Saving Obedience

“No one’s going to tell me what to do!”

“I don’t have to if I don’t want to.”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

No one is surprised to hear children talk to each other with statements such as these. Children are supposed to grow in their independence and grow from immaturity to maturity understanding that we don’t always get our way and that there are many times when we need to listen to the instruction of others.

What is surprising, though, is how often we hear statements like these from adults who are long overdue in arriving at a state of maturity. No doubt we are all tempted to adopt modern “sensibilities” of an over-inflated sense of our own independence. We too often chafe against anything that can seem like instruction from someone who impedes us from acting in ways that we feel we alone should determine, be that person a coworker, a neighbor, our spouses and even the instructions of the Ushers at church, who attempt to maintain a sacred environment at the direction of the Priest.

This weekend we will not only witness but participate in actions that stand in complete contradiction to this resistance to the direction of others. The Bishop of our Diocese, His Grace, Bishop ANTHONY, will be present with us to preside over the celebration of the patron saint of our community, our Holy Father Nicholas. We don’t invite him to celebrate with us, but to preside over the celebration. We elevate his status above our own by often writing his name with all capital letters. We respond to his blessing by kissing his hand. We will address him as “Sayedna,” an Arabic term of endearment which translates as “Master,” welcoming him to each service or event with “Eis polla eti Despota,” (Greek for “Many years, Master”).

All of this subservience goes directly against the grain of our reluctance to live at anyone’s direction but our own. I’m sure it would even seem ludicrous to most non-Orthodox Christians. But it reflects a critical and even necessary component of our lives: our salvation comes through obedience. Christian life IS obedience to follow Christ and live by His Commandments. In a Gospel reading we recently heard in church, a young man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ reply is simple: follow the Commandments (Matthew 19: 16-30).

So it should come as no surprise to us that our church operates as a hierarchy, centered around the presence of the Bishop (a title which means “overseer”) and in his absence, we are governed by the priest who leads the church in the bishop’s stead. But just as surely as this obedience is a requisite of our salvation, it must be understood that this obedience is completely, 100% voluntary. Our obedience to Christ and the servants who lead the Church by their obedience to Him must be offered freely because our freedom in choosing to follow Christ is just as vital as the choice to follow Him. Put another way, the way of salvation IS the way of obedience, but it is obedience we voluntarily commit to.

Saint Nicholas himself was an excellent example of humility and obedience—qualities we will celebrate this weekend. Bishop ANTHONY continues in this same tradition. And we join them in walking the same path when we offer ourselves freely in obedience. Our modern instincts to resist such humility are lies which will lead us away from the God Who humbled Himself to save us. Let’s look for ways to move away from the spiritual trap of our overblown sense of independence, and instead let’s move toward God by living lives of healthy, saving obedience.