Engaging the Athenians
…in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ (Acts 17:28)
In considering how we as Orthodox should reach out to the increasing numbers of people who classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” we would do well to look closely at Saint Paul’s encounter with the Athenians in Acts 17. Eventually he gets around to speaking of Christ, but he begins by acknowledging positively their own experience and formation, quoting from a popular Hellenistic Stoic philosopher-poet. “For we are also His offspring,” is a line from
Phaenomena by Aratus (3rdc. BC) who worked mainly in Macedonia but may have been from Saint Paul’s home town, Tarsus.
Phaenomena is about the natural ordering of the universe under the ultimate guidance of one divine force, Zeus. While we think of Greek religion as polytheistic, there was widespread acceptance of philosophical monotheism, which is one reason that an increasing number of gentiles found Judaism attractive. Here are the opening lines.
From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last. Hail, O Father, mighty marvel, mighty blessing unto men.
This past weekend marked the 50th wedding anniversaries of two pillar-couples of the Orthodox Church in America. Father Joseph and Shirley Lickwar and Father Thomas and Anne Hopko were both married on the same hot day in June 1963. May God grant them many years!
The Hopkos were interviewed recently by Father Alexander Garklavs and Father John Shimchick (posted on Ancient Faith Radio).
The theme that keeps being put in front of me these past days is the steadfast service of faithful priests and their families. I was in Hartford, Connecticut last night to join Archbishop Nikon, about 20 clergy and a church full of mourners to sing a memorial service for Father William DuBovik. I didn’t know him personally, but one after another the people I spoke with acknowledged his steady commitment to the faith and his service as a priest in the face of much personal sickness and suffering. His funeral and burial are today. May his memory be eternal!
I will be at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary this morning with the OCA’s social worker, Cindy Davis (Coordinator, Office for Review of Sexual Misconduct Allegations). We will be speaking about ensuring healthy, spiritually vibrant parish life with candidates in the Diaconal Vocations Program (directed by Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov) who are having their annual summer practicum.