I don’t know if you have noticed, but… we’re growing. By we I mean the Orthodox Church in the United States. That growth is coming from within, but even more so it is coming from the outside. We are seeing an influx of inquirers of Orthodoxy – I believe more than any time in the history of the Orthodox Church in this country. This is not unique to one or two parishes, it is happening across the country. I have spoken with many of my brother priests and their experience is the same. There is no longer a need to go “into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in” (Luk 23) People are coming of their own volition. And they are hungry – for Truth, for Life, and for the Love of Jesus Christ. While this is an exciting prospect, the question I constantly ask myself is are we ready to receive them?

On Pentecost, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and they preached the Gospel to anyone within earshot. With a few simple words “about three thousand souls were added to them.” (Acts 2:41) That’s a 2400% increase! I have often thought about what I would do if this happened in our mid-sized parish. How long would it take to assimilate that many people into? My usual response is to tell myself something like, “Luckily that would never happen, so you don’t have to worry about it.”

But now, it’s happening! We’re not growing by 2400%, but we are certainly seeing people coming in the tens, twenties, and thirties. This is cause for excitement, but, also, to stop and think about how we will respond to this new demand. Some parishes have structured catechism classes and in others the priests carry the bulk of that task. But book learning only takes one so far. Our faith is not just belief in our head, but a deep experience of Christ through the constant action in our lives. This is not just the work of one or two people, but our entire community. This is evident in the early Church.

“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:44-47).”

The Church didn’t start with catechism classes. It started with the experience of Christ. The people gathered together and were fed by Him first, so that they could go forth and share with the world what they’d been given. As the Church grew over the centuries, the Holy Spirit revealed more to the faithful, and a more robust catechism was necessary. But this was never a replacement for the fundamental action of the Church – to worship, receive Him, and give that to those who don’t have it.

I was born into an Orthodox family who received the faith for generations. I grew up knowing what to do because everyone around me, in my family and my parish, knew what to do. I didn’t always know the “why,” but the experience was deeply rooted. We crossed ourselves a certain way, we prayed certain prayers in our home, we fasted, and we went to Church at odd times according to the rest of the world. The many things we sometimes take for granted that inform our faithfulness were inherent.

People new to the faith have none of this, except what they may have read in a book or an article on the internet (perilous as that may be). What class can we offer that teaches them what we often refer to now as “the fullness of the faith?” They have no family to learn from. Who will teach them the experience we learned from our families? All of us! Every one of the faithful.

We may not all be theologians, but we all have an experience of Christ. The Holy Spirit we have inside of us is the same Holy Spirit that rested on the disciples, the same Holy Spirit that brought them together to worship and experience Christ. It is incumbent upon us to grow deeper connection in our own lives, so we might offer it to all of those seeking the knowledge of the Truth, and that our Lord continues to add daily to those who are saved.