Sometimes it seems like we live in a Humpty Dumpty kind of world, where two people can use the same words, but for each one, the words mean exactly what that person chooses them to mean. And, while it is natural for words to have a certain breadth of meaning, variations in usage can at times be so great that words effectively lose their meaning.
With that in mind, I thought I would write a little bit about what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. There is certainly a wide variety of ways in which Orthodox Christians will live their faith, but there are certain elements that are present in each such incarnation.
The first element comes from the gospel according to Luke: “"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? (Lk. 6:46)." As Orthodox Christians we take that question to heart. While we know that at times we all fall short of the glory of God, we do not allow that to become the norm. We also do not allow “I am only human” to become an excuse for not attending to our spiritual lives. Being human means that we are created to grow in the likeness of God. This means that, as Orthodox Christians, we strive to live according to the teaching and example of Christ. When we fail, we pick ourselves up in repentance and continue our striving.
The next element comes from the letter to the Hebrews, where we are told not to “forsake the assembly” (Heb. 10:25). While it is true that God is everywhere present and filling all things, we are also told that, following the Ascension, the apostles were “continually in the temple blessing God.” It is only a mark of the prevailing individualism of our time and its associated pride that we can imagine both that the words of St. Paul do not apply to us and that we have no need to follow the example of the apostles. Contrary to that, Orthodox Christians go to church.
The third element again comes from Christ: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53). The main reason why Orthodox Christians go to church is to be physically united with Christ in the Eucharist. There are a few things that I need to mention here. First is that sometimes things happen and we are not prepared to receive. All that means is that we need to take care and prepare for the next Liturgy. Second is that preparation. As much as possible it includes: regular confession (consult with your spiritual father on frequency), prayers of preparation (which can be found at dcs.goarch.org under Sacraments and Services, for example), and attendance at the entire Liturgy (the Eucharist is not drive-through fast food).
The final element that I will mention is “Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Each element in this enjoinder from St. Paul is a challenge. But, if we cannot follow it wholly, Orthodox Christians attempt each of its parts. Every day they pray, they try to find joy in some of the little glimpses of heaven that we receive each day, and give thanks.
Perhaps there was a time and a place when these elements were so embedded in the rhythm of an Orthodox country that they could be appropriated unconsciously by someone living in that context. Perhaps in such a place and time, one could become Orthodox “by accident.” Here and now, each element requires attention, care, and perseverance. Today, being Orthodox (rather than merely being called, or even calling ourselves, Orthodox) can only happen on purpose, sometimes by struggling with ourselves, but always by the grace and care of God.
May we set our hearts and minds on God and every day strive to live our faith a little more deeply and become a little more Orthodox.
With love in Christ,