Question: Why does Christianity have such a bad name today?
Archbishop Puhalo: The hypocrisy and bigotry of Christians. The hypocrisy and bigotry we have is, first of all, to think that we have a special righteousness or holiness as Christians automatically simply because we are Christians without any real sincere work to transform our hearts and to transform our inner persons, to transform our being so that we come into accord with the moral imperatives of Jesus Christ rather than the moral laws that people have super-imposed on Christ.
From the documentary, “A Pilgrim’s Way” (0:32-1:10)
How sincere is the work we do to “transform our being?” Do we simply look forward to baby Jesus on Christmas and observe the resurrection on Easter Sunday? Or, does the Christian calendar have other special observances and practices to help guide us in our pursuit of God? The Apostle Paul taught that whether or not we observe particular days of worship is a matter of conscience and faith. We Baptist observe the well-known holidays of Christmas and Holy Week. Other than that, we feel the individual believer should be led by the Holy Spirit daily and that calendar observances are not required of anyone.
As an avid hiker, I know the value of a good guide and well-marked trail. Sure, GPS coordinates accurately give starting and destination points. But, most units don’t include maps. Maps point out scenic views, switchbacks, stream crossings, and other features on the trail. Well written guides give info about wildlife, seasonal conditions, photos, and advice from those who have hiked the trail before. Trail markers let you know that you are still on the right path. Some indicate distance and if there are any other paths nearby. Combine the guide and markers and the hiker has a better sense of where he is, what to expect, how to deal with it, and is better prepared to handle the unexpected.
I am using the prayers, feast, and fast of Orthodox Christianity with the Holy Spirit as my guide and trail markers. I am not abandoning the church I was brought up in and serve as a pastor. But, I recognize my need for clearer directions in my life’s journey. The Orthodox calendar gives me greater indication of the value of the days and weeks of the year. Fast are like those gruelling switchbacks along a mountain. We’d rather not deal with them. But, they help keep us from the risk of steep slopes of gluttony and over-indulgence. Feast are like those wonderful summit views or valley streams to rejoice in the God that leads us in the journey of life. Yes, I do lift up my own prayers. It is also good to read those of saints who have successfully made the same journey. It is also good to read the shared prayers of those who are also walking the same path.
I am embracing the Apostle’s Fast remembering the faith they spread throughout the world despite the horrific persecution and death that they suffered. While God does give blessings, we should keep in mind that there can be no crown of glory without a cross of great suffering. We should also note that the Gospel of our Lord is to be spread beyond our own communities and comfort zones. The Holy Ghost empowers us to speak “someone else’s language.” I pray that my fellow non-Orthodox Christians will join our brothers and sisters of the ancient faith and ether give follow the fast or pray for us who are on this leg of the journey as we all seek the same waters and summit.