How do we Change the World?

This past week I had somewhat of a revelation or an epiphany or something of the sort.  In my preparation for the sermon that I was going to preach this past Sunday, I came to the realization that Jesus, during His earthly ministry, never directly challenged the civil government of the day.  Now I know that sometimes in Scripture it is difficult to tell the difference between the religious government, the Temple officials, and the civil government, the Romans, but Jesus never said anything to the civil government about how they were treating those under their care.

This past Sunday, the Sunday before the Elevation of the Holy Cross, the Gospel pericope came from that of St. John.  This is one of the famous passages of Scripture since it is seen in most end zones at nationally televised football games.  The passage that I am making reference too is John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  But what of the passage that comes right after that, John 3:17 “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.”  God did not send His only Son so that He would condemn this world but to save all, all of creation.

This leads right into a discussion about ethics and how we, as followers of Christ, are to live moral and upright lives.  I will state right from the beginning that I believe that the Orthodox Church preaches the right messages.  I believe that our theology is pure and undefiled and has been handed down to us from the Apostles, and it is continually refined and defined by the Holy Spirit working through the Church.  I also believe that the fathers of the first 7 Ecumenical Councils established our dogma, and that is not subject to redefinition and reinterpretation, because the message is timeless, but the way we express that message constantly needs to be redefined and changed to meet the needs of the present reality.

With that said, Holy Orthodoxy has a traditional moral code.  This system has been defined over the years in the writings of, not only the Scriptures, but by the fathers and mothers of the Church.  It has been defined by the lives of the saints and other holy people and is under constant review by the Church to keep up with the times.  I believe that the moral code of the Church is in flux on some things and set in concrete in others.

I have been writing these last few days about how we need to transfigure our lives to that of Christ and His Holy Church.  This transfiguration is a gradual process as we turn from the world and toward Christ and part of that is the transformation of our moral code.  I am going to make a bold statement now and say that we cannot legislate morality, we cannot legislate that transformation.  I say this because what ethical rules are we going to use?  Christianity is much different today than it was in the time of the Apostles.  Christianity is fractured because of so many different interpretations of the message of Jesus Christ.  The politics of the day have invaded the Christian Church to such an extent that it is difficult even to find Christ in some of the, so called, Christian Churches in America today.

Jesus and His Church have established a certain moral code, but He also gave us the free will to turn toward Him or away from Him.  In all of the teachings of Jesus, He never forces anyone to see things the way He was teaching, His desire is that we bond ourselves to Him, but He never forces us to do so.  Jesus presented His message, and it is up to us to take it into our hearts or to reject it.  I will say this, we need to take His message as it was presented and not modify it to fit the current political reality of the day.

As a priest, and a leader of a community of believers, it is my duty to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not my interpretation of that Gospel, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ as has been interpreted by His Holy Church for more than 2,000 years.  The message of the Gospel is a transformation of your life, and if you take it in and live it you will have no other option but to change, and by your changing you will change the world around you.

One of my favorite spiritual writers is Saint Seraphim of Sarov.  I am not sure where this quote comes from, but in one of his works, the Holy Saint said, “Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand souls will be converted around you!” That spirit of peace comes from the Life Giving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that cannot be legislated.

We change hearts and minds by the way we live, as Christians, and the model that we give to the world.  All we have to do is to follow the example of Jesus Christ in our lives, and that will show the world how to live.  We are all called to be evangelists, and we fulfill that calling in our lives by the way we live.  If we call ourselves Orthodox Christians then we need to live as the Church calls us to live and understand what our Church teaches.  The role of the clergy is to teach the faithful how they are supposed to live and to model that behavior in our own lives.

In my way of looking at things, and I do not know the mind of God, but God does not care about what this or that country does but about what you do and how you live your lives.  God does not judge nations, but in the end, we will be judged, not collectively, but as individual Christians based on how we lived our lives.  If, as a community, we are living the pure and undefiled Christian life, then society will reflect that life.  If, as is the case today, we as a society are not living that pure and undefiled life, then society will reflect that as well.  We cannot legislate that any more than we can legislate where someone goes to Church.  If we seek that deep and abiding peace that only comes from God, then we will be able to share that love with others.

Jesus was not sent to us from God as a political or military leader.  Christ was born the poorest of the poor in a borrowed bed to release you and me from the bondage of our sins, not from the bondage of our earthly life.  The community that Jesus left was no better off, politically, then it was when He came.  What He did leave was a people that had been shown the way to be freed from their spiritual bondage, and that is what we need to show society today.  If we transform our morality to that of Christ and His Church then others will follow, but it has to be voluntary.  Just as we cannot force people to be charitable we cannot force people to be moral.

Jesus taught that we must love God and love our neighbor and we do this by keeping His commandments.  I believe that if we spent more time working on our own spiritual life and not that of others, our world would be in a much different place.

How do we change the world?  By changing ourselves!


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