“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’
This blog is inspired by my conversations with wonderful people who joined the Church of St. Nicholas recently, converts through baptism and chrismation, and Orthodox who recently joined our parish. Before joining the Orthodox Church, every individual must be tested in order for me as a priest and us as community to see their determination. In my conversations with these individuals, whenever I would ask what attracted them to Orthodoxy, all of them said: “We want the bitter truth of Orthodoxy compared to the watered-down “truths” other Christianities and this world offer which exist everywhere else.” The truth of Orthodoxy, at least in the very beginning, can truly be bitter. Yes, it can be hard to fast more than half a year, yes it can be difficult to be considered “weird” by your friends or relatives who do not try to live the Orthodox way of life, yes, it can be disappointing when someone you love says to you that you are a part of a sect; it can be difficult when you have to come to Easter service that traditionally in Serbia and in the Orthodox world starts close to midnight. The true question here is not whether or not Orthodoxy is challenging to follow, it is! And it should be! The question is: IS IT WORTH IT?
For individuals who perceive Orthodoxy as a chore which includes occasional fasting twice a year in order to finish their Orthodox “duties”, Orthodoxy is nothing but a pious custom which ultimately is equated with the world around us. The world around us is trying to achieve one thing: give us fake comfort and anesthetize us to the bitter truth of Orthodoxy. If we succumb to the spirit of this world, although we can call ourselves Orthodox and even come to communion every Sunday, we can still be trapped without even knowing that we are. The Orthodox Church will always say to us what we have to do, it is up to us if we will be willing to lift up that cross and walk the path. Orthodoxy does not ask the questions such us: “Do you like this?” or “Do you prefer this?”. When we see our doctors and they suggest bitter treatments for healing our illness we take the medication no matter what. The same applies and should apply to our life in the Orthodox Church. The path of Orthodoxy is truly worth walking on if we give ourselves over to it completely. Only then the results can be visible. The new people came to our Church because we preach the Orthodox tradition in its undiluted form. If someone who came very recently to the Orthodox Church understands this, how can we as ‘cradle Orthodox’ have any excuse for taking our bitter but necessary (medication) of truth? What is our excuse when we cut corners and call ourselves Orthodox, or Serbian Orthodox? Some of the Orthodox Churches are losing the Orthodox core due to their compliance to this world. The core which was created through struggle and blood is being lost in the days of peace.
Only the true Orthodox path will attract not just those outside of faith but those who are inside of it as well! When we walk the path which does not challenge us, the end result is shrinking of our Orthodox communities, estrangement of our kids from Orthodoxy and ultimate apostasy in many cases. This happens because they do not see how we as Orthodox are different from other Christians. They will then try to find their home in Churches that offer a stricter and more bitter message than a so called “Orthodox Church” they earlier belonged to. What is the difference anyway?
As for our Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Monroeville, we will not back down from what is right. Our salvation lies within the true Orthodox path! Rather than adjust the Orthodox Church to our needs, we should submit to our mother Church wholeheartedly and step out of our comfort zones and allow ourselves to be challenged rather than constantly try to bend the rules to fit our needs. If we do that, we will lose what we hope to gain through Orthodoxy: NEW FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST! Only those Orthodox Churches which call upon us to take our cross will remain forever! Only those Orthodox Churches who do not compromise Christian dogma, ethos and morals and remain unbending will stand the test of time! Only those Orthodox Churches who have courageous parents that bring their children to Church no matter what will survive! Only those Churches in which whole families, parents and children, together fast, attend liturgy and receive communion will attract the attention of the heavens! Whatever is lukewarm, has nothing to do with Christ nor with Orthodoxy…… Therefore, let us cling to the bitter Orthodox Truth!