I’ve been listening to Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson on car trips lately. Each chapter heading has a witty Wilson proverb. Some of my favorites are these:
- There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless.
- Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.
- Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
- Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.
“Courage is resistance to fear.” That fits with St Paul’s message to the Philippians. The embattled little community needs courage and character to remain steadfast as new Christians, because they are encountering opponents and facing conflict. Of course they are frightened when threats are made and they see suffering ahead. But they can master their fears by turning to Christ and supporting each other. That needs to be underlined. They need not only courage, but also mutual encouragement. Now is the time for them to put aside any superficial differences and to prepare their hearts by living according to the gospel, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27).
When they live like that, their bravery in the face of fears will embolden others. What’s more, their courage will be a witness to Christ, prompting others to wonder how it is that such otherwise weak human beings can be so steadfast and bold. And that’s really the aim of mission, to raise questions in people’s minds that can only be answered by Christ.
With the Clergy of ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate
The meetings this week with the bishops were productive and good. There are always difficult matters to address and contentious items on the agenda, but without sounding too toady, I was impressed with the general good humor, pastoral sensitivity and professionalism of the bishops as they made their way through the work in front of them.
After the meetings I drove to Hoboken, New Jersey to join about 150 or so ROCOR and MP clergy and their wives boarding the ship “Destiny” for a dinner-cruise. It was a privilege to be with them. They are celebrating the 5th anniversary of reunification and are in the middle of their first joint pastoral life conference. Metropolitan Hilarion (ROCOR), Archbishop Justinian (MP) and other hierarchs were there as well as the Russian Consul-General and his wife. Father Serge Lukianov (Secretary of ROCOR’s Eastern American Diocese) welcomed everyone, and there were remarks from Mark Selawry, Executive Director of the Assistance Fund for ROCOR which helped sponsor the event, but otherwise the four-hour cruise was devoted to food, drink, fellowship, conversation and Russian entertainment. Today they will go back to serious topics of pastoral life, but last evening I was struck by the organic Russian convivial spirit that prevailed, focused around traditional Russian singing and dancing. That’s probably natural for all Orthodox cultures, and I hope that over time we Orthodox in America will develop our own natural culture of celebration that combines the best of all the cultures we together bring to Orthodox Christian life.
I was grateful for the invitation and look forward to ever closer relations with our brothers and sisters in ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate.