Of the mercy of the Lord God there is no shadow of doubt. You have seen for yourself, your Godliness, how the words of the Lord spoken through the Prophet have been accomplished in us: I am not a God far off, but a God near at hand (cp. Jer. 23:23), and thy salvation is at thy mouth (cp. Deut. 30:12-14; Rom. 10:8-13). I had not time even to cross myself, but only wished in my heart that the Lord would grant you to see His goodness in all its fullness, and He was pleased to hasten to realise my wish.
I am not boasting when I say this, neither do I say it to show you my importance and lead you to jealousy, or to make you think that I am a Monk and you only a layman.
St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-40
Brethren, by faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign enemies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
The Gospel According to Luke 24:13-35
At that time, two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
An excellent example of this is Orthodox funeral traditions, which differ from country to country, from region to region within a country, and even from village to village. That shows us how specific we get when we dial in our understanding of “place.”
Another example is our numerous traditions of sacred music. We have different styles of Church music because, as the Church is planted in a specific location, she expresses herself through the particular cultural framework of that place, including its musical traditions.
If we are in 21st century North America, we are to engage the culture that is here now. To romanticize Eastern Orthodoxy in other places and times is really nothing but a form of escapism, driven by the notion that our culture in this place is somehow “irredeemable.” The history of Orthodox evangelical efforts would suggest otherwise. We need to remember that all of those Orthodox cultures that we hold so dear were at one time not Christian at all… until believers went there to infuse them with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every one of these cultures was embraced as a worthy “place” to share the Good News of salvation. The Great Commission — “Go and make disciples of all nations…” — implies that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a culture that is disqualified from hearing the Gospel.
Probably the most important example of this is where it all began, the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was very cosmopolitan. It was a place with a strict delineation between those who were “in” and those who were “out.” It was a culture of loose morals (especially for the rich) and a callous disregard for the life and liberty of most of its inhabitants (largely, the poor). The government kept people happy by making sure they were well fed and entertained (“Bread and Circuses”). And Roman society was tolerant of many ideologies, as long as everyone accepted the states “truth” — that Caesar was a god.
The Christians of the Roman Empire did not turn their backs on that culture. They knew that they were “in this place” and so they proclaimed Christ there. If the Roman Empire could be brought to Christ, any culture can. And maybe that’s one of the reasons that the Lord God chose to begin his mission of salvation there.