Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load. Galatians 6:2-5
I had the blessing to visit the St. Demetrios Monastery in Spotsylvania, Virginia recently. It was an honor to meet Metropolitan Jonah and the fathers and brothers who continually pray for the Church and the world. I haven’t made a pilgrimage to a monastery since 2014 when I visited Archangel Michael Skete in Missouri. I am excited that St. Demetrios is only less than two hours away and my eldest nephew and his family live in the area. Perhaps by God’s providence they are located at the headwaters of the Mattaponi River which I can see from my backyard and joins with the Pamunkey to form the York where I work.
As I was talking with Fr. Silouan and Brother Michael about evangelism with African-Americans, I thought about how Christians have held on to the faith in times of great suffering. The Russians, other Eastern Europeans and Ethiopians endured persecution under atheist communist governments. Antiochians, Greeks, Serbs, and others have delt (and is some places still deal) with oppressive Islamic regimes. Although not Orthodox Christian, African-Americans struggle with the effects of slavery, segregation, and continuing racism. One of the worst things that hinders any sort of evangelism is when we discount and disregard each other’s struggles. This is not to say that we should wallow in a sense of being perpetual victims. But, the suffering of each community and individual should be acknowedged. Once when we know a person’s circumstances can we better have dialouge.
While walking with His disciples, Our Lord explained the upcoming crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 16:21). The suffering was inevitable. But, it is only by humbly bearing the cross can we wear the cross of salvation. Consider the numerous martyrs of ancient times who endured the most horrible tortures and deaths. They fearlessly approached their fate with joy knowing the glory that awaited them. The Desert Fathers and other monastics took on great ascetic disciplines in the struggle against the passions. They would give a word of salvation to one another for salvation and their words can still aide us today.
For the Church to reach out to anyone of any background, we must have the compassion to listen and walk alongside them in their struggles as we also have our challenges. We must also be the example that people would be willing to follow. Our Lord didn’t merely give us commandments from on high. But, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to death. Because of this, His name is above all others (Philippians 2:5-11). Let us strive to live accordingly.