BEING CALLED “CHRISTIAN” vs. BEING CALLED “ORTHODOX”
“Only pray…that I may not only be called a Christian, but also be found one.” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans 3).
Today, when NC-people celebrate the Translation of the Relics of St. Ignatius of Antioch (+AD 107), I’m departing from my usual reflections on Scripture-passages, and am reflecting on the words of this Apostolic Father instead. It is remarkable that, as bishop of the city of Antioch, where disciples of Christ “were for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11: 26), St. Ignatius feels he needs prayers, that he “not only be called a Christian, but also be found one.” He doesn’t feel entitled to be called by the name “Christian,” – even though he is Bishop of Antioch, – and even though he says elsewhere, in his Epistle to the Magnesians, that “whoever is called by another name besides that (other than that of “Christianity”), is not of God.” (Magn. 10)
Today in my Church we seem to cherish being identified, and identifying ourselves, as “Orthodox,” rather than “merely” as “Christian.” And the reasons for this are understandable, because in our “identity politics” we feel the need to distinguish ourselves not primarily from non-Christians, but from “other” Christians, who are not “Orthodox.” But I’m reminded today, as I re-read the Epistles of St. Ignatius, that I strive first and foremost to be identified as a “Christian,” and to share a Name with One specifically called “Christ,” notwithstanding any “other,” who also works, lives, and identifies with this Name. As the Lord commands us, I am neither to “forbid” such a one to use Christ’s holy Name, nor am I myself to shun His holy Name, as if it has become “against us” because it is used by “others.” And I’m referring to what Christ says to His disciples about one who was casting out demons in His name, while not following them: “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.” (Mk 9: 39-40) Lord, glory be to You!