The following item is excerpted from the "Reflection" published in this week's edition (28 January) of The Observer, the weekly bulletin/newsletter of St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Troy.
In the Gospel according to Saint Mark, St John the Theologian tells Jesus that he and the other disciples have seen a man performing miracles. This man is not an apostle or one of Jesus’ disciples. St John says, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, who followeth not us, and we forbade him.” (Mk 9.37) It appears that St John and the others are irritated by this man because they tell him to stop. But Jesus offers this surprising reply: “Do not forbid him. For there is no man that doth a miracle in my name, and can soon speak ill of me. For he that is not against you, is for you.” (Mk 9.38) What Our Lord is saying is that this man, who is not part of the apostolic company, is still working and speaking by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And with His reply, Our Lord demonstrates His mercy and compassion toward those who know of Him but may not yet walk with the Holy Apostles.
We may understand that St John and the other apostles represent the Holy Orthodox Church. For the Church rightly claims to follow the teaching of the Holy Apostles and to walk in the same Faith that they taught. In other words, the Church is in the apostolic company—in communion with those holy men who walked with Our Lord. The man who performed miracles but was not one of the apostles or disciples—we may understand that he represents all those who know of Christ, who speak of Christ and offer His holy sacraments, yet not within the Holy Orthodox Church. In other words, we may understand that the Holy Spirit is with this man, even though this man is not in the Church. Why and how this is done is something we cannot understand. It is strange to us. Yet it is also wondrous. It is a mystery.
If this is how we understand this brief episode in St Mark’s Gospel, then we may see something else. The Lord desires this man to be with the Holy Apostles—to join their walk with Him. And so perhaps in His reply, Our Lord is telling St John and the others to go fetch this man, let him know about the Church, and bring him in. Then he will no longer need to cast out devils independently, but may work and speak by the Spirit within the warm embrace of the Holy Orthodox Church.
This interpretation helps illustrate how I, and some members of the parish I served, saw ourselves during our last months as Lutherans. We rejoiced that the Holy Spirit had not abandoned us. And so, by the Lord’s mercy, we celebrated together the holy mysteries. However, we became increasingly aware that our celebration was apart from the Church. We and our families knew of the Holy Apostles, and yet we become convinced that we were not in the apostolic company. We did not fear that we were against the Lord and His Church. But we also came to believe that we were not yet in the Church. So we felt like they were on a life-raft in the midst of a great storm-tossed ocean.
By the mercy of God, we were finally able to see our way into the Holy Orthodox Church. This mercy of God was demonstrated in many ways during our journey. Most particularly, we have seen it in the gentle kindness of Bishop MARK, the sturdy generosity of Father Joseph, and the warm embrace of the parishioners of St. George. And it is these concrete manifestations of Our Lord’s compassion that give us the courage, the confidence, and the hope to form a Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church on the west side of metropolitan Detroit.