June 27, 2012

Unseen Faithful

“I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Romans 11:4; 1 Kings 19:18)

One of the paradoxes of the spiritual life is that the intimate, personal connection we feel with God from time to time also belongs to others, who have also have an utterly personal experience of communion with God. The same profound sense of God’s presence is being experienced right now by millions around the globe in all conditions and walks of life. Times of difficulty and persecution—especially at the hands of co-religionists—only heighten the perception that we are embattled, isolated and alone with God. This was Elijah’s state in 1 Kings 19. After his dramatic victory over the prophets of Baal he was on the run from Jezebel and Ahab, feeling desperately afraid and alone. He was also wondering if all his devotion and effort were pointless. Everyone else seemed to have abandoned the faith. “For the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets…” (1 Kings 19:14). It was at this darkest moment in his life that God spoke to him through “a still small voice” to restore and comfort him (1 Kings 19:12). God also gently reminded him that unseen and unknown to Elijah—despite his prophetic powers—were thousands of others who had remained faithful. God is at work all around us. He is Father to children we don’t know. He has “sheep that are not of this fold” (John 10:16). We Orthodox stress the importance of the visible, institutional, sacramental, incarnate Church. But there are people out there known to God, and invisible to us, who are His faithful servants.

Crisis Management

I am allergic to “spin.” I believe in the key words of an open society and an open church: transparency and accountability. I want to encourage sharing of information and engagement with church members. I also value an independent free press to keep all institutions honest (including the church). And if there is bad news to be dealt with, then so be it, we’ll have to deal with it. Like St Paul, the church is expected to be committed to telling the truth and renouncing “underhanded ways.” As he says to the Corinthians—a community with plenty of crises to handle—“ We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:2).

That said, we still need to avoid unnecessary chaos. We need to plan for the bad things happening and be ready to respond thoughtfully. For that reason, several years ago the Metropolitan council appointed a “Crisis Management Team” (a bishop, lawyers, a former police chief, church officers) to consult when troubling issues arise that require a public response. This is a thoroughly collaborative process that keeps the church honest, but also lowers the temperature of a crisis and seeks to take whatever steps are necessary in at atmosphere of calm whenever that is possible.