Orthodox Christian Theological Exploration of Vocation
The “theological exploration of vocation” is grounded in two great questions all college students should ask themselves: What is life about? And, Who am I?
When people choose what kind of house to buy they are reminded of the adage, “Location, Location, Location.” The idea is that the size of the apartment or house and its amenities are secondary to where it is — its accessibility to the things most treasured: family, a good school system, short commute, the country or the city. The idea is that what is valued most should be ranked first when making a decision.
For the questions here — Who am I? and What is life about? — a wise adage is, “Vocation, Vocation, Vocation.” Vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “call.” A vocation is not a specific career; it is a whole way of being in the world. The idea here is that what I am going to do with my life is actually secondary to who I am. But vocation suggests more than simply self-exploration. If “vocation” means “call,” there has to be a caller.
The question of who we are is totally bound up with who is calling us. Many things call us: our friends call us , telemarketers call us, the candy bars in grocery checkout lines call us. Here we are speaking of the one who Orthodox Christians claim to be the Ultimate Caller: the one who called us out of nothing into being in Genesis, who called a people out of slavery in Exodus, who called his people to repentance through the Prophets, who called simple fishermen in the Gospels, who called the biggest persecutor of Christians on the Road to Damascus, and who — through death on a Cross — calls all to salvation in and through Jesus Christ.
Do you believe you are called by this Caller?
Vocation, vocation, vocation. This definition of vocation as calling allows for a profound intersection of the two questions asked earlier: What is life about? And, Who am I? For it invites us to see our concrete reality as thoroughly tied with ultimate reality: we are called by the one who created the heavens and the earth. Our vocation is our way of being in the world that is our unique response to His call.
But then we must ask, What does He call us to?
Most simply, to sum up all the Law and the Prophets, and as Jesus Himself explains in the Gospels, He calls us to “‘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.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Simple. What life is about for Christians is bound up in this dual commandment to love God and neighbor.
And yet not so simple. Christ calls us to this, but what does this really mean? How do we love God? How do we love our neighbor? For that matter, who is this God, really? And who is my neighbor?
These are the great theological questions. Seeking answers to them helps answer our first question, What is life about? Add to these the question, Who am I? and we have a trilogy of great questions to spark a theological exploration of vocation.
Who is God?
Who is my neighbor?
Who am I?
The theological exploration of vocation for Orthodox Christians centers on these three questions. It asks us to explore who we are — as individuals and as a community — as a radical response to the call to love God and neighbor.
Who is God? We seek to know this God through Scripture and through the rich traditions of the Orthodox Church: the Divine Liturgy, Orthros and Vespers services, the writings of the Church Fathers and Mothers, the Ecumenical Councils and Church doctrines, the lives of the Saints, the practice of prayer, repentance, confession, and so on. Our exploration of vocation is “theological” when it asks us to dig into our Orthodox Christian sources of our faith to ask, “Who is this God that He calls us?”
Who is my neighbor? We seek to know our neighbor — especially (so we learn throughout Scripture) the needy neighbor, the one who we might otherwise remains unloved. Who is your neighbor in your immediate life circumstance — the neighbor in your campus community (isolated students, tired staff, annoying dorm mates) and the neighbor outside this community (the homeless, the lonely elderly, underprivileged children)? What can you do to seek to know this neighbor? To seek to know the neighbor is to recognize that love must be borne out in the concrete action of service that somehow in our life if we do not see how we love this neighbor in our personal and communal life circumstances, we cannot really love God.
Who am I? We seek to know who we are. What is the unique way that I am created, what are the talents God has given me? What are the practical ways I discern who I am? We allow ourselves the time to explore this. Often we can discover this best within a healthy community, with the guidance of those who care about us. We gain help from all the practical wisdom the world has to offer, from assessment tests to career service resources. How we use our talents may be partially determined by the distinct needs of the time and place in which we live. What is needed in the world around me? We also seek to know who we are as a community — as a Church community, and as an OCF community.
The “theological exploration of vocation” asks us to take the time to reflect on how we can root our lives in good answers to these questions. A vocation is the unique way we weave together the answers to these questions of God, neighbor, self and live the concrete reality of daily life. Vocation, vocation, vocation. The idea here is that what is valued most should be ranked first when making life’s decisions. The idea here is that taking the time to explore this is one of the most worthwhile ways to spend time. And the idea here is that the Orthodox Christian theological tradition has immensely rich tools to help us in this essential vocation exploration.
Director, Office of Vocation & Ministry at Hellenic College
Feast of St John Chrysostom 2004