"Let Your Light Shine in the World"
Let Your Light Shine in the World
Bethlehem – July 16, 2006
Dn. Hector Firoglanis
A passer-bye once asked an old ascetic, “Holy father, why is that Christianity spread so rapidly in the early centuries, and now hardly anyone truly accepts the Gospel of Christ when it is preached?”
The elder replied, “The answer to that is simple. In the early times, Christianity was preached by Christians, people who actually believed and lived their faith. Today, Christianity is preached not by people who live Christian lives, but those who only speak about it.”
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In today’s Gospel lesson, our Lord says that we are the light of the world… “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
St. John Chrysostom, preaching to perhaps 400 people in Antioch, told them, “If all of you were Christians, there would be no more pagans in the world.” St. John was trying to make a simple point: If you want to understand how Christianity spread so rapidly in the early centuries, it was because Christians were Christian, and the Light of Christ was radiating brilliantly from their lives.
* * *
Even with all of our technological advances in transportation and communication, roughly 16 centuries after St. John’s piercing words, two-thirds of the world is still non-Christian, and about 2 billion people living in the world today have not even heard about Christ.
Numbers are not even that important, because the only number that truly matters is this: Not how many people in the world call themselves Christians, but how many of us truly radiate the Light of Christ to others.
The reality is that most of the world is living in the darkness of ignorance and forgetfulness of God.
Yes, we as Orthodox Christians we have the fullness of truth preserved in our faith, but is this something we should be proud of and boast about? Having just returned from a week at Camp Nazareth, many of the campers would ask: “What happens to all those people in the world who never heard about Christ or who never had the chance to become Orthodox?”
I would tell them: Are they at fault for not knowing the truth, or at we at fault for not sharing it?
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, whom my wife and I have been serving with in Albania the past year as missionaries, once shared a beautiful story from his missionary experiences in Africa.
As the Archbishop of East Africa, where he served before he went to Albania, His Beatitude was making pastoral visits to various Orthodox villages in western Kenya. And he came across a certain village in which all the Africans had become Protestant.
Archbishop Anastasios approached the leader of the village, and he looked at the man with his kind eyes and disarming smile as he asked, “Why is it that your entire village became Protestant and not Orthodox?”
And the African leader of the village responded to the Archbishop: “Sir, we know that Orthodoxy is the religion with the purest water. But none of our Orthodox brothers came to share their pure water with us. We had the water of Protestantism, which maybe is not as pure as Orthodoxy, but thank God we had a little water to drink.”
If we do not share the light of Christ with others, then we can expect the darkness which pervades in this world.
* * *
Of course, when Christ spoke to the disciples and told them to let their light shine before others, they did not do so immediately. It wasn’t until years later when they were enlightened by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, that they first began to spread the light of Christ in the world.
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Yes, we as Orthodox Christians have been given everything we need to be illumined by the light of Christ, but we need not despair for the little we have done to share that light with others, but we are called to repentance. As we say in the Liturgy, we must continuously “commit ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.”
Together we can recommit ourselves to the ultimate purpose of our lives: to grow in the likeness of Christ, and to share the light of our Lord with others.
My wife and I have been inspired by the work of Archbishop Anastasios and the resurrection of the Church in Albania after decades of Communist oppression.
For the last year, with the prayers and financial support of several co-workers including many of you from this community, we have been in Albania assisting the Archbishop in his efforts to rebuild the Church and to spread the light of Christ.
Albania is a country which is around 60% Muslim, 30% Orthodox and 10% Roman Catholic. In the last 15 years since the fall of Communism, over 200 churches have been built or rebuilt and over 130 clergy have been ordained. Slowly, by the grace of God, the Church is growing in this predominantly Muslim country.
In addition to teaching at the Orthodox Theological Academy, one of my main responsibilities has been to lead the university ministry at the University of Tirana. Of the 50 or so students who regularly come to our weekly meetings, I have been working closely with about a dozen of our most serious and committed students.
Of these dozen student leaders, three of them come from Muslim families with the desire to be baptized into the Orthodox Church.
The Light of Christ is being spread in Albania, and we glorify God daily as we see the power of his light transforming the hearts and minds of the people who had been deprived of the Church for so many years.
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We as Orthodox Christians, especially those of us living in America, have been given everything we need in abundance, both spiritually and materially.
I would like to conclude this morning with the words of Archbishop Anastasios from his Pascha homily: "If we keep God's blessings to ourselves, we will lose them. This is the mystery: to share what is given to us with others. It's like during Pascha when we share the light of our candle with our neighbor, and this way the entire church is lit up. This is the only way to overcome the darkness of the world—to share the gifts which God has given to us.”
Let us always remember the words of Christ in today’s Gospel lesson: “You are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
This is the main purpose of our lives: to be transformed by the light of Christ, and to share that light with others in our homes, in our places of work, in America, Albania, and the rest of the world. Amen.