"Living by Acts of Faith" was the theme of the sixth annual Orthodox Christian Women of Montreal conference, held this year at St. Michael & St. Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church. As usual the day was the first Saturday in Great Lent. It was also a day after a blizzard, but sixty-six people managed to make it.
The keynote speaker, Irene Vodantis Lafakis, from Birmingham Alabama (it was her first encounter with snow), told the story of her personal faith journey, trying to cope with her little girl's death.
"I didn't see God as the love of my life until years after I lost my daughter," she said. "I wanted to know why my child had to die. Depression caused me to doubt God's love. I came to God in sorrow. When I found God in my personal journey, I found love."
"What does love have to do with acts of faith?" she asked. "Well, what is faith without love? For love of man, Christ died for us. Love summarizes the Bible. Every book describes God's love for his people. To know God is to know love. Love is faith in action."
The speaker described the Book of Acts as the basic story of how Christ established the Church, the Body of Christ. "How much would you risk," she asked, "to keep the Body of Christ alive? Acts show how the early Church was born through faith and love. The old Israel perished, the new Israel is us. Christ called his disciples to love one another. When we all learn to do that we will be called his disciples as well."
"Have you got that call yet in your personal life?" Irene pursued. "Each of us has special gifts that can be used for the benefit of all. We offer those gifts to God. We cannot live in isolation. We cannot love God and not come to Church, not attend Liturgy and not accept the Holy Eucharist. How many of us fear to give up control and start again? How many of us want to live by acts of faith? We can by faith overcome all adversity."
In the afternoon, Juliana Schmemann, wife of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann, made a presentation under the heading: "Our Life: A Journey to the Kingdom."
"All of us," she said, "are to become conscious that the same drive, the same energy involved in any journey or adventure we embark on. The same amount of preparation, can and should be spent on the most important journey of our life. This journey to the Kingdom is right now, right here."
"I cannot cut myself in fractions," she said. "One who goes by my daily life and the other one who lives in the Lord. We are just one person. Part of my daily life is the desire to be faithful to the goal of my life journey, to be fully alive, to want to go to the Gates, which will open up for us and then will be the Banquet of the Lord."
The Creed puts it clearly: "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Some speak of "killing time." Mrs. Schmemann says: "Time is a gift to be used for joy, for thanks, for creating, for getting ready, for getting to know where we are going and toward whom. Do we really look for the life to come, or are we just coping, looking at ourselves with a great deal of self-pity, self-justification, self-indulgence?"
"We must," she continued, "show concretely in our life our offering of grief, sorrow, joy. Be alive in Christ, never separating my love in Christ from what is happening to me. In some days, no light can dissipate the fog in us. Then fresh air comes in and the Holy Spirit will come in if we empty ourselves enough. We have to think: What is the goal? This journey of our life, is it going up toward the life to come? Are we getting better prepared for the Gates? At all times there is a Banquet being prepared for us."
Evelyn Dumas is a member of The Sign of the Theotokos Orthodox Church in Westmount, Quebec, Canada.