Sunday, October 24, 2010

The New Evangelization and the Eastern Catholic

    Jesus said to go out into the entire world and preach the gospel to every creature. This call of Jesus had an immediate response as the apostles and early disciples went everywhere spreading the good news, which was followed by miracles. However, as the Church grew and became a regular part of the various cultures it found itself in need of renewal. In our modern time, even in our Eastern Churches, this is the case. The Eastern Churches, marked by a long period of internal struggle and lukewarmness, which originates from many factors, have in many ways lost touch with the calling to evangelize the world. We are not alone in this and the Fathers of our modern Church age since the Vatican II council have called for a “New Evangelization”.
     For many Eastern Catholics evangelization is a strange term, especially the term “’New Evangelization”. However, it is a fundamental aspect of the Christian life. Not only do we find the concept evangelization in Holy Scripture it also has been in many documents since the Second Vatican council. Basically, evangelization is the way the Church’s members bring others into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For the most part this is an ongoing process for two reasons. The first is that we are always in need of deeper conversion and there is always someone who has not met Jesus Christ in a personal way (who may be sitting next you every Sunday). On the other hand, the concept of a “New Evangelization” is something entirely new to the Church for it was recently introduced by the former pope. This type of evangelization is not different in content from regular evangelization but it is different in its application, approach and energies.
     The reason for this call to a new evangelization is that we are living in a time when Christianity is being dismantled from the cultures that have long been influenced by it. There are three main factors behind this problem. First of all, many people who go to Church have never met Jesus Christ in a personal way. For some reason or another, what has been taught in the Church does not seem to reach internalization. As a result, there are many who have knowledge about Christ but have never met him. Next, prevailing ideas from the secular culture seem to be of more value than Church teaching. Being bombarded on a regular basis from ideas via the media or elsewhere people are being convinced that certain ideals are ok, such as gay marriage or all religion is the same. Consequently, when the Church claims that these practices are wrong it falls on deaf ears. Finally, doctrines of demons have been introduced by influential figures that have made their way into authoritative positions, even in our churches. These people are strategically placed by Satan in positions where they teach people things that are contrary to Church teaching. For example, I remember in my undergraduate studies one of my professors taught the class that the age of redemption is passing away and the new religious symbol would be the Earth and not the cross—at a Roman Catholic university. Unfortunately, because of their influential positions what it taught by them is perceived as truth. As we can see, the Church is in deep need of a “New Evangelization.”
     The new evangelization begins with Christ but it also begins with us as individuals. John Paul II once spoke concerning the type of new evangelists the world would need in the new millennium. He claimed that this new kind of evangelist would have to be a contemplative. What he said is at the core of all evangelistic techniques, which is personal holiness. True evangelism proceeds not from knowledge about Christ but form a person’s actual experience of Christ. For example, I can’t tell others about the love of Christ if I myself have not experienced that love. Furthermore, a personal experience of Christ is not a one-time event. The pope spoke of evangelists being contemplatives, which are people who continue in an ongoing experience of God. In fact, this is how our Fathers of the Eastern Church teach us to live” in continual remembrance of God”. As a result, our original experience with Christ or going to church once a week is not sufficient by itself to facilitate an ongoing ministry of evangelization. On the other hand, the key to becoming the "new evangelists" is an ongoing holiness, which is fostered by unceasing prayer, devotion, praise, fasting, giving alms, keeping vigil, and obedience. Without an ongoing holiness the sharing of Christ with others would not have the full power that God desires.
     Some might say only those in the monastery can practice these ways to holiness. However, this holiness necessary for evangelization is a gift for every one because everyone in the church is called  by Jesus Christ. The work of evangelization was never intend for a group of specialists because the very nature of the Church is missionary. It is through baptism that we are given the grace to be holy and to share in the ministry of Jesus Christ. This is one of the greatest gifts of God for it gives us a new life and a share in his mission through this sacrament. This could also be said of all the sacraments for in one-way or another they enhance our relationship with Christ and give us the ability to share in Christ’s mission to save humanity.
     With such powers flowing from the Church we must know that we are not alone in the mission. It sometimes feels like no one cares or no one listens and our Eastern Traditions seems like they are going to disappear from the Western world. One of the reasons why I started this blog and the other social network sites was to show you that you are not alone. In fact, there are many others rising up and speaking out about our struggles. In these efforts we must keep Christ before us and cling to the way of living that our Eastern spiritual traditions call us to. In order for us to have something to offer those who are seeking.
     With our Eastern Traditions in mind it would be good to also pay attention to what the former pope said concerning certain saints. He said we need to reconnect with the mystical tradition of the Church. However, the saints that he recommends for the New Evangelization were taken from the Western Tradition. With the Eastern Tradition in mind I believe every Eastern Catholic should have regular devotion to the Philokalia and seek the wisdom and intercession of saints like St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain and Elder Sophrony.
     Evangelization is not optional for an Eastern Catholic, let alone any Christian. The Fathers of the Vatican II council stated that a good apostle must always look for an opportunity to proclaim Christ. It’s one of the fundamental aspects of being called by Jesus Christ., We need to proclaim Christ to others and then we will see our Eastern Churches fill up. It is not enough to know about Jesus Christ for he is calling us into a personal experience of his divinity. Out of this participation in the divine nature we truly find the fuel that will bring others into our churches.

Information based on the following book:

1 comment:

  1. Good article. I am ten years now a convert from Latin Rite. I think the Eastern Catholics are as much in need of the "New Evangelization" as the Western ones. The Byzantines, etc, have been mostly an ethnic church (I had a Serbian Orthodox fellow tell me once that they never needed to evangelize and their churches were full anyway!). In the States, this is partially in response to the persecution by and ignorance of the Latin Rite hierarchy historically. However, the New Evangelization is simply the admission that Western culture has jettisoned the soil from which it grew and the overdeveloped world needs to hear the Good News once again. As "Western" culture dies we need to offer life, which must be life in the Trinity through Jesus. Of course, this will result in persecution of the messengers; stripping away denial from the way of life is painful. I am in agreement that the true evangelization is "simply" living a holy life. I believe that this is the most powerful evangelization. Remember, information comes from difference. Of course, when words are demanded we must be ready to give an account of our faith. However, this is secondary to revealing Jesus through our obedience to the will of God, since God convicts the hearts of those living in the culture of death.