Last newsletter I said I would further elaborate on what Orthodox evangelism looks like. I am using the four sentence instructions that I received as my outline: “Keep the feasts and the fasts. Be faithful at the Liturgy. Live as a Christian. Pray.”
“Keep the feasts and the fasts.”
As Orthodox Christians we believe that our salvation is a group effort. We are “baptized by one Spirit into one body.” It has been said that we go to heaven together, but one goes to hell alone. Keeping the feasts and the fasts is not a lonely practice. It is never undertaken alone. It is part of how we are knit together as a “new nation” in Christ. It is how we punctuate our lives with the rhythm of the Body of Christ. The fasts and the feasts instruct us to live liturgically. They instruct us that there is something bigger here than ourselves. They have been developed over millennia so they speak of a Kingdom more durable than our national heritage or destiny. Yet we participate to commemorate our common salvation history, present fellowship and future glory, with things as personal as menu choices and even sleep patterns, when you consider Nativity and Pascha.
How is this evangelistic? If we don’t have anything to which to invite people, what’s the use of extending the invitation? The Gospel is not a disembodied intellectual exercise. It was entrusted to the church to live out in the Great Commission. In this rootless society of unpredictable careers, future shock and broken families, people are longing for a community of healing, permanence and stability. Keeping the feasts and the fasts together keeps the church strong.
“Be faithful at the Liturgy.”
The Liturgy is how we are renewed and healed. To be faithful there provides grace and health to our souls that goes beyond ourselves. It is core to a life of peace and joy. A life that exudes peace and joy will attract others.
From a practical view: How should we expect other people to join us if we are not here? part of evangelism is inviting people to church. First time visitors feel much more comfortable if they are not the first ones to arrive. Perhaps the least threatening of our services is Vespers. It is the easiest to invite people to as it doesn’t seem as weighty as a Sunday morning commitment. (Vespers is liturgically considered to be part of Liturgy as it is preparatory to it.) It there are only two or three people standing in the nave other than the choir, visitors dont’ sense a welcome. Sometimes just showing up is evangelistic.
“Live as a Christian.”
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The people whom I have willingly chosen to follow, I did so because they seemed to be about something real. The people who “evangelized” me had a peace, a joy, a purpose, a steadfastness about them, or they were involved in helping people in tangible and loving ways. To truly and seriously live as a Christian will ultimately be attractive to others. Many of the martyrs were killed because the authorities were envious of the influence they had on people without coercion. Witnesses to martyrdom would confess Christ, because they wanted the assurance and faith that the martyrs had.
Whenever I tell my own story, the recurring theme is a series of devoted and faithful people who were praying for me daily. I think it is fair to say I would most likely not be a Christian today if it weren’t for the prayers of Lois and Les Ericson. They were neighbors across the street from the time I was born until I was six. They connected with our family and Lois especially connected with me. She has prayed for me daily since before I was born. She took me to vacation church school when I was four, five and six. There, and in her peaceful house was where I learned I could trust in Jesus.
I mentioned Jacob Kulp in the last newsletter, who prayed for me daily when I started in prison ministry and was faithful for nearly twenty years until he passed away. But before I met Jake, I met Father Boniface and Joyce, when we sold real estate together for the same agency. Father Boniface began to pray for me. That was about 14 years before I ever visited St. Philip’s. This illustrates another important lesson for evangelism. It is not short term, exciting growth in crowds at church that we are looking for. Evangelism is laying the groundwork for eternity. Let us be about this good work.