Many would agree with me that one of our Church’s greatest assets is its history. We are members of true faith, the one, continuous and complete expression of the Church laid down by Christ and the Apostles. We celebrate our history daily in our liturgical cycles, remembering saints and events in our hymns and readings. We’re rightly proud of where our Church has been and what it has gathered up along the way. Observing a normal Divine Liturgy in a typical OCA parish you’ll see signs of ancient Alexandria, Syria, and Constantinople, Medieval Byzantium, the Russian Empire, and Native Alaska. As rich as our history is, in this sinful world, like anything, it can become distorted and an idol that distracts from God.
People often are drawn to our faith precisely because it is ancient, timeless, other-wordly. Groups of scholars study our history, the uninitiated admire our icons and architecture, students learn of our mighty triumphs and spectacular defeats. In the midst of this richness, it is all too easy to lose God, Christ, and the Good News proclaimed by him.
Our history is our department store, allowing us to pick out which identity fits and looks best. Today I will be a Paleologian Byzantine, shouting in the marketplace against the coming Muslims and the impious emperor. Tomorrow, I will see if being an 19th century Russian fits, protesting the impending freedom of the serfs and deriding the heretics and the Catholics.
Our history is our museum. Why have a Church, living and active, that challenges me to repentance and love for God and neighbor when I can have a museum? Museums are dusty and quiet and the exhibits don’t often change. Nothing will threaten me there. I can control a museum. A museum won’t make me change anything about myself.
Our history is a safe deposit box, a storage space for precious jewels. They grow more and more valuable in our minds as we keep them hidden away from the public, from perceived thieves who would apparently tarnish their value with their unworthy hands. We become like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, warped by solitary greed, keeping our faith locked up in its own history, just for the worthy.
Our history is a library, full of quotes taken out of context that can prove my opinions, win fights on facebook, and shame people I disagree with. I can bury myself in a book instead of meeting Christ in a person. I can retreat from the world into the Church, instead of following the One who gave himself “for the life of the World and its salvation.”
But such a retreat is only an illusion, because our history is the history of our salvation. Our history is the Gospel, if looked at through the lens of faith in Christ, and not through the lens of our own fears and insecurities. Our history is the proof of God’s constant, loving presence in the World, the proof that an active God loves and forgives us, and that his followers are capable both of sinful behavior, and of imaging Him to the world through heroic acts of mercy, compassion, and witness.
Our history is our strength, when it is used to preach the Gospel of the coming Kingdom of the Crucified Christ, when all history will end, and not when it is used to justify the status quo. Our history is not static, because our God is not static. It is the beautiful, dynamic, responsive, preaching of the incredible dispensation of Jesus Christ our Lord, the same yesterday, today, and forever.