“So then you are no longer strangers or people far away. But you live with God’s people and belong to God’s family.” Ephesians 2:19
“We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.” Justin Martyr, 160-165 AD
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being with my brothers and sisters at the annual St. Moses the Black Conference. It was the second straight year we had to go virtual. I miss traveling once a year meeting up with old friends and making new ones from across the country and around the world (Bishop Neofitos spoke and conducted a Hierarchal Divine Liturgy a few years ago in Indianapolis. Awesome!). But, we were able to have the various lectures broadcasted recorded online. If you are unfamiliar with the Fellowship (formerly the Brotherhood), please visit the links provided. Please pray for the health of our founder and mentor, Archpriest Moses Berry.
Father Paul Abernathy is one of our favorite speakers and one of the most well-known African-American voices in American Orthodox Christianity. His mission parish has a live feed of most of their weekly services. In his sermon during the Saturday morning Liturgy, Fr. Paul recalled some of the sorts of phone calls he received during last year’s racial protest. “People would ask ‘how can I, a white Christian, be a good ally to my black brothers and sisters.’ Allies are not what we need. We need brothers and sisters in Christ. We need manifestations of God. “
Despite the best intentions of some groups to heal the racial divide, we see some of the same incidents that spark the same flare-ups time and time again. Perhaps one reason for this is because we are seeking alliances instead of Christian love for one another. Alliances by their very definition are temporary and last only as long as they are advantageous to the parties involved. Fr. Paul pointed out that in World War I, Italy and Japan were our allies. A generation later, they were our enemies in World War II. These are temporary arrangements on shallow grounds. If there is going to be true reconciliation, we must go beyond having allies.
Early Christians of all races understood that the world was not against them because of their ethnicity. The world hated them because they sought to live holy and apart from the kingdom of earth. St. Maurice and his Theban Legion from Upper Egypt refused to participate in slaughtering Christian prisoners from the Alpine region of Europe. The angered Emperor slaughtered the African soldiers instead. This is the sort of love necessary to overcome the world. Viola Liuzzo drove was driving marchers in Montgomery, Alabama back to their home town of Selma when she was killed by the KKK. We need a love for each other that we are willing to sacrifice friendships, social status, creature comforts, even to the extremes of incomes and lives.
I write this not in a vacuum of history and theory. For my love for Christ and the Orthodox faith (which there were remnants of the faith even in Mansa Musa’s Malian Empire), I gave up the Pastorate of a very stable African-American church a few miles away from my home to be just another member of a parish that was once located in Poquoson. I took on side jobs to make up for lost income (Adjunct Spatulist for the McDonald’s Corp.). I’ve put up with people who thought “I forgot where I came from” and others who (because of my political perspective) thought “I wasn’t Orthodox enough.”
Christ calls us to a radical, sacrificial love for one another as He gave up his throne in glory to be spat upon, beaten, and crucified. Dying to this world, He became the Ruler of all Rulers. Allies look out for temporary advantages. Don’t sell yourself short. Be a true brother or sister.