Reassess Your Culture
“No Christian is an alone Christian, and an alone Christian is no Christian.”
This is a ditty sung in the early Church. Though it is not scripture it is valuable, because it best describes the spirit of those first Christians. In fact, it is the heart of our faith preserved through these last 2,000 years in the Orthodox Church. Christ came to restore community, a true community, a kingdom with Christ at its core. This is the spirit lived out by St. Benedict, whose feast we celebrate this week. It is the same spirit that we must live out in our own Christian walk in our homes and parish today. Yet, if we are deliberate about following Christ, we will face a challenge. We must forsake one life for another.
He was a young man when he ran away. His country reeked of corruption. Politics had degenerated. Ethics and family values were nonexistent. A nation once Christian had corroded to paganism and secularism. Fifth century Rome was a cultural wasteland when St. Benedict fled to the wilderness to pray. Yet, an ironic turn of events took place. He abandoned one community and found himself in another. Men and women followed the saint. They formed monasteries. Others saw what was happening and relocated their homes and livelihoods around these monasteries. Like mushrooms after rain, a new way of life popped up all across Europe, a life centered around the Church.
Why do we celebrate St. Benedict today? He left a legacy, a legacy that has never been so pertinent. Christians in the 21st century can no longer go with the flow. We cannot keep keeping up with the Joneses. We have identified for so long with the culture around us that we have lost our own identity. Our Lord’s commandment is urgent: to seek out a lifestyle that is “in the world, not of the world” (John 17:14). This is our challenge, and it is more difficult and more beautiful than we imagine.
In our gospel today, Peter asks our Lord a question:
“We have forsaken all, and followed thee: what shall we have therefore?” Jesus answers without hesitation: “I say unto you, That ye which have followed me…ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones…Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:27-29).
How do you think our Lord’s words struck his audience? They seem easy enough for us 21st century Americans. With our mobility and individuality, the idea of moving away from home is not so daunting. For the Jews, this was radical. In Jewish society, you spent your whole life with your relatives. Your career, your values, even your marriage, all revolved around the good of the whole. If you have ever watched, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” you can get the idea. Do you remember the final scene? The couple is married. The father congratulates the new husband. He hands him a deed to a house…the very house next to their own. In this sort of society, to forsake your house, brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, and lands is insane. Yet, it is what Christ asks from us.
I have exaggerated a little. We can, in fact, identify with the Jews, and all too well. If we are honest, Jesus’ words are as radical today as they were then. Moving away from mom and pop is not so hard. Moving away from the culture is another matter. It is romantic to imagine running off into the woods to start a new life. It is far harder to imagine what it means to forsake everything for Jesus Christ in the real world. St. Benedict was called to forsake all literally. Most of us have a different calling. We have to learn how to walk out this commandment in the day-to-day life of modern America.
Pãs òs aphíken…kaì zoín aiónion.
“All who have forsaken the world…shall inherit eternal life.”
Forsake is an interesting word. It comes from two words in Greek: apó and iémi. Apó means ‘away from’ and iémi means to ‘cut off,’ or ‘discharge.’ There is something violent implied in the word ‘forsake’. It was symbolized in the Old Testament by the action of circumcision. The body was marked permanently to distinguish the Jew from the non-Jew. In the New Testament, circumcision is replaced with baptism, which, though not as graphic, is as equally severe and radical. Once baptized, we must no longer identify with the world. We are called to a life that is cut off, torn apart, new and radical.
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…as living stones, [you] are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:9;5).
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).
What is the solution to all the problems in the world? What is the solution to all your problems? It is infinitely simple. The solution is the Church.
God does not ask us to save the world. He asks us to forsake the world and to assemble together in Christ.
This is why the Church invites us to drink from one cup. It is why the Church tells us to arrange our schedules around the sacred calendar, to confess our sins regularly, to leave I-ville and settle into You-ville. The life in Christ is a life of cutting off from the world, the flesh, and the devil and coming together in the Holy Spirit.
So each of us needs to ask this question: What do I need to cut off in my life that I may become one with Christ and His body?