New post on Orthodox Catholic Monastery
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:35-40 (NIV)
According to the Eastern-Rite Lectionary, today’s gospel reading (above) for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost is commonly referred to by Orthodox Catholic Christians as “the Gospel of the greatest commandment in the Law” (Евангелие о наибольшей заповеди в Законе). What is the essence of the greatest commandment? Love! If the foundation of Christianity is love of God and love of neighbor, one would reasonably expect to experience unconditional love overflowing in our churches and our lives, in joyful fulfillment of our Lord’s greatest commandment.
Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the experience for a lot of folks.This past week, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released a report about the growing number of people who profess no religious affiliation or have renounced a previous religious affiliation. In the overall survey, Americans identified as important motivations in leaving their childhood religion are: they stopped believing in the religion’s teachings (60%), their family was never that religious when they were growing up (32%), and their experience of negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people (29%). Fewer than one in five Americans who left their childhood religion point to the clergy sexual-abuse scandal (19%), a traumatic event in their life (18%), or their congregation becoming too focused on politics (16%) as an important reason for disaffiliating.
Religious believers have a great deal to learn from these results. Love, prayer, humility, and a deep investigation of scripture and tradition can stem the exodus from the Church. I prefer to reframe the data as a challenge and opportunity for necessary change. The details give me inspiration and hope that the Church will interpret the study results as the Holy Spirit’s call to renewal, rather than doom and gloom disaster.
The Church is presented with the opportunity to understand and acknowledge that its present failure to love is driving people away. Rather than doubling down on flawed exegesis of scripture, the Church can embrace the deep compatibility of science and faith, holding fast to the essential truths while contextually reforming antiquated tradition. In obedience to Christ’s greatest commandment, the Church can positively embrace those who have disaffiliated from the Faith and refreshingly present the good news of Christ’s welcome to all.
I am reminded of a prayer by Saint Julian of Norwich that seems fitting to share. She prayed:
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss. In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother and Savior. In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace. You are our clothing; for in love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our lover, our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. Amen.