISTORICAL AND SPIRITUAL ASPECTS
OF OUR HOLY FAITH
By Rev. Father Michael Baroudy
Pastor Emeritus of St. Georges Orthodox Church, Vicksburg, Mississippi
The history of the Christian Church as a whole is just as fascinating as it is informative and inspiring, for it contains the record at the outset of a very small minority whose profound vision, valor and faith has made an indelible impression upon the Greco-Roman world. These intrepid crusaders for Christ faced all kinds of dangerous situations, untrammeled and unafraid. When they were threatened with imprisonment or death, their classical answers were, “We cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard,” and, “God must be obeyed rather than men.” Imagine that Judaism and paganism joined hands in obliterating the Christian entity from the world and thus destroyed Christianity with its Christ.
Our admiration becomes all the more intense when we consider these intrepid Christians’ phenomenal success in the light of their humble background, as well as their meager human resources. In other words, divine resources outweighed the human resources, for these men had an intense awareness of the presence of God. God to them was not a remote entity but a present reality. “They lived as seeing Him who is invisible.”
In order to have an accurate appraisal of the genesis of the Christian faith, one must read the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This book should be read by every Christian because it covers thirty-five years of Church history and shows the progress of the church from Jerusalem to Rome. It is a book composed of twenty-eight chapters only and can be read in about ninety minutes at one sitting but it contains a wealth of information relative to these early Christians
— the persecution they sustained, the faith and the valor they manifested and the kind of messages they proclaimed to the world. Moreover, this book should be considered as the connecting link, a bridge if you will, between the four Canonical gospels which reveal the life and the work of Jesus Christ our Lord and the Epistles which reveal the life and the works of the Apostles.
From this we can see why the founding fathers of the Church saw fit to have during Divine Liturgy a portion of Scripture from the Gospel and a portion of scripture from the Epistle. The founding fathers thought it very important to acquaint us with Christ and His Apostles. Not only that, but it shows us in a practical sort of way that our Church is founded upon two spiritual stones—Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture. In holy tradition through the Divine Liturgy, we are keeping alive Christ’s life as well as His passion. We have, in other words, in our Services the liturgical as well as the prophetic, which means that the priest should sermonize from either the life of Christ or from the Epistle, as he sees fit, to the edification of his hearers. It also makes matters easy for the priest because he has his subject every Sunday cut out for him.
In studying the Book of Acts, we become acquainted with the names and the works of the missionaries who went everywhere preaching Christ and Him crucified. We can think through the Acts if we remember the names of the first leaders of the missionary efforts.
St. Peter, after having received the endowment of the Holy Spirit along with the rest of the people who were gathered with him on the Day of Pentecost, preached a sermon directed to the Jews in which he convincingly explained that Jesus was the Messiah of Jewish prophecy and that it was He who spread his spirit after His death and resurrection in accordance with Joel’s prophecy. They were very responsive and three thousand people were added to the Christian church that day. It was Peter opening the door of the church to the Jews. Later on, we find Peter preaching throughout Palestine; he went to the home of a prominent Roman soldier, Cornelius, at his request because he wanted to know more about the Christian religion. Then it was, at the soldier’s home, that Peter preached another sermon to a great number of Gentiles and thus opened the door of the church to the Gentiles.
The Apostle Philip went down to Samaria and preached there Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the record tells us that all the Samaritans turned to the Lord.
The rest of the Book of Acts concerns itself with the missionary efforts of St. Paul who became one of the firebrands of Christianity after his conversion on the road to Damascus. The coming of Paul into the church and his identity with the Christians was one of the momentous episodes in the history of the church. The infant Christian community needed a man of Paul’s caliber, a qualified leader from every standpoint. He was educated at the seminary in Jerusalem under the tutorship of Gamaliel, one of the renowned theologians of his day. So Paul was well-versed in the Old Testament Scriptures and its ceremonial and moral laws. Moreover, he was also quite a linguist who spoke Latin as well as Greek and Hebrew, but more than all of that he had an abiding sense of the awareness of God, a fact which more than anything else made him triumph over all kinds of difficulties. (See II Cor. Ch. 11:22-23).
Paul’s zeal and awareness of God caused him to go on three missionary journeys preaching the redeeming love of God manifested in Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity, and to organize churches in some parts of Europe and Asia.
If you read Paul’s Epistles, you will come across passages such as these: “For me to live is Christ. . .” “I can do all things through Christ.. .” “I am crucified with Christ. . .” “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because of its dynamism. It was the power of God unto salvation. Paul was speaking here from experience for it transformed him from a proud Pharisee to a pious Christian and from a murderer to a missionary. In other words, Christ penetrated into the citadel of his soul. Therefore, we believe that the crowning glory of Christianity is that it saves people by the presence of God in human life. In no other religion or religious system is the fact of God a reality in human affairs.
During the first three centuries the church underwent persecution, indignities and privations. The most peaceful days of the church were had after the conversion of Constantine, the pagan Roman emperor to Christianity. His conversion was miraculous. He saw the sign of the cross in the sky and underneath it was written in Roman, “By this sign, conquer.” Then and there he vowed that if God would give him victory over his adversaries with whom he was fighting a war, the Christian God would be his God. He did achieve the victory and set out to fulfill his vow.
There are four things that Constantine did which are worth mentioning here. First, he practically made Christianity the state religion. Second, he lifted the persecution from the backs of the Christians. Third, he changed the Roman Eagle on the flag of his nation to the cross of Christ. Fourth, it was through his efforts that the first Ecumenical Council composed of 318 divines came about, and took place in Nicaea in the year 325 AD. It was at this Council that the Nicene Creed was formulated.
The peaceful days which the church enjoyed for some time were about to end because there was a great deal of bickering between the people who lived in the eastern and western parts of the empire. It was the result of two contrasting cultures, two different ideologies which were seemingly irreconcilable. The consequences of this was the division of the Roman Empire into East and West, and that was the first step toward utter separation. Not only were the differences
Political, but they were spiritual as well, because up to the fourth century Greek culture was in evidence in Rome. Even the services there were performed in Greek. There is no denying the fact that it was the Greek fathers who translated the New Testament into Greek, and the Septuaginta, the seventy Hebrew Scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek. The Nicene Creed was written in Greek. The Mass Service was carried on in Greek. The Latin element was averse to all this so they began Latinizing the church in the fourth century because they wanted their services in their own tongue. This continued until the eleventh century, in the year 1054, when the great schism took place at which one body of Christians who worshipped together and had the same dogma, the same Scriptures, the same seven ecumenical councils, saw fit to separate—one side called itself Roman Catholic and the other Eastern Orthodox.
Later centuries have seen more church groups separating under different leaders—Luther in Germany, John Calvin in France and later in Geneva, Zwingli in Switzerland and John Huss in Bohemia, John Wesley in England, and John Knox in Scotland, until today we have a decimated, divided Christianity weakened by division and therefore unable to cope with world situations.
We are interested in knowing, however, where we Orthodox stand numerically and spiritually. Numerically, it is assumed that we are 125 to 150 million strong, most of whom are domiciled behind the Iron Curtain in eastern and southeastern Europe, Russia, Bulgaria. Rumanian, and Yugoslavia, with others in Greece and scattered throughout Europe. We have a good many Orthodox in the Middle East, and four million in the U.S.A. and Canada.
But where do we stand spiritually? Do we compare favorably with the leading denominations of the world? Let us be honest with ourselves. Are we as strong as they? Honesty compels the admission that we are not! What is ailing us as a religious group? First and foremost, I should think that our convictions, based upon firm belief in our heritage, are not of the caliber and the quality one could wish them to be, not adequate to meet the onslaughts directed against the church. We are living in a day when some learned professors are saying unashamedly that GOD IS DEAD and an upstart entertainer has said that he is more popular than Jesus Christ!
Taken by and large, there are two sinister shadows cast over our world. First, the shadow of militaristic atheism, whose image grows ever larger on the world’s horizon, trying to dominate the world, if not by force, then by Godless ideologies which aim to dislodge the Christian God and offer a substitute—the God of the state. The second shadow which is just as sinister, is that of materialism, the ideology which exalts matter in place of spirit. There are a lot of people who are saying today that money is the root of all evil. This is a misquotation. Money represents the economic life-blood of the individual and in a sense, it is sacred. It can buy food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, build homes for families, construct churches, chapels, theological seminaries, hospitals, and institutions of education for the people. It is not money that is the root of all evil but rather the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil. See I Tim. 6:10. Inordinate affection for material things shuts out all other things from one’s mind and makes him impervious to life’s higher values.
Let us not forget in passing that there is the shadow of God which eclipses the other shadows if we but have eyes to see it. We need to remember at this crucial moment in history that God is still God, He is the God of history, the God of the Bible and the God of every-day experience. We need also to remember that the reins have not slipped out of His omnipotent hands.
Second, I believe one of the weaknesses of Orthodoxy is religious illiteracy. Let us face it! Our people have no religious education to speak of.
We have no teaching program and no preaching program to boast about. Religiously speaking, we have nothing organized. We should have a religious curriculum and an aggressive ministry and an abundance of religious literature which all of our organizations can study. If Christ is our supreme example, and we know He is, the record tells us that Jesus went into every city and village of Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and healing every malady of the people. There you have the three-fold program as to the church’s activities: — PREACHING, TEACHING and HEALING.
Ours is a religion for the entire world. Christ said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Thus, all the world and every creature should be the Christian parish. We should send missionaries to convert others to the true faith, but we find most of us are not interested in saving ourselves, much less in saving others. We have narrowed religion down to our nationalistic or linguistic group. The Bible said: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It seems that we have lost our perspective.
To regain our perspective, we should take a long, hard look at ourselves. We should set our own spiritual house in order. We should seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon Him while He is near. God is waiting on us to do what we can to promote the affairs of His Kingdom in being yielded instruments in His divine hands.
Spiritual unemployment is the weakness, if not the curse of the church for a spiritually employed
church God can use for the advancement of His Kingdom in the world… To have a task without vision is a drudgery and a vision without task is a dream but to have a task and a vision is the hope of the world!