The great part about learning to be Orthodox is to humbly acknowledge and accecpt that there is much to learn, more to experience, and even more to do, and become! In short, the ocean of Orthodoxy is so deep and wide, that no one can ever fully reach the bottom, but swimming in it’s broad and beautiful expanse is truly a blessing beyond belief! The good news for ‘newbies’ like me, is that most of the great thinking has already been done by thousands, if not millions, of Saints, Monastics, Church Fathers and Mothers, and godly laity who have shown us the way to live as light in the midst of a dark world. And for converts to the ancient faith, we must learn to be gentle with ourselves and patient; realizing that “learning takes a lifetime” and that knowledge without action can never considered true wisdom. So whenever I come across deeply satisfying insights from the Church, and Her saints, it’s comforting to know, that I don’t always have to be the one to come up with the best and most original thinking, because usually it’s already been done! I just need to become, what it encourages me to be! This is the essence of “theosis”, working out one’s salvation – becoming like God.
Take for instance this powerful article from Fr. Stephen Freeman, Priest of St. Anne’s Orthodox Church in Tennessee. Perhaps you’ve all heard of media darlings Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, and how their wildly successful books on the so called “new-atheism” and anti-god movement have, once again, seemingly proved that God is not only dead, but that God is not good, nor is He great. My first reaction to these NY Times bestsellering authors is this: I want to fight back. “Let’s get the gloves on! Let’s give them multiple reasons for goodness of God, with slick rationale, lucid language, wise rhetoric, and plenty of proof texts…” “…Let’s show them that Christianity is not only good but that God is great…” and in this inexperienced response, I reveal that I’m very new to the Orthodox faith, and have much to learn.
Fr. Stephen suggests something far more compelling, far more convincing, and in the end, the only “proof-text” that the new/old atheists will ever understand, and God willing, will accept: For you see, we ‘win’ not with the arguments of a scholar, but with the selfless love of a saint.
We are living in a time of history in which saints are required. We have long passed the time in which rational arguments will carry the day. Nothing less than lives which manifest the existence of God will do. The world has heard centuries of arguments – has been subjected to crass persecutions and atrocities in the name of God (even if these were largely not the result of Orthodox actions). We have survived a century of extremes (Bolshevism, Nazism, etc.). That the world is hungry is beyond doubt. But the world is not hungry for a new and winning argument. The world hungers for God (whether it knows this or not). The proper Christian answer to the hunger of the world is to be found only in the manifestation of God. Thus the challenge of a modern atheist should not be met with an anxious rejoinder from our panoply of arguments – but with the urgency of prayer that we might ourselves become an answer through the reality of the presence of God in our lives.
In the course of my 56 years, I have occasionally encountered such living answers. To a large extent, I believe that I live and continue as a Christian as a result of the prayers of such persons. As witnesses of the God who exists – we should strive in our small ways – to become persons whose lives are themselves an argument for the existence of God – a God whose existence is indeed beyond all existence. It is a tall order. Nothing less than life in the image of the resurrection of Christ will do. Nothing less than that has been promised us in Christ.
We answer the critics, skeptics, doubters, and even haters of God with the only thing that will ever convince them: with a Holy life, with Godly acts – by being saints in a sinful world. Manifesting before all, the very Icon of God living in us; not a verbal answer of the intellect, but with the serving attitude and godly power of a saint.
In the end, it’s Mother Teresa, and thousands of saints like her alive today, who are the greatest answers we can ever offer to “prove” the existance of God.
…that we might ourselves become an answer through the reality of the presence of God in our lives….we should strive in our small ways – to become persons whose lives are themselves an argument for the existence of God – a God whose existence is indeed beyond all existence.
Thank You Father Stephen for this wisdom.