Last night I registered for my region’s regional retreat. It got me thinking about this year’s OCF theme: “Who do you say that I am?”
In context, the theme comes from Matthew 16:13-16. Take a moment to think about it.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
St. Peter takes the ultimate leap of faith, declaring Jesus as the Messiah. Thousands of years of Jewish tradition were fulfilled by the Person he was looking in the face. Peter did not know about the Resurrection or how his life would go, but in that moment he knew Jesus Christ was and is God. “Who do you say that I am” is an expression and confession of faith; it’s an opportunity, it’s an invitation, it’s a way of life, and it’s an inspiration.
Let’s turn the attention personally. Who do YOU say that Jesus is? Yes you can ‘say’ He is God, but do you really live in that way? Do you know who He is? Can you even say who you are?
Ask yourself this hard question. Who do you believe Jesus is? If you don’t know, great; that’s an opportunity to grow in your faith. If you do know, do you act like you know who He is?
Jaroslav Pelikan talks about the duality in the reality of Christ. He says, “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen-nothing else matters.”
There are two possibilities that his argument creates. If Christ is risen, then we have nothing to fear. Then we can know our Creator. We know His life, His sacrifice, and His love. Are you leading and living your life in the reality that Christ is truly Risen? Orthodoxy in its beginning was not a religion; it was and is “the Way” that people follow to get to know God.
Let’s look at the alternative, very nihilistic in essence. If Christ is not risen, that means we are still bound by death. That sin and brokenness don’t matter. It means that people are fallen, and there is nothing we can do it about it. It means that we can’t be refashioned into the image and likeness of God.
Who do you say that He is? Think about this question, and develop an answer because you will be called to answer that question either in this life or the next. Confess and live your faith.
And honestly, if you feel like you are losing faith, transform that feeling into an opportunity to learn more and ask why. St. Peter here confesses that Jesus as the Messiah, during Christ’s crucifixion he denies Christ three times. Yet St. Peter repented and became one of the greatest evangelists in history, the rock on which Christ built His church. Doubt and fear are a part of our fallen nature, but they can be a chance to grow spiritually.
“Who do you say that I am?” Who do you say that you are?”
There are times in our college lives where we get scared. Sometimes those moments can be blinding because they can really overwhelm us. That fear can direct our lives, giving them a control that they really shouldn’t have. There are so many fears that we experience:
Failing an exam
Not finding an internship
Not being accepted
Not making friends
Never finding a passion
Not getting a job offer
Part of the reason for this fear is that we have a limited view of Christ’s role in our lives. When we fully accept Christ, all of our college fears can dissolve away, but only when we have true faith. The Apostles were themselves young adults when they set out to walk with Jesus, and they too, got scared. The gospel gives us an example of a scary situation and how Christ teaches us how to mediate it.
Let’s take a look:
At that time, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And he entered the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.
Being in college is like being on a boat. We are on our own, navigating tumultuous waters of stress and examinations. The Apostles were fighting hard to get back to land and get back to Jesus. We spend our time battling against sin, stress and of course… fear. But the truth is revealed in this story in that Christ meets us exactly where we are.
Jesus didn’t command the boat to approach the shore, but in His awesome humility, He WALKED ON WATER to meet THEM. How many times do we let our insecurities manifest into our fears? The truth is that God will come to help us, and when we invite Him into the boat that is our life, He can calm the seas and winds of our stresses and fears. But, we have to try. We have to put in the work in our studies and perform acts of bravery, just as the Apostles were tirelessly working to get their boat back to shore.
The next time you’re feeling scared, know that God has your back. Pray to the Holy Spirit to help you! Don’t let your fears overcome you, because with God you can overcome anything!
It’s a question that has bothered me, over my time as a young adult making the effort. You all know that kid in your one discussion class? The one who has an opinion about, um, everything? Always dropping unnecessarily big words that they don’t even properly understand? Convinced they have great insight worthy of sharing at the drop of a hat?
Sometimes, that’s how I felt about reading the Scriptures at a personal level. I don’t think I’m nearly as good at reading and understanding the Scriptures as, say, the priest I see every Sunday who went to seminary and learned how to interpret the Bible. I mean, if understanding Scripture were easy, there wouldn’t be a big talk right after the Gospel reading to unpack what was just said. I didn’t want to become the “that guy” who reads through something incredibly complex and fools himself into thinking he understands it.
And, funnily enough, that fear has shaped a lot of my experience reading through the Scriptures so far. If you flip through my copy of the Bible, you’ll find way more question marks in the margins than anything else. Focused on my lack of understanding, I’ve had the experience of learning some while reading the Bible, but asking and wondering even more.
But it’s not a bad wondering. I’m not at the place where I feel I don’t understand my faith or that the Bible is saying things that surprise me and shock me. It’s a good wondering–it proves that my faith is dynamic, layered, and alive. Sure, there are question marks in the chapters and verses not read in the Sunday cycle of Bible readings, but there are plenty of question marks in the familiar parables as well.
Also–and this may shock you–reading something daily is better than reading something weekly. Honestly, it surprised me–my experience reading the Scriptures consistently has helped color in the gaps between the Gospel narrative provided by only a weekly dip. I promise you, I had no idea how often Jesus “got on a boat and went to the other side” until I started reading Matthew every single day of the week.
But that’s just a casual example: reading the full narrative elucidates the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples, the people and Jesus Christ. You come better to understand how immediately Jesus starting challenging the law and foreshadowing the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
If you’re like me, you’re reading something for class every single day. If you’re reading something for Classic English Lit on the daily, and you’re not reading Scripture on the daily, which is important to you? Which will have a greater influence on your life? You’re getting to class every day (at least, you’re telling your mom you are)–but you can’t get to church every day, can you?
Me? I watch football literally every. single. day. If I’m not finding a way to actively, intentionally, hungrily engage with my faith on the daily, I’m losing spiritual ground to a game. That’s not good.
So I read the Scripture because I’m quite fearful of what might happen if I don’t. I’ll distance myself from my Lord, keeping Him at a distance and keeping my faith as a static, placid entity that I’ve fooled myself into believing I fully understand. That sounds lazy, irresponsible, and scary. And I want to avoid things like that.
I use MyBiblePlans.com to create my schedule (it’s fully customizable). It uploads directly to my Google Calendar, so I can get handy little notifications on my phone.
Last week, we discovered that to respond to the gift of grace, we must ask Jesus to “come and see” the sins that lie within our hearts. And that, as He did with Lazarus, Jesus will call us forth into Life.
Incredibly, the final time we find “come and see” in the gospels, it is again at a tomb. This time, it is at the Lord’s tomb that an angel tells the myrrhbearers, “come and see where He laid” (Mt 28:6). They find not a dead, rotting body, but an empty tomb. They hear from the angel, “He is risen.”
This is the final destination of each disciple of Christ–to follow Christ unto death and to be raised again with Him.
But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. –Rm 6:8-11
Once we we have come to Christ, learned who He is, and allowed Him to see our own brokenness, we spend a lifetime crucifying the flesh and its passions (Gal 5:24) so that on the day of judgement, we, too, will rise into eternal Life. We spend our lives becoming dead to sin and alive to God.
It is not an easy path to ascend the Cross, but it is a path that Jesus walked Himself first and which we walk by His strength (Phil 4:13). It is a path which we can have confidence finds its end not in the grave but in the proclamation, “Christ is risen!”
So when we tell someone, “come and see,” I hope we mean more than come and see the artifacts of our faith, the incense and icons and liturgical movements. I hope it is more than a cop-out to having an explanation for who we are as Orthodox Christians. “Come and see” is an invitation to dwell where God dwells, to know Jesus as our Savior, to confess our sins and be healed, and ultimately, to complete the race blameless, entering into eternal Life which comes only from the One Who is risen. It’s an invitation open to all and which we are compelled to share with everyone we can.
But first, we must answer ourselves.
So come and see. Find out where the Lord lives, desire to be in His presence, bring Him your doubts, get to know Him yourself in prayer, let Him see who you really are, confess your sins to Him, and unite yourself to His death and resurrection. Become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Come, dear ones. Come and see.
The OCF Podcast is back, and we have lots of new things to share with you this year! First up, we start back into our apologetics series where we help you answer the questions you get asked on campus. Listen in to hear our new Media Student Leader Dan Bein continue the conversation with Fr. Brendan Pelphrey about sharing Orthodoxy with others. In this episode, they talk about the Bible and its place in the Church.