By Rev. Peter Baktis, Orthodox Church in America
I remember being told that if you have God as your Father and the Church as your mother you have nothing to worry about. I have been giving much thought to these words once spoken to me when I was at a time in my life that I thought life to be too confusing, the world too complex, and my future unknown. In these past weeks as I journeyed through Lent during the current pandemic I have seen and heard how life is confusing, the world more complex than I realized and the future is still unknown. I have seen and heard of the fears and anxieties of people who have had their world turned upside down. Changes that they never thought possible were made in a noticeably short time. As the days became weeks impatience and unrest are beginning to rise. Talk of “reopening” resuming life as it was, and yet deep in our very being we know life, as we knew it will be different. Something happened to make us realize that we have been living life, not on life’s terms but on ours. We thought we were in control and we found out that there is little we in fact control. We all are looking for that secure anchor to bring security and stability to our lives. This is where I begin to remember the words “If you have God as your Father and the Church as your mother you have nothing to worry about.”
Together we have been given the anchor that we need in our lives. The unchanging love that has been present from the very foundation of the created world. God who has created the heavens and the earth has been with us and in search of us when we have gone astray. In the garden when we thought that we could be in control of our destiny and as disobedient children went astray, God searched for us and called our name, Adam where are you? We have the story of the prodigal child, who took all that he thought was his and squandered it. When he came to his senses, returned to the security of his Father who was waiting, searching for him from the security of his home. Christ uses the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin to reaffirm that God has remained faithful to us and searches for us when we go astray, lost in our own desires. In the gospel of Matthew, we read: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37) This image of a mother gathering her children under her wing to protect and comfort them., together with all the other images and stories we have confirm God has been the faithful Father and the Church our faithful mother.
As I reflect upon this image of God as Father and the Church as a mother, my life flashes before me. I can remember the times of my life that I did not know if there would be a tomorrow. I questioned the judgment of those in authority over me and felt as if I had no control over my life or my destiny. I did not know the enemy face to face I only knew its destructive power, and seen lives torn apart in a flash. I questioned God and His faithfulness and mercy at times in my life. There were times when I wondered what the purpose of rituals, worship, and repeating Lord have mercy. What was the purpose of fasting, of caring for another when there may not be a tomorrow? What words can I offer a mother and a father at the loss of a child, or a child at the loss of a parent? God loves you. It will be OK? You are strong? I found that words were not what was needed, presence in silence, allowing for the emotions to be heard, and in some way allowed to be felt. I began to understand the words spoken: “Have God as your Father and the Church as your mother” in a new and real way. God my Father does not allow me to experience all of life never alone. He sent his only begotten Son to experience life on life’s terms and understands my weeping and joy. Jesus Christ has become my cornerstone. He has given me new birth in my baptism and has granted me a community to support me on my journey in life. I have the firm foundation and the comfort of being nurtured. God is my Father and the Church is my mother. Words that come alive not only in time of uncertainty but when all is well. I know from where my help comes from, and I know where I can bring my joyful thanksgivings. Yes, life is complex, and the world is confusing, and the future may be uncertain, yet I know where to find grounding and comfort. I have also grown in my understanding of the communion of Saints that we often speak of in Church. Celebrating the divine services virtually has made a new virtual reality possible for me. The words of Christ where two or three are gathered in my name has become more than just a physical reality. The focus is gathered in His Name, no matter where we may find ourselves, Christ is with us. We form the community of faith, the church triumphant and universal, not made with hands but the Spirit of God in our presence.
As we slowly move out of the distancing requirements of this pandemic, may we take with us the new behaviors and lessons that we have learned. We need to recapture the simplicity or our daily requirements. We have come to realize what is important and discovered that we may have spent some of our time in less than purposeful ways. Life as we may have known it may change, but there is one thing in life that never changes. God is our Father and the Church is our Mother, who remains faithful and steady in the changing complexity in our journey through life. I hope that when we can come together in the same physical space, we have learned how special this gift of community is. How will we keep in the forefront of our lives how precious the gift of love and compassion that God our Father which is expressed in the community of the Church our mother. May we allow our Mother to gather us together as a hen under her wing and sing praises to our Father who is in Heaven. May we remember we are not alone in the journey of life. Blessings, Christ is Risen!