“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Colossians 3:11
The deserts of fourth to seventh century Egypt, Palestine, and Syria were inhospitable places. Lack of rainfall made them unsuitable for farming. With no agriculture, villages and towns rarely developed. Except for an oasis along a trade route or an army post along a frontier border, there were no generations of settled artisans and craftsmen. These deserts were lonely wastelands.
These fringe lands attracted thousands of men and women who wanted to give their lives to prayer and repentance. Some were men who left great luxuries to learn from obscure elders. Others came from remote parts of the known world either to remain or return to their lands to establish Christian monastic communities. Writings from these desert fathers made their way further in all directions. To this end, monks and nuns could be found from the British Isles, Siberian wilderness, Euphrates and Tigris Peninsula, and Ethiopia’s highlands. Empires would rise and fall, established clergy debated over doctrines. But, the central purpose of these Christian communities didn’t change; to obtain the kingdom of heaven. The means of fulfilling the goal remained the same; by an ascetic life of prayer and repentance.
There are some theological differences between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox jurisdictions. (One should check with a priest or spiritual guide before reading some material). As time progressed, the faith has become synonymous with some ethnicities and nations more than others. Various conquest, ideologies, invasions, and other religions have deepened divisions between people. Yet, our Lord’s call for making disciples and the example of the desert fathers challenge us to go beyond the boundaries and barriers of the kingdoms of earth to strive for the kingdom of heaven.
Much of the New Testament and spiritual writings of the Church were originally written in Greek. Many parishes in America have some link or another to a Slavic origin. I am heavily influenced by the African roots of early Christianity. However, we cannot fall into a trap of being so centered on one ethnic or national identity of being Orthodox Christian. To do so would be to place an earthly kingdom above the heavenly one. This tragic mistake puts man’s will above God. The perverted order mocks the Almighty One and contributes heavily to the growth of non-believers. “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Isaiah 52:5, Ezekiel 36:20, Romans 2:24). Let’s not weld Jesus to our earthly comfort zones.
Jesus was not crucified, buried, nor was He raised from the dead in the Jerusalem city center. These things happened on the outer fringes of town. This is where one found lepers and other outcast, bandits and their victims, and others who for whatever reason were not in the safety of the city and temple walls. And isn’t this where and who we are? Our sins have deeply disfigured our appearance and made us unfit to live forever in paradise. We selfishly violate others in actions, speech, and thought and lie violated by the same means by the evil one. The power of salvation does not come from man-made barriers. Our Savior is on the fringes of our walls and calls us to live in a beautiful city not made by man’s hands, but by Him (Hebrews 11:10).