Generally I try to avoid one-upmanship, which is a very tempting way to argue when it comes to religious views. However, this time I am going to give in a little bit, and I find defense for this in the fact that it is a common function of the human mind to recognize the most excellent thing as the most authentic thing. For example, after a typical Sunday afternoon performance it is perfectly understandable to say “Tom Brady- that’s guy’s a quarterback.” What this means is that Brady’s excellence, by virtue of being abnormal is somehow the rule by which the category is judged.
What happens when we evaluate Christians by the same standard? Who, by virtue of their excellence, is a “Christian”? The answer should be obvious: Christ is the prototype, the rule setting exemplar. But can we call Christ, a “Christian”?
Let’s halt this line of thinking to suppose that you are a casual observer, wanting to become a Christian. What would your standard be? I suggest that it is perfectly reasonable to look for similar rule setting exemplars as indicative of authenticity, and here’s where the one-upmanship comes in.
If a tree is known by its fruit, then Christians should bear the same fruit as Christ, which has often been misunderstood as the same fruit as Ghandi, Buddha, and (ocassionaly) Al Gore. This has been painfully clear to me when I hear the New Christian Radicals from the Emergent(ing) church talk about Christianity as a subspecies of monotheism, as if Islam, Judaism, and Christianity were different states of the same union. We most decidedly are not, as we bear witness to whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer; for the Kingdom we live our lives to see on earth as it is in heaven is not the same.
With the Kingdom of Heaven in mind, let us look at the fruits of the Christian: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and selfcontrol. Many of these look amenable to non-Christians, especially the many off-shoots of Humanism. But no matter how hard he fought for peace and love, John Lennon was not a Christian. One might argue that he was more “Christian-like” than most Christians, and I might concede that (which I don’t) and still say that does not put him in the same league as more excellent Christians, namely the Saints. I could just as easily say that you grandma is a better quarterback than most of us (which might be true), but Tom Brady remains a quarterback in a way that could not possibily apply to your grandma.
Here’s the point: for whomever feels that to be a Christian means to be peaceful and compassionate, and you are frustrated by what seems to be lack in Christianity…look to the Saints. If you are Orthodox and you feel encumbered by the tools the Church uses to fight the passions and to reform… look to the Saints. Look to St. Seraphim, hunched over and bruised, asking forgiveness from his assailants. Look to St. Nicholas who interceded for the men who murdered his brother. Look to St. Isaac who shows us the excellency of truly Christian compassion.
“An elder was once asked, ‘What is a compassionate heat?’ He replied, “It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and for all that exists. At the recollection and at the sight of them such a person’s eyes overflow with tears owing to the vehemence of the compassion which grips the heart; as a result of his deep mercy his heart shrinks and cannot bear to look on any injury or the slightest suffering of anything in creation. This is why he constantly offers up prayer full of tears, even for the irrational animals and for the enemies of truth, even for those who harm him, so that they may be protected and find mercy. He even prays for the reptiles as a result of the great compassion which is poured out beyond measure – after the likeness of God – in his heart.”
Look, and you will find Christ in His Saints…