Earlier this week, I went to Unirii and was surprised to find thousands of people standing in a massive line while the air reverberated with chanting in Romanian. Later, I learned that the protector of Bucharest, Saint Dimitrie the New, is remembered every year during the week of his martyrdom (October 26). I don’t know much about Saint Dimitrie, but seeing so many people gathered in his honor was both inspiring and upsetting to me.
I was truly in awe of the devotion of the people. Thousands came out, some from far away, and this has been going on all week. They’re standing in line for hours. They’re buying incense, icons, books, etc. They’re praying for dead relatives and living ones, for themselves, for their friends. They’re lighting candles and burning incense. They’re believing for miracles of healing. Some are staying up through the night. If we could earn our way to heaven, those gathered would surely be well on their way.
But they’re doing this in honor of a dead man who does nothing for them. And they’re hoping to earn the blessing and favor of God. My heart was saddened to see such misguided devotion. I wanted to get a tract to everyone so they could know that Jesus’ sacrifice covers their failures more than seeing a relic or lighting a candle ever could. I wanted them to know that he doesn’t require religious devotion but honest love and obedience, and that it’s his power in us that makes us worthy. I wanted them to know that he’s not after a few hours of devotion or remembering but a life that’s been changed by the love of God at work.
I like how The Message translates John 4:23-24: “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
What bothers me is that, according to statistics, about 90% of even these “radicals” will go back home and never think about God until the next religious holiday. Further, somebody out there is keeping the bars, clubs, and sex shops running in Bucuresti, and it’s not all the foreigners who (in case you are deluded) are not flocking into the city in droves. Oh, to see these people come into a life-transforming encounter with the King himself.
One person at a time…