Circle the Wagons, Pilgrims

If you were awake during American history class, you might remember the story of the pioneers who travelled by covered wagon to western America. Being a difficult and dangerous journey, the pioneers would gather at places like St. Louis to form long wagon trains. They felt that there would be greater safety in numbers and they were right. As they traveled west, they encountered many natural obstacles and they were able to help each other. Often they would circle their wagons to experience community, to share food and water, and to dance and sing around the fire to drive away the loneliness and fear. But the thing they feared most was an attack by Native Americans.When attacked, the wagons would circle up to form a defensive barrier and the pioneers would shoot from behind their wagons. Usually, this tactic was successful and the wagon train could move on to the promise of distant lands.

It’s been the same for the Church. For 2,000 years, we have traveled together through hostile country picking up new pioneers as we went along. We have gathered together to experience community, to share our food and water, and to sing and worship to drive away the loneliness and fear. When attacked, we too have circled our wagons and the biggest circle was called an “ecumenical council.”

You see it is our Orthodox nature to circle up. This is why we have Synods and Diocesan Councils and Ecumenical Councils.The First Ecumenical Council faced a fierce enemy in Arius and many pioneers lost their way. Other enemies would come and again the Church would circle its wagons. Each time, thank God, the Church was victorious.

Sadly, when we personally face opposition, the last thing we do is to circle up with other Orthodox Christians. Usually we run off in a snit to hide and lick our wounds. Maybe it’s just the modern culture in us, a culture that has isolated us in our houses and automobiles and work places. It is a culture that has murdered hospitality as a way of life. We are Daniel Boone crying out for elbow room and the hope to live untroubled in a cabin by ourselves.The problem is, when the enemy attacks, we are all alone.

It’s interesting to me that given the state of things today, the recession, the broken economy and empty stock portfolios, I don’t hear the Orthodox even talk about the possibility of circling up, of working together and sharing resources. The spirit of self-sufficiency continues to rule, and not the spirit of community.

There may be a reason why we are reluctant to circle up. I’ve heard it said that when attacked, the Orthodox circle up, but then instead of shooting at the enemy, they turn and shoot at each other. You find that this happens in local churches sometimes. The church is facing some problem or point of controversy, and the members start shooting at each other. They seem to forget that the true enemy is not the member who opposes them, but that the fight is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6.12)

In modern times, circling up has also become a serious problem.Some Orthodox people have circled up to leave out other Orthodox pioneers. They call them enemies and heretics and then start shooting at them. It is as if they believe that they are a big circle, an Ecumenical Council, who can decide who is in and who is out. It is very sad indeed. The thing is that like all wagon trains, we have a Wagon Master. He is very skilled because he knows the way of our enemies and knows the way to the Far Lands. He will tell us when it s time to have another big circle (an ecumenical council). No matter what the other little wagon circles say, an ecumenical council they are not.

Even so, let’s not give up circling the wagons but let it be for protection and not for exclusion. Let us seek out and welcome other pioneers into our circle. We face fierce enemies today who are very skilled in warfare. We cannot do it alone and we will have no protection if we travel alone in our little spiritual wagon.

The going ahead may be very difficult. If it is, and even if isn’t, let’s circle the wagons, pilgrims!

One Response to “Circle the Wagons, Pilgrims”

  1. Seraphim Says:

    Fr. bless! I’m completely with you. It amazes me to see the changes in our society just in the 25 years I’ve been on this earth. It’s sad how the sense of safety and community have almost disappeared in some places. I always thoughts Christians would have it much easier if we lived more like we did in Acts. And this is just on a practical, material level. I’ve heard of these intentional communities in the US and got to hear one person talk about it, who actually lived in one. She said in that setting, you can accomplish more with less than you can living alone.
    And I know this applies on an emotional level. Gosh, the world is getting lonelier and lonelier. It’s almost unbearable too. I can’t say I completely understand why it is this way. But I would hope at least Christians would do better. And especially Orthodox Christians. We’re in the minority in this country and we live in the hub of the secularist/materialistic mindset and we constantly have pressure coming at us to compromise the Orthodox faith. We need each other more now than ever it seems.

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