It is in the first chapter of the Gospel of John that we first hear the words that have become a kind of hallmark of Orthodox evangelization, especially in non-Orthodox lands: "Come and see!". This invitation is given twice at the beginning of John's Gospel, once from Philip to Nathanael in response to: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"; but the first is given by Christ himself to St. Andrew (thereby honoring him with his common epithet of "First-Called") in response to an inquiry as to where Christ is staying. The gospel account tells us that St. Andrew, with another of St. John the Baptist's followers, did indeed go and see and remained with him the rest of that day - after which St. Andrew went out, found his brother Simon (Peter), told him that he had found the Messiah, and subsequently brought him to Jesus.
I believe that it is very right and proper for this saying: "Come and see" to have found such a central place in the Orthodox mindset with regard to outreach to the non-Orthodox, but why is it so especially proper for us as Orthodox? We see many other organizations that focus on going door to door or disseminating information in other ways, satisfied to spread intellectual arguments for their beliefs, regarding these as the best and most persuasive introduction to their faith. Why has the Orthodox Church, while encouraging the promotion of Orthodox information, not seen these tactics as central to her mission of outreach, but rather insisted on the utmost importance of those interested in the Orthodox Church coming, seeing, and experiencing the Divine Services?
I will begin with a quote from St. John of Kronstadt which demonstrates the high view that we as Orthodox Christians have of our Mother - The Church, and the benefit imparted to those who attend.
“The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.”
You can see from this that the Orthodox by no means consider their meeting at Church to be a simple gathering of like-minded people affirming and encouraging each other. The Divine Services themselves, being made up primarily of words from Holy Scripture and composed and developed by Saints who achieved such closeness to God, are themselves truly inspired by the Holy Spirit - they breathe with Divine Life and exude a spiritual peacefulness to the faithful. However, we must always remember that this does not happen by itself, it is the responsibility of all Orthodox Christians, not just priests and readers and the choir, to contribute to, participate in, and promote this life-giving effect of the Church and its services.
This is made clear by the obvious difference we can all discern between seeing icons in a museum, or seeing a hymn in a collection of poems, or hearing a sermon on the radio, and experiencing all of these things in the Holy Temple of God. Each of these have a power in themselves and are indeed beneficial on their own when understood and appreciated correctly; but individually they cannot compare to the experience of the Divine Services of the Church in which all of these elements are brought together and then, most importantly, enlivened by the Holy Spirit through the faith and prayer of those present. This is our most important task as Orthodox Christians. As I’m sure we have all heard at one time or another, the Greek word “leitourgia” from which the word “liturgy” is derived, literally means “the work of the people”, this is our job - carrying on the saving work of Christ’s Body on earth through committed, focused, and prayerful participation in the services, especially the Divine Liturgy.
It is this active faith of the community of Christ, vivifying and bringing to life the Divine Services, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that is a truly capable witness to the Divine Life of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is in this way that we can fulfill the injunction of St. Seraphim of Sarov: "Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved." Although it is good and profitable to focus on outreach, to be conscious of how we can share the Life of Christ with more and more people, it is reassuring for those of us with busy schedules who may find that simply keeping the flame of our own faith alight is quite enough work, to know that focusing on this flame of faith within ourselves is indeed the most important work of any outreach and evangelization. For each member of our community to focus on preserving and strengthening their own faith, and subsequently bringing that grace they have received to participate in the work of the Church will ensure that all of the services we perform in this community will be filled with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit - to the enlivening and strengthening of our own spiritual lives and also as a powerful witness to any who have taken up the offer to "Come and see."
Reader Philip on the Feast Day of St. Andrew the First-Called
As it is impossible to verbally describe the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted honey, so the goodness of God cannot be clearly communicated by way of teaching if we ourselves are not able to penetrate into the goodness of the Lord by our own experience. - St. Basil the Great
No matter how much we may study, it is not possible to come to know God unless we live according to His commandments, for God is not known by science, but by the Holy Spirit - St. Silouan the Athonite