Talk given to St. Paul’s Orthodox Church in Incheon
19 July 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters at St. Paul’s Orthodox Church, thank you for the honor to address you again, hopefully not for the final time, but it will be the last for awhile.
Father Daniel asked me to say a few words during our last Sunday here. I struggled and prayed to find the right message. It came to me that I should express my experience here in Korea as a Christian, and an Orthodox Christian in particular.
I will end with a challenge. If we don’t set a goal or keep striving to constantly grow, we will become complacent and lukewarm. As John the Theologian wrote in Revelation, warning the Christians in Laodicea with the words of Christ, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Our story in Korea really begins in Hawaii. Mimi and I moved to Hawaii as Protestant Christians deeply committed to strengthening our relationship with Jesus the Christ and had been fervently praying for that for several years. The Holy Spirit led us to Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Honolulu. We very reservedly, and I can’t overestimate how tentatively, approached the Church that first Sunday for Liturgy. It was uncomfortable and we left ready to continue our search elsewhere. But we could not resist the prompting of the Sprit and returned. For the next several months, we kept a foot in both worlds by attending Liturgy every Sunday morning and a Protestant worship every Sunday night.
At Sts. Constantine and Helen, there are many ethnic Greeks. And these brothers and sisters were Greek through and through, very stoic and blunt. One Sunday a homeless man wandered in off of the street. He was unbathed, shabbily dressed, and had no shoes. He stood in front of a pew about in the center of the Church and with arms lifted toward the sky, tears streaming down his face, also directed upward, began wailing very loudly. This happened to be right in front of an older, respected, disciplined, and stoic Greek man…one who’s next actions would change the lives of the Berck family one way or the other, forever.
In 1st Corinthians, Paul writes, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and have all been made to drink into one Sprit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.” Today’s Epistle is from Titus where Paul declares how that one body is to act, “careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.”
So, this man stood wailing and Mimi and I looked at each other, still testing what we believed to be the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and said, “if this Orthodox Church confesses to be the One true Church, the One true Body of Christ, the Apostolic Church, let’s see how they treat this interruption to their beautiful Liturgy, this ‘undesirable’ homeless man with obviously nothing to put in the offering plate, a man outcast from society.”
In the Gospel of Luke, a story is told where Jesus was being tested by a lawyer who asked him, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked the lawyer how he interpreted the Law to which the Lawyer responded, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus said, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But the lawyer, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man who was robbed, stripped of clothing, and wounded was left for dead on the side of the road. A priest passed by without helping; then a Levite, someone who worked in the Temple, passed by without helping. And then a Samaritan, someone who was at enmity with the Jews, an outcast, not one of the “chosen,” came down the road. When he saw the man, he did everything in is power to help him to recover. Jesus asked, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” and the lawyer said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
So, back in Hawaii, this man stands loudly crying out to God, Mimi and I stand watching to see if this Orthodox Church is the Body of Christ, the Good Samaritan. The stoic Greek man breaks from crossing himself and praying to tap the young man on the shoulder to hand him a tissue. Then he returns to his worship. Other Church members continue to fill in the pew on both sides next to him and envelop themselves in worship, not avoiding the man wailing next to him…Ted hands him another tissue. The Church followed the Gospels as they are led around the Church while the man loudly cries… Ted hands him another tissue. The elements of communion are sanctified, the man sits with tears running down his cheeks…Ted hands him another tissue. This continued until the end of Liturgy when the women of the Church ran, yes ran, to him, put their arms around this unbathed, unkempt man with tattered clothes and no shoes. They took him to the fellowship hall and gave him food and love. The homeless man sat at the table with all of the Greek men at a place of honor while the women served him, still he cried. Father John brought him to Bible study where he sat next to the priest as we discussed the Scriptures, quiet tears still ran. Father John took him for private counseling…Mimi and I cried. We witnessed the Body of Christ doing its healing work.
As appointed by the Holy Spirit, that night we experienced the exact opposite in the Protestant service we were attending and we knew we found the answer to our long-prayed request.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven. He says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
That was the day we went and sold all that we had. We gave up the life we knew…some friends, our traditions, our comfort, the known…to buy the pearl of great price. We were crismated as an Orthodox family by Father John. Eleni, Sophia, Stephanos, Constantine, and I were now part of the One Body.
That is when the evil one takes notice; not lukewarm, we were now a target.
Today’s Epistle also speaks of what the body of Christ is not supposed to do. Avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile.
As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.
If we had an idyllic picture of the Church before chismation, our eyes were opened to the other side after. We began to see the politics, the fight for power among the factions. We saw the blatant undermining of the priest and a great deal of dissension and quarrels; many of these from the same people who made us weep for the kindness and good deeds we watched them perform. Aren’t we all two sided coins and in need of the Grace of God?
It was at this time that we learned that the next chapter of our lives would be in Korea. Korea?! We never thought we would live in Korea and really had no idea what to expect. We are just beginning to learn how to be Orthodox, how to experience God through the mysteries. What are we going to do in Korea? The closest Church is over an hour away. Maybe we’ll just go to the base chapel and listen to podcasts. Maybe we’ll go to the Catholic service most of the time and just go to Liturgy once a month or so. Who is going to disciple us? Who will be our spiritual father? Why is God sending us to Korea when we have just found the pearl?
According to Christianity Today, until 2013, South Korea sent out the second most number of missionaries, second only to the U.S. It still ranks 6th, and when compared by the number of missionaries per million Christian, Korea ranks 5th and the U.S. ranks 9th. How many of those missionaries are Orthodox? Korea’s Christianity is very similar to the United States. The world sees both South Korea and the U.S. as Christian countries, but neither are Orthodox. In fact, the average South Korean or U.S. citizen has probably never heard of the Orthodox Church.
Off we head to Korea with an address of the Cathedral in Seoul and a note written in Hangul for a taxi driver to get us there.
Throughout my first winter I attended St. Nicholas and met many wonderful people, people you all know and love. When my family arrived, we all made the weekly trip by subway to Seoul for Liturgy. We thought we would only make the trip once a month, but when we missed a week, we truly missed it. But everything was in Korean and Greek. Still not being fully comfortable with the Liturgy, it was hard to follow and we were lost most of the time. We just didn’t “fit.”
Through another divinely appointed circumstance, we were informed of St. Paul’s Church in Incheon and Father Daniel who is known both in Korea and the U.S. as a strong spiritual leader…who also just happens to speak English!
After corresponding with Father Daniel, we hesitantly made the journey to Incheon. And what did we find…the body of Christ! You welcomed us with open arms. You fed us, you listened to us sing and play. You patiently allowed…no…you enthusiastically encouraged our boys to participate in Liturgy. You sat through a treasured translation of the homily in English. You humored our poor attempts to communicate and when all else failed, provided a warm smile and hug. You, we missed when we were absent. As Sophia said, “we are all just one big family.” And under Father Daniel’s guidance, you discipled us in a way we could not have imagined two years ago.
Because of our language shortcomings, we are fortunate to not have the opportunity to even know if our idyllic picture of you has a second side. We cannot understand any whispering on the fringes. We don’t know if there are any factions that threaten to divide the church. We don’t hear any quarrels or dissention. We only see smiling faces and experience your kindness and good deeds.
But…we came looking for you.
I am not shy about sharing my Orthodox faith. People don’t know me for long before they know that I am an Orthodox Christian; in fact, I tell them I am Korean Orthodox. I am eager for them to know that the one and only God is just waiting for them. The historic, Apostolic Church with the true teaching is ready to receive them and start healing their relationship with the Creator of world. Death has been destroyed and I want to introduce them to the destroyer. The kingdom of heaven is near and I want to give them a glimpse. I have found the treasure, bought the whole field…and guess what, there is enough treasure for everyone! I want to share it.
I’ve brought everyone here who would accept my invitation, but they are all Americans… because I can’t communicate in Korean. I talk about the Church to the Koreans I work with. I share my Orthodox calendar. I break out Google translate on my phone. We communicate using websites and pictures…it isn’t enough. I’ve sat in bars with my phone trying to explain Orthodoxy to Korean Christians who just think I can’t explain that I’m Catholic. I’ve sat across the desk of my tailor trying to explain by using the sign of the cross and my phone that I’m a Christian and not an Orthodox Jew. He repeats over and over “Jesus” in Korean and I say “ne-네” I’m a Christian, an Orthodox Christian…it isn’t enough, he doesn’t understand.
Modern, Western Christianity, while it introduces many to Christ, is not the fullness of the faith. Like the Law and Prophets, it is a shadow of the true faith. It points the way. It lights only part of the path. But not being connected to the root, it has grown wild and unkempt and there are many Koreans like Americans looking for the great pearl. They are searching for the refreshing waters, the healing balm, the true faith as communicated to the Apostles and handed down from Bishop to Bishop, incorporated in our icons. It is sealed in our prayers and calendar. It is celebrated in our festivals and sung in our hymns.
But…they are not going to come looking for you. They don’t even know you are here.
You hold this great gift that all of Korea and the world needs.
The Gospel of Matthew concludes with the Great Commission. After his resurrection, but before the Ascension, Jesus tells his disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
We just celebrated 30 years of Orthodoxy in Incheon. It is incredible to see the Church that has grown from just one family to this entire congregation. But we can’t now just enjoy what we have. Like the homeless man in Hawaii, too many people are hurting. Too many people are dying. Too many people need Jesus. Too many people need the body of Christ to act now. To act in Incheon. To act in Pyeongtaek. To act in Suwon. To act in every city of Korea that I can’t pronounce. One person can make a difference; time and again, one person’s light has lit the lamp of an entire nation.
So my challenge isn’t really mine at all, it is today’s Gospel:
“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.”
Let your light shine and may everything we do be to the glory of our Father who is in heaven.