In the book of John in the New Testament, one of the ways that Christ was noted was for his reaction of profound grief, weeping for his friend Lazarus, who was dead four days when Jesus arrived at his tomb. The Jews of that day, Jesus’ most vocal critics, were the ones that particularly noted this, and John set the account to paper: “Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” (John 11:36).
Jesus wept for his friend’s fate even though just after this He raised him back to life. This love is incredibly amazing to comprehend, because it reveals not just sentimentality and emotion, but understanding, in this case Jesus’ understanding of the tragedy of death itself, even though as God he was able to raise Lazarus back to life.
Later in the early Christian community, even before the followers of Jesus were even called Christians, one of the common characteristics was how the community of believers took care of one another, and each gave all he or she had (if they so chose) for the benefit of the whole community. This, by the way, was NOT a requirement, which makes it even that much more impressive.
Throughout the whole of Christian history, the love of Christians for Christ, for one another and for their adversaries and enemies has stood as the defining characteristic of the faith, and this love is unique to Christianity. No other faith carries this trait, which often invited mockery of the Christian believers as they refused to fight their jailers, or executioners, even praising their God as the fires to immolate them were started under their feet.
So when we read stories like this one,that feature the notion that Christians are really hateful people, it is very strange. This is a new kind of attack that, to my knowledge has never been employed before, say, 2015.
This photo, run on Facebook, generated tremendously negative reaction from a number of viewers that seemed to be very offended at the notion that this scene is GOOD to see. These were some of the comments, both positive and negative, with minor editing of word errors and the names left out to not disturb further those people who said these things:
…So now we are supposed to praise kids for praying to an invisible man in the sky for animals that were slaughtered so they could eat? Maybe they should be thanking that animal for giving up it’s [sic] life so they could eat instead. So tired of Christians pushing their beliefs onto everyone else.”
“I’m so tired of the arrogance many religious people display and their disdain for non-believers… If you are confidant [sic] in your beliefs then you don’t feel the need to ‘save’ everyone else.”
…I bet none of those kids do that and am sure they live at home with mom and dad in an expensive house”
“…No kidding. Some people are so insecure they have to reverse logic and be offended. Wheh you have to criticize a bunch of TEENAGERS who are simply being respectful and appreciative – simply because it doesn’t suit your views on religion – then I’d suggest you need to go sit in a corner and think about who you really are. Lame.”
“…In this age where liberal, feminazi, atheist propaganda is commended, Christian Conservative values are expected to be hidden from the public view. It’s time that we stand up, and stand firm, for our beliefs and not back down…”
The comment thread for this post was of course a mixture of support and outrage, as so many posts are in Facebook. However, even though there was a lot of support for the posting of this photo, there is still something really tragic about even that.
Not so long ago, it was the norm for almost every family to say Grace around the dinner table at home. It was less obvious in public places like this restaurant, but when it happened it did not generate scorn the way it does now.
There was an event that took place in about 1949, in the USA that bears pointing out.
In trying to resettle a group of Russian expatriates, who had fled the Soviet Union because of the Communist government to Shanghai, only to be faced with a new threat by the newly Communist Chinese, a Russian Archbishop named John, who was serving this community in Shanghai went to Washington D.C. to make an appeal for his flock’s safety.
The archbishop was scheduled to have a meeting before the US Senate to appeal for the Russian refugees, and he had to be at that meeting at a certain hour. However, the pious Archbishop John said he would go to the meeting only after he celebrated the Divine Liturgy. When the Liturgy was over, he went to the Senate on behalf of the Russian refugees, and of course, he was late!
When Archbishop John, (who was known for his utter simplicity, often walking everywhere barefoot) entered the Senate, they had already moved on to another item in their agenda. Yet still, everyone in the Senate stood up out of respect, for they felt that a holy man of God had entered the room.
They then willingly heard his appeal on behalf of the Russian refugees in the Philippines. After the hierarch gave his report before the Senate Committee, the refugees were allowed to come to America and live in San Francisco, California, under the supervision and direction of the Archbishop John.
Archbishop John Maximovitch is now recognized throughout the world as Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco. His Christian witness was anything but ostentatious, but it was also as direct and blunt in its own way as this photo of the young people praying in a restaurant.
These scenes that happen when people put first in their lives those matters that are bigger than this world, in earlier times, and even now, these scenes usually earn respect.
The tragedy of modern times is that our secularist spirit now makes it seem like such a display of faith is wrong, or oppressive, or even worse, evil in some way. This is a viewpoint that is utterly devoid of contact with reality.
While it is certainly true that many Christian believers do very bad things at times, this is not the point. Being a Christian does not make someone good. It is a sign of accepting the struggle to try to become better, and getting better takes a long time. When we see people engaging this fight – which is the biggest fight anyone can undertake – the fight to conquer their own darkness, this is worthy of respect.
There were many who posted such sentiments in the Facebook post, In fact, the detractors were sometimes taken out to the woodshed in manners that while passionate, reflected that Christians are very much often “works in progress” and sometimes the reactions were unkind. But still the motive was in response to the idea that there is something good about seeing young people pray in public, especially in such God-less times, and that this gentle, but provocative, action is indeed worthy of respect.