MISSION DIARY: SEVEN YEARS A CATECHUMEN —
SEVEN QUESTIONS, PLUS SOME
by Fr. Stephen Siniari
I needed questions if I was to be a useful servant to those seeking a fuller life in Christ, questions that might benefit the good people I was blessed to meet. But first I had to learn the nuances of their language. It's difficult to serve if you don't know the language.
Terms like Church, Eucharist, Priesthood, sin, Scripture, liturgy, fasting, blessing, laity, sacrament, worship, saint, prayer, orthodoxy, and sometimes, even Christ, to a Christian of Orthodox Confession, mean one thing, while their use and meaning to others, might be radically different.
In fact, as I met more and more people searching for a fuller life in Christ, I discovered, that, in some instances, definitions often changed from one Confession to another, and from one person to another within one Confession. I had a lot to learn. I became a catechumen, ears open, mouth closed. The Fathers say you can listen another man's soul into existence. I attended heterodox services, read books, listened to sermons, and acquainted myself with heterodox origins. I prayed:
"Please, don't let me judge whether another man stands or falls before You. Open the eyes of my heart and give me love for the people you have called me to serve."
I would not have been profitable to serve out of insistent strength or a mighty cathedral. It was good to be weak, working a full-time job, no church building to call home, a very modest congregation, no great influx of missionary support from the home-front And out here, who had ever really heard of us? Oh yeah, The Orthodox. The Bazaar people, right?
We had to fend for ourselves. There wasn't another outpost of Orthodox outreach for miles. But, in the course of the work He was accomplishing among us, God blessed us with good friends from other walks of faith. Relationships began to grow. We got to know them. They got to know us. We ate together. We shared our stories. Years went by. Trust grew. We worked together where we could, no false substitutes for true unity. They were who they were. We were who we were. We looked each other in the eye and smiled. Perhaps we saw something familiar. Perhaps the distance, was diminishing. Perhaps the stranger in the far country recalled a smell, an image, a voice … So familiar that he could no longer resist the remembrance of his father's house. Attend Vespers? Sure. Come and see.
The Lord of the Harvest sent forth His Sower. The cycle of the seasons continued in their course. Certain questions began to arise, naturally, without contrivance. God had been preparing both fields long before the arrival of our Mission. The soil of the heart is accessible by nature to the One who is the Seed.
In the strength of a humble setting, we were blessed to learn to listen, to grow in patience, to see the Icon in the other, to love, and to call out to the Image there. Call out with love, but not with answers from a reduced, discursive, objectified knowledge.
We were blessed with the struggle, to live a life in harmony with the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the distance between a person and God is thin as skin, bridged only by His Love.
"Grant O Lord, Your love, in the heart of your loveless servant. Please, don't let me become an impediment to this one whom You have fashioned in Your image, This one You love, and for whom You have sent Your Only-Begotten Son. I believe O Lord, help my unbelief. Reduce the distance of the coats of skin. Let me not become a stumbling-block, or say a word out of season. Let me not win an argument, and cause a soul to be lost. By your Holy Spirit, open my mouth, or cause it to be closed. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Holy Theotokos pray for us."
Seven years, seven questions, plus. Probably over-simplistic, probably rather naive.
From Jacob's Well
Newspaper of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey
Orthodox Church in America