Do we manifest Christ by the way we live? Most of us probably do live generally decent lives, Christian lives that include concern for truth and for the ways of God. But problems arise in those areas where we fall short – and we all do fall short in differing ways. To manifest Christ in our lives we must constantly work to make things right. This takes real work – work to look carefully at our lives in order to discern what does not belong – work to overcome whatever does not belong – and work to nourish what is good and right and healthy – so that, in our own lives, we may show the beauty of Christ to others.
To look at one example – how do we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ when we do not agree with them? We all have political opinions. They tend to be well thought out and dearly held. So recently I was very surprised, in speaking with a brother priest, to hear who he had voted for in the primary election. We have been good friends for many years, we know each other very well and respect each other. I was very surprised at his choice, but it does not make him a bad person in my eyes, and I hope he felt the same about me when I told him who I had voted for. We do have an obligation to strive to live out our faith, and we know that, in terms of the political process, some Orthodox Christians choose to be Democrats, some Republicans, and some Independent. Good, honest, hardworking people have served on both sides of the aisle – and not so good people have served on both sides of the aisle. Orthodox Christians continue to serve throughout the political spectrum, but I do not think that God really sees us as Republicans or Democrats. He sees us first as His children whom he loves – and if we walk in His ways, we too will strive to see our brothers and sisters in the same way, even when we disagree with them. Patriarch Ignatius has reminded us that even truth itself loses its power when it is separated from love. I pray that we all can remember this, especially as we draw closer and closer to the election in November. If we forget to be charitable towards our brothers and sisters for something like a difference of opinion, be it concerning politics, or anything else – then we run the risk of displaying the fruit of strife and discord, rather than manifesting Christ.
Back in the early fourth century, Saint Aphraates, a Bishop living near present day Mosul in Iraq, warned against the dangers of allowing discord and strife to rule in our lives (to any degree): He said, “Dearly beloved, it is not enough to read and to study the sacred Scriptures, we must fulfill them also. For to me it seems that if anyone is involved in contentions and in quarrels, his prayers are not acceptable, his supplications are not answered, his gift rises not upwards from the earth… And wheresoever there is no peace and tranquillity, the door is left open to the Evil One… the ordinary things of life are thrown into confusion, and there is peace neither for the one coming, nor for the one going. Such are the fruits of discord.”
We could offer similar warnings about other behaviors as well, against any harmful thing that threatens to control our lives. If we allow strife, or anger, or envy, or lust or any other bad thing to rule and direct our lives, our thoughts, our words, our deeds – then we are no longer able to manifest Christ, no longer able to show God in our lives. Let us pray that we never obscure the beauty of God’s message by the way we live.
by Fr. Nicholas Alford