Monday, September 20, 2010

Saints and Evangelism

THE DEFINITION OF A SAINT:
In the saint there exists nothing that is trivial, nothing coarse, nothing base, nothing affected (fake), nothing insincere. In him is the culmination of delicacy, sensibility, transparency, purity, reverence, attention before the mystery of his fellow men…comes into actual being, for he brings this forth from his communication with the supreme Person (God). The saint grasps the various conditions of the soul in others and avoids all that would upset them, although he does not avoid helping them overcome their weaknesses. He reads the least articulate needs of others and fulfills it promptly, just as he reads their impurities also, however skillfully hidden and through the delicate power of his own purity, exercising upon them a purifying action. From the saint there continually radiates a spirit of self-giving and of sacrifice for the sake of all, with no concern for himself, a spirit that gives warmth to others and assures them that they are not alone. … And yet there is no one more humble, more simple, no one more less artificial, less theatrical or hypocritical, no one more “natural” in his behavior, accepting all that is truly human and creating an atmosphere that is pure and familiar. The saint has overcome any duality within himself as St. Maximos the Confessor puts it. He has overcome the struggle between soul and body, the divergence between good intentions and deeds that do not correspond to them, between deceptive appearance and hidden thoughts, between what claims to be the case and what is the case. He has become simple, therefore, because he has surrendered himself entirely to God. That is why he can surrender himself entirely in communication with others.
The saint always lends courage; at times, through a humor marked by this same delicacy, he shrinks the delusions created by fears or pride or the passions. He smiles, but does not laugh sarcastically; he is serious but not frightened. He finds value in the most humble persons, considering them to be great mysteries created by God and destined to eternal communion with Him. Through humility the saint makes himself almost unobserved, but he appears when there is need for consolation, for encouragement or help. For him no difficulty is insurmountable, because he believes firmly in the help of God sought through prayer. He is the most human and humble of beings, yet at the same time of an appearance that is unusual and amazing and gives rise in others to the sense of discovering in him, and in themselves too, what is truly human. He is a presence simultaneously most dear, and unintentionally, most impressing, the one who draws the most attention. For you he becomes the most intimate one of all and the most understanding; you never feel more at ease than near him, yet at the same time he forces you into a corner and makes you see your moral inadequacies and failings. He overwhelms you with the simple greatness of his purity and with the warmth of his goodness and makes you ashamed of how far you have fallen away from what is truly human, of how far you have sunk in your impurity, artificiality, superficiality, and duplicity, for these appear in sharp relief in the comparison you make unwillingly between yourself and him. He exercises no worldly power, he gives no harsh commands, but you feel in him an unyielding firmness in his convictions, his life, in the advice he gives, and so his opinion about what you should do, expressed with delicacy or by a discreet look, becomes for you a command and to fulfill that command you find yourself capable of any effort or sacrifice…

Who ever approaches a saint discovers in him the peak of goodness, purity, and spiritual power covered over by the veil of humility. He is the illustration of the greatness and power of kenosis. From the saint there radiates an imperturbable quiet or peace and simultaneously a participation in the pain of others that reaches the point of tears. He is rooted in the loving and suffering stability of God Incarnate and rest in the eternity of the power and goodness of God….
Dimitru Staniloae. The Experience of God, Holy Cross Press, pp. 232-234

If our lives were even close to being like this among the people we meet day to day, there would be no need for programs, advertising, campaigns, cultural relevance, techniques, classes, seeker friendly services and contrived hype. The only relevance that is real, has integrity and is grounded in the life in Christ is personal relevance: one to one, face to face, incarnational encounters with people. When people are objectified as demographics or as personal evangelistic projects, God becomes the agent of affectation, condescension, duplicity, schemes and phoniness. Because we are not personally an icon of Christ, we create an "image" for our churches to draw people in.  Because we are not saints we learn techniques and methods designed to manipulate people, and our personal personas become a well-crafted facade. We employ external techniques because we are still fragmented by sin, we lack integrity, the inner seamlessness of holiness.  Methods are calculated schemes, a snare for the unwary and feeble, for the undiscerning needy or the just plain desperately hungry who take our bait. But techniques and programs are not love, they are a camouflaged trap and the outsider, the sinner is the prey. In the end we trap the "man" but kill his spirit when he discovers he was a demographic target or hand picked as a project to be worked over no matter how friendly the spiritual mugging was.

So, how do we evangelize and "engage the culture"?  I think the answer is this: There is no Orthodox service for the baptism of a "culture".  There is only one baptism: of persons, and one at a time. The "Church" does not engage cultures, saints encounter people. When enough people live as saints and enough persons are baptized because of those encounters, cultures change.  (But even so, cultural relevance or baptism of a culture is still not the goal, the salvation of the person is.  An "Orthodox culture" guarantees nothing personally to anyone.  Modern Greece with the highest promiscuity and abortion rate in Europe along with its abysmal percentage of church attendance of baptized Orthodox at least anecdotally indicates that having an "Orthodox culture" is no guarantee that "Orthodoxy" is influential culturally or personally).

If the Church is to be relevant, the Church has to be relevant to each member, they must engage its agenda to make one a saint. And its members as saints are personally relevant to people. It is impossible for the Church to be relevant to "the world" apart from its creation of saints within it. Putting up websites, hanging banners or doing programs to attract a demographic and then working "the plan" on those they attract is a cheap back up because we have few saints among us who walk in the world as salt and light.  Madison Avenue and market research replace the "fragrant aroma of Christ" (II Cor. 2:14ff), the beauty of "love unfeigned" (Rom. 12:9) in the image of Christ to attract people to Faith. 

A phony, insincere, arrogant, base, impure, irreverent, insulting, impatient, selfish, egoistical, narcissistic, angry, harsh, judgmental, rude and impious person is irrelevant to everyone. The Saint needs no banner, no website, no technique, no contrived marketing image because he is in the image of Christ and thus relevant to each person he encounters, regardless of culture or demographic. 

If Dimitru Staniloae is even close, what the Church needs is more saints to go into all the world, not more marketing plans to get people to come to the Church.


25 comments:

Not a saint said...

Not a marketing plan, a strategic plan.

Matushka Anna said...

"There is no Orthodox service for the baptism of a "culture". There is only one baptism: of persons, and one at a time. The "Church" does not engage cultures, saints encounter people."

This is really important to remember and keep coming back to in an age of 'cultural relevance'. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "Acquire a spirit of peace, and a thousand around you will be saved."

Prudence True said...

Perfectly said!! Thank you. It was this personal witness which Orthodox Christians in America have used for the past few generations to share their faith, not American style marketing plans . . .

nothinghypothetical.com said...

Given how much I agree with every single word written here and how it rolls out on the page as if I am discovering my own mind while reading it...

It must be wrong.

But stink if I don't hope this is absolutely right. :)

There is much common ground between you and I s-p, but I have never been on the same page as you as I am reading these words (save perhaps when we recite the creed).

oruaseht said...

I would very much like to put this on my Lutheran Synod's webpage for all to see. As we consistently more and more get sucked into corporate-speak and task forces and strategic plans and marketing gimmicks and program/fad drivenness, this post is a beautiful reminder of truly what the world needs now. Thanks!

s-p said...

NH, Uh oh... maybe I better edit it. :)40x

oruaseht, it is here for the taking if you can force it on them.

Chrys said...

Yes! A thousand times: yes! A program can form someone (provided it is all-encompassing, like boot camp), but it can not transform someone. What program can encompass the human heart and soul? As deep speaks to deep, it takes a saint to make a saint, a Person to make a person. This should not be a surprise since Communion is both the end and the means of Life.

Of course, reading Staniloae is always a gift.

Thank you for this beautiful and important reflection.

konstantina said...

I'm a regular reader but never really comment. However, I found this post to be very inspiring. Living in Greece for a few years has made me more sensitive to this topic. Although I think Orthodox countries can offer something to the culture (like the vigil I went to Friday night where the Church had a piece of the True Cross from Jerusalem for a few days and where I saw a constant stream of people waiting to venerate- about 5000 people came that night alone) I truly believe that it is as you say, the matter is a personal one. If my life reflects Christ than others will desire Christ; this is what makes a lasting impression on a person weighed down by this life.

I find your cartoons funny (at least the ones that aren't harsh toward the clergy) but I find your serious posts gold. To want to become a saint not merely to become a temple of the Holy Spirit but in order to transmit His grace is the activity of keeping the two great commandments- to love God above all and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree.

But would I be harshing the mellow of this (well-earned) festival of affirmation if I added that I think s-p's brilliant analysis here also applies to the temptation many clergy and parishes face to take political stands, even tell parishioners how they should vote? Like programmatic marketing-driven evangelism, it's trying to remake the world using worldly power, and based on fear that (A.) otherwise, we might have to take the difficult and weak-looking way of the Cross and real personal transformation outlined here, or (B.) that way won't get us what we really want at the moment, anyway.

pr. david said...

A kiss of peace to you, Pithless One!

s-p said...

Anon, a worthy insight. I touched on that topic in a Holy Week post:
http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/04/security-kills.html

Thank you Fr. David.

Altar Ego said...

Wise words Steven.....

Yes, Jesus clearly said “Go into the world...and make disciples” He did not say “Bring the world in to make them members” ——“

Alexander said...

>An "Orthodox culture" guarantees nothing personally to anyone.


That is absolutely correct. But it helps though.

I think this is very helpfull to what you are saying: http://www.incommunion.org/2005/01/20/types-of-religious-lives/

>The "Church" does not engage cultures, saints encounter people."

Well that is , of course, true. But those people are carriers of a culture, which is part of their identity. They bring this culture in the Church. The saints always loved each Person and with him his culture.

Don't you agree?

I think it is a mistake to overate the importance of cultures but it is also a mistake to completely ignore them.

s-p said...

Alexander, I don't think anything in and of itself "helps" in a general sense only in particularity. The same sun hardens clay and melts wax as the Fathers say. Regarding culture, you actually succinctly restated my entire point. We don't encounter "culture" in the abstract, only in particular in PERSONS. If we engage people we are engaging their culture. It is not ignoring culture, nor is it, as you say making it the centerpiece of the human being and his experience of the Church. All human beings come into the Church formed by something and what is kept, dropped, transformed and assimilated is the work of grace in each of us within the life of the Church with other human beings doing the same thing.

JCS said...

This is an excellent post.

One question: What of those who are of other faiths who also fit this description of a "Saint" (less the bits about 'God incarnate' (as Christians understand the term))?

s-p said...

JCS, The Orthodox Church makes no claim that ONLY "Christians" can display saintly qualities. Insofar as someone exhibits the virtues of godliness they are of God. It kind of goes back to the old saying allegedly attributed to Ghandi, "I'd become a Christian if I ever met one..." (or something like that).

JCS said...

Now I am actually very confused. "Insofar as someone exhibits the virtues of godliness they are of God." So what exactly are you evangelizing about? That is, would you find it necessary to "evangelize" a Gandhi or the Dalai Lama? I have a cousin who spends six months out of every year in ministering to orphans in Malaysia. She is Buddhist. Would you "evangelize" someone like that?

This is the sticking point with Christianity; it is not enough to be God-like. Rather, it is not possible to reach or reconcile to God except through Christ. Is that not so?

s-p said...

JCS, My personal opinion is the juridical view (penal substitutionary atonement etc.) has ruined evangelism. "No one comes to the Father but by Me" has been turned from a statement of fact to a threat. If a Buddhist has union with God in eternity it will be through Christ. The point of evangelism is to name the unknown God for people. Christians are no more "saved" than anyone else who seeks God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, they just know who to thank.

JCS said...

I find this idea to be rather fantastic (read: unbelievable) and arrogant. To say that God can only be accessed via a single individual (Christ) not only makes God small and petty but defies the very nature of love - let alone the aspect of love that is defined through parenthood. It changes God from a Father to a Prime Minister of sorts. It is Prime Ministers who make wars, not fathers.

No good father would ever restrict any of his children from sitting in his lap without first going through a third-party.

"If a Buddhist has union with God in eternity it will be through Christ" - First of all, we are already "in eternity" so I don't know what you mean by that phrase. But the arrogance of such a concept is simply baffling. I am not saying that you as an individual are arrogant. I am saying the concept is. Then again, I have a lot of trouble with the idea of sacrificing a human virgin (a "perfect sacrifice") as a means of reconciliation to be both barbaric and idiotic. Even the worst among us would scarcely conceive of such a thing even toward our enemies. Telling someone who wants to be at peace with you, "kill my kid and I'll forgive you" will land you in the mental institution ten times out of ten. Forgiveness is a choice and can only be obtained without precondition.

It always amazes me that so many people believe in a God who is so small and so far from the definition of "love" or even "good." If God is better than my highest thoughts, there can be no bounds on him or how he communes with any of his creation.

My point is that evangelism of any sort is worthless if there is even a molecule that is not centered on God alone. Period. Nothing else. The problem is when people prescribe a path. If a man or woman is in communion with God via the path that is found in the Orthodox Christian Church, that communion is neither more nor less viable or valuable the communion that is gained through meditation alone or through Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other formalized group. In the end, the only thing that matters is communion with God. How one gets there is God's business. Those who cannot rejoice that one has found communion with God through Buddhism - without overlaying his own theology of Christ being the sole path to God - are not truly interested in people being united with God. (They are more interested in being right or propping up their institution.) Nor are they themselves one with God. For if they were, they would find His heart to be so much greater than any theology that the joy of communion alone is enough for them and the joy of knowing another who has found communion through another path will not be offensive or in need of correction.

s-p said...

JCS, You completely misread my response and in all kindness, your reply is aimed at the protestant "penal substitutionary atonement" model of Christ's sacrifice which I reject and did not imply, explicate nor promote in my post. In fact, I agree with virtually everything you wrote. (Kalomiros' article "The River of Fire" I think rightly attributes much of modern atheism to the pen sub doctrine.) I think I explicitly said that God is not limited by "religions", but if (as you SEEM to agree) all religions point to the same God and if you believe God is Trinity, then the work of Christ extends to all in every religion because to come to God cannot exclude Christ and the Spirit. So no one comes to the Father except through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit... whether they know those names or not in this life. As I said, (and St. Paul said) God honors everyone who seeks His face and lives according to the light they have. So in the end, if I read between the lines of your post correctly, you have an issue with much of Protestantism, not "Christianity".

JCS said...

"As I said, (and St. Paul said) God honors everyone who seeks His face and lives according to the light they have." Where did St. Paul say that?

Words are difficult and I hope that you know that I am not trying to be a prig here. I am actually quite happy and enjoy this dialogue.

"If you believe God is Trinity...to come to God cannot exclude Christ and the Spirit." And if you do not believe God is Trinity? It is an unprovable supposition that entirely depends on one's belief.

Seems that there is way too much time developing theories and theologies (which always divide) that could better be spent in simply living in love. Don't you think? This is why I question any ideas of evangelism from anyone. The true believers don't really evangelize, do they? They just live as they ought.

s-p said...

JCS, I don't think you are being a prig at all. Your criticisms of "Christianity" are my own at various times of my life. St. Paul: Romans 2:14-29 where he takes the Jews to task for thinking they are "all that" and the only ones who know God. The passage applies to Christians as well.

You are correct that "God in Trinity" is a belief, not a "fact". But if I get to the same place you get with "Trinity" then the issues are something else and lie elsewhere. I think the problem I have with being "non-dogmatic" is that it is truly impossible to be "non-dogmatic". Everyone has a dogma, some are just articulated more clearly and people have thought through the assumptions and consequences of them more precisely. The Orthodox approach to God is dogmatic but a hefty part of the dogma is that God is ultimately unknowable and a mystery to the human being. Hence we don't put God in a box and leave plenty of room for Him to be God and not an extention of our egos. So, yes, "evangelism" as I attempted to define it in my blog post IS about living as a saint, not merely preaching about my take on God's anger toward people who don't believe what I do about Him. I hope that helps a little.

JCS said...

Thank you. I am beginning to understand now a little better why my friend Robert is the only one among my old Christian acquaintances who is still my friend. It seems that Orthodoxy is rather sensible. It also seems to me that you are likewise sensible. I find that refreshing.

As regards dogma, well, I grew up the son of a protestant pastor so, yeah, I've had my fill of dogmas and dissecting things to death. That is perhaps why the dogma that I have adopted is so simple; "God is love and we were made in His image therefore love is our natural state. All distress stems from believing or behaving otherwise."

s-p said...

JCS, Thank you. I take that as a high compliment. Thanks for the "background check", it makes sense. We're not all that far apart. "All distress comes from believing or behaving otherwise" is actually a good Orthodox summary of Staniloae's description of the "saint" and what the life in Christ is supposed to be about. Thank you for the irenic exchanges on the blog.

JCS said...

You are more than welcome to read more of my thoughts: http://substition.typepad.com/realitycheque. I would certainly welcome your comments.