One of the questions that I get asked the most as a Priest, especially to those who seek to come and take a tour of the Church, is: “What is all of this? What is Orthodoxy?” This of course is a question that I think that all Orthodox Christians have been asked from time to time, especially around Great and Holy Pascha, which usually is on a different day than Western Easter.
There are a number of ways to answer this question. Some explain it as the Unchanged Ancient Christian Church and Her teachings. Others say it is the Church of the Apostles. But perhaps the best answer to this question is: “I can’t explain it in words…come and see”.
I bring this question up this morning, because this is exactly the question that was being tossed around the head of the Great Saint who the Church celebrates today, Prince Vladimir of Rus. Here was a ruler who understood the great importance and role that religion plays, not only in the spiritual life of people, but also in the political, cultural, and social advancements of a nation.
In his search for truth, Prince Vladimir asked that same question: “What is Orthodoxy?”, and in what is one of my favorite stories in history, he sent his emissaries to go and find out exactly what this ancient form of Christianity was all about. Here is the response he received:
“We went to Greece, and the Emperor himself led us to the edifices where they worship their God…and we knew not whether we were in heaven, or on earth. For on earth, there is no such splendor or such beauty…and we are at a loss on how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there among men…for we can never forget that beauty.”
The Orthodox Faith, described perfectly by complete strangers to Christianity, who only had to enter into one Divine Liturgy to discover an escape from darkness, and an entrance into Grace, Love, and Eternity.
Anyone who has ever been to a pilgrimage to a monastery knows that same feeling that those emissaries described all of those centuries ago. When we visit those “Gardens of Eden”, we leave behind the digital age, we leave behind our televisions, social media, and cell phones, and enter somewhere that is truly not of this world. And it is in those precious moments, after taking some time to adjust, that we remember what it is like to be a human being in the presence of God.
This is a theme that we have touched a lot on here these past few weeks in our little Church in the woods. With the visitation of the miraculous weeping icon here at the Church and the baptism of Luke that we had just last week, we have been asking ourselves that all important question of what it means to be a true human being. Why was it that when we stood in the presence of that miracle, despite all of the troubles we have going on in our individual lives, everything seemed for that entire weekend just felt “right”?
The answer, is because to stand in the presence of God and radiate his light into the world, is the very reason that you and I were created. We were not put here to make money, to set up endowment funds for our children, to buy the nicest car, to have the nicest house, or to gain the most power. We were made to stand in the presence of God, and to spread His Grace, Light, and Hope to the rest of His creation, who are craving for something “more” in this life.
This experience, this worship, this truth, this faith…is a gift from God to a world that is full of people that desireto draw themselves of the muck…out of the darkness of secular life…and into something that is beyond their comprehension.
The world is thirsting, brothers and sisters…it is crying out for order in the midst of chaos. Creation groans for beauty in the midst of ugliness, and it is begging for light in the midst of darkness.
So much of our troubles in the world exist because we don’t know or realize what darkness is, until it conquers one of us, and it is a sad reality that so many in our country are finally waking up to. I know that there are a great many of you here today, who have come for the memorial service that we have for a young man, who just one year ago had a battle with darkness that he lost, which resulted in a tragic loss of life. We saw first hand on that day, and we are reminded again today, of how difficult it is to live that life in the midst of darkness, and how important, vital, and LIFE SAVING it is for us to seek a relationship with God in our lives.
The world is full of people who are suffering through difficulties and struggles with demons, to the point where it feels like there is no hope, and no way out. It is our pledge as Christians to bring that same peace, love, and Grace that those emissaries felt centuries ago, to the rest of the world.
We read in Isaiah: “The People who walk in darkness have seen a great light…they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” May we all become a worthy reflection of that Light that has shined to the whole world!