Not One Dot or Iota will be Changed
The Reading is from Matthew 5:14-19
The Lord said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Today our Church remembers the fathers of the seven ecumenical councils held between 325 and 787. These fathers met and put together the faith that we hold to this day. Over the last few weeks I have engaged in several conversations with people, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, who believe that the theology of our Church is stuck in the past and needs to move with the time. I have always found this to be an interesting question from the non-Orthodox but coming from someone who is Orthodox it concerns me.
The very term Orthodox means straight and true teaching. We pride ourselves on the fact that the theology and teaching of our Church has not changed since those men met all those years ago and put it all together. The way we speak about the Church, the language we use and the way we use it, has changed but the message has stayed the same.
There is a mistaken conception in the world today that the culture of the day needs to influence the Church. That is a backward way of thinking about how the Church exists in the society around us. We, the Church, need to influence the culture. Today’s Gospel states that we are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hid. These words are as true today as they were when Jesus spoken them more than 2,000 years ago. Historically speaking, our Church has never undergone a reformation. Our Church did not meet the same fate as the Church of the West mainly because the Church is not in need to reformation! When I or any Orthodox priest preaches, we do not preach our own words but the words of the Church back through the ages. We preach the words not only of Jesus but of Ss. Basil, Chrysostom, John the Theologian and all of the men who were present at those councils.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Our Church has gone through persecution. Not our American Orthodox Church, but the Orthodox Church around the world. I will remind you of our very own Fr. Vasilachi who spent 18 years in a Communist prison, not because he broke a law but because he spoke the truth. He spoke the truth about the Church and society at a time when it was not popular to do that. He spent 18 years in prison and when he was released he was banished from his home land.
There are countless numbers of martyrs for the faith under the Communist yoke, too many for us to even remember. If I change one word of the faith, if I take it upon myself to change what the Church has taught all these years, then I dishonour the memory of all of those brave men and women who gave their life for the faith that we preach. We face a problem here in the Church in America. Not just the Orthodox Church but Church in general. People have stopped coming to Church and church leaders wring their hands and cannot figure out why the church is empty. One reason that I think of is that most of the Churches out there spend more time trying to be politically correct then they do trying to be Christian! Many so called churches out there in the world have given up on the concept of good and evil and traded it for some watered down touchy-feely version of the Gospel. Yes Jesus loves everyone, but if you read your Bible you will see that he was not afraid to tell someone when they were sinning and that they had to get their life right with God and the Church. This plays right into the cultural shift that says we are all winners! This is why some kid’s sports teams do not keep score any more and every team wins! How can that be?
Today we are told that we are the City on the Hill, we are the light of the world! Jesus also has this to say:
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Some pretty stern words from Jesus to the leaders of the Church:
1. He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it.
2. Not and iota or a dot will pass from the law until ALL is accomplished.
3. Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven!
I have told you before that being a Christian is hard. I have told you before that the world will hate us. Jesus tells us today that the world needs us, all of us, to be that light and that city on the hill!
While all the others change with the times, the Orthodox Church stands as that beacon in the night, that safe haven along the shore of the stormy sea. We stand here, tall and strong, in what we believe and what we preach.
We have found the true faith! And we preach it because to do any less would dishonour all of those who came before us!
Rev Peter M Preble