I’ve recently had a number of conversations and incidents that underlined the truth that Orthodoxy requires an intense commitment. These experiences have led me to appreciate the folks who are committed to our mission parish all the more. Honestly, there are days when I wonder how we have grown to the size that we have, given the uphill battle it is for many people to enter into the full spirit of Orthodoxy, and given the fact that other churches ask for so little in the way of commitment. You can get away with calling yourself a Christian very cheaply, if you want to. All you need is some shred of intellectual belief.
Numerous people have “tried” this mission and then walked away. As a priest I have watched this parade for a long time now. It is reminiscent of the parable of the Sower (see Mark chapter 4). You wait for the handful of people on whom the seed falls, takes root, and grows to maturity. Meanwhile there are those who stay a while, then go; there are those who can barely get across the threshold and then disappear as rapidly as they came. The number of people who persevere is, sadly, few. Perseverance is essential, because Orthodoxy does not yield its treasures in a week or a month. It takes years. This is also why, at least in the old countries, a deep monastic tradition supports those who are not monastics.
There are, of course, other reasons why this is a unique problem in America.
We don’t have an Orthodox culture to rely upon, particularly in the great American Southwest. We are a minority within a minority here. So there is the uphill struggle simply to gain a hearing, to explain where we came from and come from, and why we are so different from other organizations that bear the name of Christ.
Then there is the matter of the ascetic disciplines: we are about the only church remaining that takes fasting and seasons of fasting seriously, and it’s not easy even when you want to follow the church in these matters. Just think about how awkward it is every year at Thanksgiving. Think how awkward it is on December 25th for those who celebrate Nativity on the old calendar.
Lastly there is an attitudinal problem about worship itself. For so many Americans, worship has become a form of entertainment, pandering to the lowest emotional responses. What is there that is lofty or majestic about the repetitive praise hymns of so much contemporary Christianity? As one of my Orthodox friends said after leaving a mega-church service, “when does the worship begin?”
So it’s a rocky road. But then again Jesus never promises a rose-strewn path. Trust me: it’s worth it.