What do we say to non-Orthodox people about Orthodoxy?
This is probably the number one question I hear floating around OCF chapters and conversations with young adults. As Orthodox Christians in North America, we are certainly a religious minority, and as college students on diverse campuses, you have been–willingly or not–selected as ambassadors and representatives of the Orthodox faith. Even just setting up a table on campus at your student activities fair can elicit questions about who we are, what we believe, how we worship.
I’d like to make a few suggestions over the next few weeks about how we can address some of the most common questions you get asked on campus (so you’ll have to tell me what they are), but today, I’d like to talk about how we do our sharing more than what we share.
We’ve touched on this theme before–that it’s important above all to recognize the image of God in the other person, to look for common ground, and to express ourselves with love, humility, and prayer. To those principles I’d like to add these:
- We are not looking for an argument and we aren’t out to win anything. I’d like to think that sharing our faith should be an act of hospitality, like offering a person a cool glass of water as they journey across a desert, not like dumping a whole bucket of water on the ground in front of them and telling them to lap it up from the sand or taunting them with the glass of water until they say what we want. We are inviting someone into our home and should seek not to be offensive or rude to our guests. Sometimes, the other person wants the argument, and then we must use our discernment to decide if we should continue the conversation or graciously excuse ourselves.
- We shouldn’t be afraid to speak the truth in love. Seeking not to be offensive or rude is not the same as adjusting or hiding our beliefs to avoid making someone uncomfortable. It’s true that for some people the Christian faith will always be offensive (even St. Paul knew this). I once got a fortune cookie that read “Love truth, but pardon error.” I think this is the foundation of real tolerance, that we know and love the Truth and pursue it unabashedly, but that we constantly excuse the errors of those around us. In fact, this principle applies to more than just dialogue with non-Orthodox, but to the entire spiritual life. Now, this isn’t an excuse to be self-righteous or condescending but should encourage us to share Truth even when it may seem difficult or when others seem to resist it violently. That’s ok. God has allowed them to reject Him, we don’t have to worry about them rejecting us.
- History is important. You may think I mean Church History, but I mean the other person’s history. Everyone has a story, and people ask their questions based on their own experiences and beliefs. It’s a lot easier to answer questions in a helpful and loving way if you know why they’re being asked and where the person is coming from. Not to mention it’s just downright respectful to bother to ask the other person about themselves. You’ll open doors to understanding, dialogue, and friendship just by bothering to say, “Tell me about yourself.”
- The person is more important than the point. Don’t forget that love above all else is our goal. It can be easy to forget this when we are excited about sharing the faith that we love so dearly, but remember that the strongest expression of our faith is showing love to others as icons of Christ.
Let’s keep these in mind as we try to address some common questions you get on campus. Tell us in the comments what questions you’d like us to tackle!