Notice that Paul uses the word “called” three times in the opening verses of Romans: called to be an apostle, called to belong to Jesus Christ, called to be saints. God called Paul, but He also called the faithful of the Roman community. How does anyone know they’ve been called? Paul’s calling was dramatic, but what about the rest of us? What experience leads someone to identify himself or herself as a Christian? Despite the pressures on Christians and Christianity today, despite the foolishness of the Gospel, it is still a remarkable fact how many people “out there” from all walks of life really do put Christ at the center of their lives, desire to be His disciples, to study His words and meet together with other Christians for worship and fellowship.
I was sitting in a postage-stamp Starbuck’s the other day in lower Manhattan, while my wife was having a job interview in an adjoining office building, and sitting close-by at the next table I noticed a woman intently studying her Bible (it was open to Jeremiah). She was looking up words on the Biblos website and taking notes. I wasn’t bold enough to strike up a conversation (and anyway she was listening to an iPod) but I wondered what led her to faith. What church did she go to? Was she preparing a parish Bible study? Or was this personal interest? Was she a theology student? Maybe she was minister. But in any case she wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel in that small public space. Her study of the Bible seemed so naturally woven into the coffee shop. I wanted to ask her, “How did you come to this point?” We need each other’s stories of faith. Christians have always needed that, lighting each other as one flame lights another in the darkness of Pascha night.
Crowds and Salt
I’m on my way to Winnipeg, Manitoba today for the clergy “synaxis” (gathering) of the Archdiocese of Canada with Bishop Irénée. I look forward to reporting on something of what I encounter over the next few days.
Considering the vast size of Canada we will be a tiny group (the Archdiocese has about 70 parishes from coast to coast to coast). Growing up in a church with very small numbers—at least in North America—I have always been struck by the crowds that surrounded Jesus during the height of his earthly ministry. Yes, eventually the crowds left, and then the apostles, but after Pentecost, again we hear about crowds.
Crowds looking for inspiration, knowledge and healing. Crowds suffering from all sorts of diseases recognize in Jesus someone whose presence, word and touch heals. They come for therapy (the Greek word used here). Once word gets out that he does more than teach, they come to Him, and he welcomes, receives and heals.
The Orthodox Church in America is not accustomed to huge crowds. We have about 800 clergy, 750 parishes (mainly small), 87,000 members spread across an entire continent. But that need not prevent us from being “salt of the earth.” Salt was used as a preservative in the ancient world, “saving” food from going bad (an obvious analogy to the role Christians can play in the world). It has also been used of course to give flavor. And it only takes a small amount to make a difference. What salt doesn’t do is pretend it can be the whole meal. We may never have big numbers, we may never “make America—or Canada—Orthodox” (should we even try?) but we can always be “salt”.