The 22nd Annual Ancient Faith Afro-American (St. Moses the Black) Conference has come and gone. I thank God for my good friend and mother in the faith, Sarah, for saving me from making the trip by Greyhound as I did two years ago. We had blessed conversations on the road and gained a greater understanding of each other and our journeys in the faith. I appreciate the hospitality of the Archangel Michael and his Angels Skete. Had I not taken a wron direction to get there, I would have enjoyed more of this new monastic community. I pray for the nuns, monks, and Hieromonk Alexi as they work and keep us in their prayers. Thirty First Street & Troost Avenue is my spiritual homeland. It is here that Reconciliation Ministries reaches out to the poor with the love of Christ and a variety of services to help people socially and spiritually. In the same building is Desert Wisdom Bookstore, the only bookstore that I want to be locked in. Above them is St. Mary of Egypt Serbian Orthodox Church, a wonderful example of people from all walks of life coming together to become as cosmopolitan of a body of Christ as was Antioch in the Acts of the Apostles. May God grant many years to Fr. Justin and all of my brothers and sisters there.
Of all of the talks from Archbishop Michael, Fr. Moses, Mother Katherine, Fr. Alexi, and our panel discussion; I want to reflect on the sermon from Fr. Jerome. From the Gospel reading in Luke, Jesus, after teaching a multitude from a boat on the shoreline, told Peter to take his boat out into the deep for a catch. Though the fisherman gave a reasonable excuse, he followed what the Lord directed him to do and wound up with more fish than he could barely hold. I see two lessons in the text and sermon.
First, that we are called to go into the depth of our souls with prayer, repentance, and the wisdom of God. As an African-American and Orthodox Christian, I have no excuse not to do this. An old Negro spiritual gives us this testimony: “Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.” Our fore parents were a praying people. As slaves and second-class citizens, they knew that this world had nothing to offer them. They knew there was another world beyond this one where Jesus, who also brutally suffered in this world, reigned supreme. Their aim was to live as citizens of THAT world despite what they had to endure in this one. Our ancestors constantly sought the mercy of God from the march to the slave ship to the walk to the back of the bus. Slave masters and segregationist may have denied access to education and equal resources. But, the early generations of Black Christians knew how to take the scriptures and holy wisdom and live by them.
I have no excuse for not going deep within myself. My church is saturated in 2,000 years worth of prayer. I express myself as I wish in my “secret closet” and share the heartfelt pleas of brothers in sisters of many lands and ages. I know I am a sinner in need of God’s mercy as Satan persecutes me from a Williamsburg whipping post to an Ottoman slave auction. The cry, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” is to be found from the depths of my heart today as it was a kidnapped girl in tenth century and today’s ISIS controlled Middle East. I have access to the Bible and the interpretations of the holy fathers and mothers who put the books together and lived by them. To go into the deep is to constantly immerse myself into the unbroken circle of faith from Calvary’s mountain, to the Egyptian deserts, to the Siberian forest, to the monasteries that I am able and unable to visit. To rely on a faith of empty catch-phrases and emotional outburst, to stay on the shoreline of complacency as if God will transform me without my working out my salvation in fear and trembling is to deny who I am as and African-American Orthodox Christian. I have no choice but to go into the deep.
Not only internally. But, I must go into the deep in evangelism as well. Posting clever memes on Facebook and writing good blog articles does help to spread the faith. But, to truly spread the love of Christ, I must devote myself to getting off of my butt and reach out to people with the love of Christ with my life. To do this means to take a risk of caring for people who may not care in places where care is rare. On the discussion panel were two young and attractive sisters in the faith. Both are involved in social ministry in urban areas. One in the same neighborhood as St. Mary’s and the other serves in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Neither one of them is a priest trying to enlarge his congregation for the sake of gaining more money in tithes and offerings. Both of them could find profitable careers doing and working elsewhere. But they are serving in the depths of where they are to expose people to the love of Christ. By being obedient to the Lord and looking beyond reasonable excuses, my sisters are gathering a rich spiritual harvest and they probably won’t fully realize all they have until the Lord calls them home.
“Why Not Become All Flame” was the theme of the conference. I regret to say that I am not there yet. I am not even close. But, I lit a match with a desire to serve God where ever He’d send me even if it meant losing my Baptist pastor title and paycheck. Since then, an on fire brother shared a flame for me to further my education. Before making this pilgrimage, I felt a flame for me to serve in inner city Newport News as I drove through town to support a sister who had lost her father. I am reminded that, in a different form, the same coldness that exist there is here in the Middle Peninsula and the town of West Point. So, I am striking a flame here and will strike another soon. I don’t know what will be in my nets nor who will be affected by my burning. But, I am committed to what I have learned and am learning for the glory of God.