Orthodox America

  We Call Ourselves Christian

by Saint John Maximovitch

Soon after the teaching of Christ began to spread among the Gentiles, those who came to believe in Christ and became His followers began in Antioch to be called Christians (Acts 11:26).

The word "Christian" indicated that the bearer of that name had given himself to Christ, with all his heart he belonged to Him, and he followed His teaching.

The name "Christian"-which defines well the essence of the followers of Christ-was pleasing to them, and from Antioch the practice of calling them by that name spread rapidly to other parts.  Christians prized the name. They were glad to call themselves by the name of their beloved Teacher and Lord.  It often happened that, when asked their name, Christians would answer that their name was "Christian."

The Jews and pagans also began to call them by that name, attaching to it all the malice and hatred which they vented against Christ.

"Where were you born, what is your name, your father's name?" the torturer Latronius asked the elderly presbyter Epictetus and his young disciple, Astion (commemorated 7 July).  "We are Christians, born of Christian parents," they replied.  "I'm not asking you that.  Tell me your names," demanded the torturer.  "I know your confession."  "We are Christians. We worship the One Lord Jesus Christ. As for the idols, we abhor them," continued the holy martyrs.

The torturer commanded that they be beaten, scraped with iron hooks, scorched with flaming torches, and still nothing was heard from them but, "We are Christians; may the will of our Lord God be done in us."  This so impressed one of the pagans, Vigilantius, that for three days he found himself constantly repeating in his mind the words of the martyrs.  On the fourth day he declared before everyone: "I am a Christian," and he received holy baptism. The holy Epictetus and Astion were subject to many more tortures, but they never ceased confessing, "We are Christians."  Granted a martyric death, they were beheaded with a sword and departed to Christ, Whom they loved and for Whom they had suffered.

However, as dear as their name was to Christians, it was not long after the inception of Christianity that it often began not to correspond to its essence.  There were people who, while calling themselves Christian, did not belong to Christ in spirit.  Christ Himself declared, Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father, which is in Heaven (Matt. 7:21).  Christ even foretold that many would try to pass for Him, calling themselves by His Name: Many will come in My Name, saying, I am Christ (Matt. 24:5). The Apostles, in their divinely-inspired epistles, pointed out that false bearers of the name of Christ had appeared already in their time, and they warned the faithful not to have anything to do with them:  . . . as ye have heard that Antichrists shall come, even now there are many Antichrists . . . . They went out from among us, but they were not of us (I John 2:18-19), writes the holy evangelist John the Theologian.

Enjoining their disciples to avoid by all means arguments and disagreements over questions that had no bearing on salvation (cf. I Cor. 1:10-14), the Apostles at the same time commanded them to shun those who did not present the true teaching.  They pointed out that a genuine servant of God is known not by his name but by his faith and by his works (Rom. 2:17-29); if the name does not correspond to a man's faith and works, it is false. The Lord Himself, in the Revelation granted to St. John the Theologian, speaks sternly about those who falsely appropriated to themselves the name of the descendants of the Old Testament: [they] say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan (Rev. 2:9).

Similarly, a Christian in the strict sense is only one who confesses the true teaching of Christ and who lives in accordance with it.  Christ is become of no effect unto you . . . you have become estranged from Christ (Gal. 5:4 - NKJV), writes the holy Apostle Paul concerning those who distorted the true teaching. Many such corruptors of the true faith, continuing fraudulently to bear the name of Christian, lived at the time of the Apostles, and still more appeared in the centuries that followed.  In contrast to such false Christians, those who confessed the true faith began to call themselves "Orthodox," ** because true Christianity consists in glorifying God with one's life.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven (Matt. 5:14), commands Christ.  To glorify God with one's life is possible only then, when we hold to the right faith, and when we express such faith in words and deeds.  Therefore, in the present meaning of the word, an Orthodox person is he who confesses the right, i.e., the true faith and lives in accordance with it. By calling our confession "Orthodox," we distinguish it from false Christianity, and in calling ourselves Orthodox we indicate that our faith is the true, authentic and untarnished Christianity, and it is our duty to fulfill precisely its teachings.

That Orthodoxy is justifiably so-called, that it is the real truth, admitting no possible existence of any other truth, and that the Orthodox Church is the very one Christ spoke about when He said, I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18), is attested and confirmed by the many signs evinced from the Church's foundation and which to this day continue to manifest in the Orthodox Church, as, for example, the miracles wrought not only by saints of ages past, but also by those God-pleasers close to us in time.

Therefore, we have every reason on the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy to joyously proclaim:

"Confirm, [O Lord], this apostolic faith, this faith of the fathers, this Orthodox faith, this catholic faith."

** Orthodox - From the Greek, meaning "right belief," and "right worship," or "right glory."

This homily is excerpted and translated from a new book (in Russian), SLOVA an anthology of sermons, homilies and decrees of the newly-glorified Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, compiled and published by the editors of Russkiy Pastyr. 350 pages, illustrated, paperback- Order from the publisher: 475 26th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121.