Imagine you’re in an elevator and begin a conversation with a stranger. Somehow, you get on the topic of faith and religion, and you say you’re an Orthodox Christian. Like too many Americans, the stranger standing next to you has a perplexed look on his face, and asks, “What is the Orthodox Church? Are you Jewish? Are you even Christian? What type of Christianity are you?”
Unfortunately, we Orthodox are so unknown in American society that such a bewildered response may not be uncommon. If you did face such an inquiry, though, how would you respond? Would you have any idea of what to say? Maybe I should start off by asking, “Would you ever even get into such a faith-related conversation with a stranger?”
Regrettably, I think for too many of us, this issue of whether we would even talk about our faith in a public setting, and especially with a stranger, is paramount. I’ve preached many times about how our faith is not a private affair, but a public reality. Jesus calls His followers to not be OF the world, but to fully be IN the world. He commanded His disciples to be witnesses of His love within society, to go forth and make disciples of all peoples, to be sent out as the Father sent Jesus out into the world. We hear our Lord say it in another way: “YOU are the light of the world… Let YOUR LIGHT shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Christ is telling EACH ONE OF US that WE ARE the light of the world, HIS LIGHT shining on others!
Each one of us, as a follower of Jesus Christ, has the privilege and responsibility to share our Orthodox Christian faith – first and foremost through our lives, but also through our words – with those we encounter each day, to friends and strangers alike!
If we understand and accept this grave responsibility, the next logical question would be whether we know what to say if we are trying to share God’s love and light with others? Could we clearly express our Orthodox Christian faith with someone? In other words, do we know the essence of our faith? Do we know the basics of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian? Could we tell someone what makes the Orthodox Church unique from the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical churches? Could we say enough to simply pique the interest of another, or maybe plant a seed of faith that may lead the other to want to know something more?
It’s with this idea in mind that the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Missions and Evangelism recently held a contest entitled the “Orthodox Elevator Speech Contest.” The idea comes from a business world model where a businessman meets a stranger in an elevator, and literally has 30 seconds or less to offer a brief explanation of what a person, or one’s company or organization does or stands for. The catch, of course, is that the businessman only has enough time to arouse the curiosity of the other – to interest them enough so that they may look further into the topic discussed.
Thus, an “Orthodox Elevator Speech” attempts to capture and communicate the essence of our faith and Church to someone who knows nothing about it. If we meet a stranger who has never heard of the Orthodox Church, and knows nothing about Orthodoxy Christianity, could we at the very least, say something that would grab their attention, and possibly inspire them to pursue further conversation or research on Orthodox Christianity – maybe via the internet, or even a visit to a Church?
Well, this weekend I was asked to be a judge for this “Orthodox Elevator Speech” contest. I read a number of responses, and I want to share with you a few of them as a lesson on what you could say. Remember, each responder had 30 second or less to answer the question “What is the Orthodox Church?” or “What is Orthodox Christianity?” Think for a moment about how you might respond, and then compare your answer with some of these.
One person responded, “Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God — who came to earth to heal our brokenness and restore all of us, and all Creation, to our original beauty. Christ promises that we can be healed of all our brokenness, and filled once again with God’s Light and Life and Love, right now, when we follow Him and participate in the wonderful gifts He offers in and through His Church. And as we participate in these gifts, God pours His life into us, making us more and more like Him!”
Here’s another response, “It’s pretty simple. Orthodox Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than an eternal love affair with God. We love Him so much that we seek to become one with Him, by His grace, and He welcomes us into Himself. It’s not an easy life, being Orthodox, but it has great joys and extreme beauty. Come to Church with me on Sunday and see for yourself.”
A third person wrote, “The Orthodox Church is the original church established by Christ through His disciples. Unlike Western Christianity that now has over 30,000 variations, the Orthodox Church’s beliefs and practices are essentially unchanged from the time of Christ. Since that time, the Church has acted as a hospital for broken humanity where God offers his healing Presence to us and restores us to our original beauty—making us more and more like Him.”
Or what about this: “Orthodox Christianity is an ancient faith about love and about how we are supposed to manifest Christ’s commandment to love one another through our thoughts and actions. It strips away the notion that Christ is an accountant or a lawyer who is focused on rule-breaking. Instead Orthodoxy focuses on how we show true cosuffering love in our relationships with other people, with the world around us and with God.”
“Orthodox Christianity is the complete spiritual therapy of Christ, where the inner life of the Trinity is poured out to us in the Church. Nobody is isolated or achieves anything artificially: we offer each other and ourselves to God in an unceasing movement of love. This is a profound and intimate love that the secular world cannot offer.”
“Most religions, including other forms of Christianity, are all about what to believe or say or do so that you’ll have the best life, and even the best after-life. Orthodox Christianity is about what to believe and say and do so that everyone else you come in contact with will have the best life and even the best after-life. The incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes it possible for us, through cooperation with the movement of the Holy Spirit within
us, to see that the will of the Father for all of Creation is brought to fruition.”
Maybe the best answer, though, is to offer one of the above tasters, followed by this, “Come and see! We have services every week on Wednesday or Saturday evening, and Sunday morning. We could meet a few minutes before, to give you an idea of what to expect, and afterwards we could grab a coffee and discuss any questions you have. I’d love for you to come and see!”
You are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven!