How does what I believe apply to my life?

In Orthodoxy we often overlook this question. We overlook it for a variety of reasons. We are not a group that is legalistic and formula based. We don’t look at our lives in a manner like some who would say “If I do “this” then “that” will follow.” Life with God is not a formula. As I have presented before, the entire “instantaneous salvation” with its “assurance of salvation” teaching and the “sinner’s prayer” at the altar call is relatively new as far as doctrine is concerned. 
In Orthodoxy, we participate in the divine mysteries of God from Confession, both in our daily prayer life and with our spiritual father to guide us, to baptism because as we are taught and we celebrate in song, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ”. We step further to receiving Communion, which for us is not a simple memorial but rather we receive the Immaculate Body and Precious Blood of Christ our True God. We don’t attempt to explain HOW the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, we simply accept that since he said it, it happens. It is translated into the Body and Blood of our Lord. 

These are participatory actions. We don’t baptize people as some response to them declaring their belief, but rather it is all participation in the Divine Life of Christ. We put on Christ in baptism and as such we are buried with Him in that baptism so that as He was raised back to life, we can be raised to walk in a newness of life. We know that baptism itself was never discounted in the early Church. Before anyone tries to bring it up, the thief on the cross next to Jesus does not count as his “Baptism” was his sweat and his own blood and not the same as our Baptism, a Baptism of his suffering. So let’s not try to mangle the truth with minutiae. 

When we participate in the Mysteries of the Church, we are participating directly in the Divine Life of God. We are joined with him. When we pray in our daily prayer rule, a prayer rule we can follow in discipline, we participate in God’s divine nature. 

When we take upon us a simple prayer which we can use anytime our mind is idle, such as the “Jesus Prayer” we are able to defeat temptation and cause demons to flee because this is spiritual battle. Many who read these essays and articles of mine may be asking, “What is the “Jesus Prayer” that you mentioned?” The Jesus Prayer is a simple prayer, similar to the prayer prayed by the Publican in the parable of “the Publican and the Pharisee” which Jesus taught in Luke 18:10-14 specifically the tax collector prayed in humility, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” and so in our daily walk we incorporate the Jesus prayer which similarly says, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

This is arguably the most powerful sentence that can be prayed by the Christian. When temptation confronts is, like in traffic when someone thoughtlessly cuts us off, we can pray this prayer. When some other temptation arises, we can pray this prayer. As long as we are repenting, we are humbly seeking God. Saint Hesychios taught us to utilize this prayer to do spiritual warfare against our enemies because by seeking forgiveness we are continually keeping ourselves participating in that divine nature we desire. 

The Holy Mysteries are important to that participation. We are seeking Theosis, to become God-like, to be Christ like in our daily walk. There are not going to be wrote answers to challenges which we face. I cannot say that anytime I face (whatever problem) I should always say or do (solutions listed in book). Every challenge I face or that you face will be answered by how deeply we are experiencing God’s energy in our lives. We learn as we grow. 

The Mysteries of the Church are not simply rituals to be followed. From the outside looking in on us the Holy Mysteries look like dry or dull rituals. They are rituals, to be certain, but rituals are not bad in themselves. When we baptize a child or an adult convert, we are fulfilling not only the command of the Lord but we are taking that person, whether infant or adult into the presence of God, burying them with Christ in Baptism and raising them up out of that death to sin, into a new life that they must learn. When we follow that baptism with Chrismation, a term many are not familiar with, we anoint them with Holy Chrism and usher in the Holy Spirit as an anointing influence in this new life. We are marking this person as one of God’s people, bringing them into the Body of Christ. Allowing them to begin this life with the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is Worshipped and Glorified, He who spake by the prophets. 

The Mysteries, such as Communion also “appear” like a ritual, however when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, it is transformative. It brings with it forgiveness, regeneration, healing of soul and body. It’s not simply a memorial as some would teach, it matters that we continue the practices passed down from the Apostles since this IS the Apostolic Church.

These are universally understood truths. The Catholic nature of the Church, that universality of application of truth and practice is not understood simply by understanding that definition. The secular definition of “Catholic” is certainly part of it but the spiritual application of the word “Catholic” would follow that the Church is whole, complete, lacking in nothing. That’s why the local parish, each local parish is whole and complete, lacking in nothing, and is also part of the larger Catholic Church. This is not to connect the Orthodox to the Roman Church, as we know we have no connection. That is a discussion for a different time. Suffice it to say that we are talking about the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” and the truths we teach are not ethnic, or nationalized, regionalized, but are truly known to be universally applied making us one, complete, lacking in nothing Church. One Body of Christ speaking the same thing as we were instructed by Saint Paul. 

Formula does not apply to God. It cannot apply to God. God is not a created being and therefore, logic and formulae do not apply. I cannot say, “If I do (this) then (that) will be the result. God deals with each of us where we are. We are participants of the Energy not the Essence of God, by our belief, our baptism puts on Christ, our prayer builds us as Christ-like but it is fluid. God works in us, as the Scripture says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV

The uncreated God cannot be reduced to formulas. It’s not a recipe that we each follow. It’s a relationship that we develop, not alone but in keeping with the established teachings of the Apostles passed down to those overseers they ordained. Worthy men who could teach others also. Those men were not perfect in themselves but we see, looking at their lives, in the history of the Church, they all spoke the same. They all taught the same truths. 

The uncreated God cannot be reduced to formulas. If your idea of God can be reduced to formulas that guide your counseling then you have created your own god. A while back I discussed this kind of religion, where each person has created God in his own image. The attitude of “I don’t believe THAT” whatever “THAT” might be. The groups that will call anyone that declares the phrase “Jesus is Lord” as a member of some unseen Body of Christ. If Jesus was visible, I must accept that His Body is also visible. It’s not made up of people that believe differently but they all believe what the Apostles taught. It’s not made up of people that believe new doctrine but Apostolic teaching. 

So what does it mean? In my last article, I explored “Salvation” and how that’s the end result of this Theosis that we seek. It is the result of the Final Judgement, not the result of us following a formula, reciting a prayer which looks much like an incantation. So it isn’t that I’m declaring that “You aren’t saved” it’s simply that I’m trying to show you the way to find Theosis. The path to God is not a formula but an open door. The path is narrow, it’s not a big wide highway to God. It is odd that in the twentieth century there were songs in popular culture about a highway to Hell and a stairway to Heaven. I wonder if that’s a way that people understood it at the time. Jesus did say that narrow is the way and narrow is the gate that leads to God. So if you look around and find a crowd, maybe you should question why. Why are there a bunch of mega-churches with these new doctrines?  

I cannot tell you that you CANNOT ultimately be saved while following the heterodox belief systems, who God chooses to allow salvation is for Him to decide. I CAN tell you that the Body of Christ is visible and has been since the Day of Pentecost in 33ad. I CAN say that the Jesus which is preached by the ancient Church, that Church that produced the New Testament, that Church that gave us The Creed, the Jesus preached by this Church said, “Upon this Rock (referring to the testimony of the Apostles) I will build my Church and the Gates of Hades will not prevail against it. That Church never needed reformation, restoration, or otherwise rescued from apostasy. If you are in a church that teaches you that at any time since 33ad the Church lost her way and needed to be reformed, that church is preaching a different Jesus. That church that teaches you that the ancient Church was lost and needed to be redirected is really teaching that the Gates of Hades prevailed against the Church that Jesus built on the Apostles’ testimony. If they’re teaching you this, they are saying that Jesus lied. They’re also teaching you that man’s will is greater then the power of God and the Holy Spirit was powerless to prevent this.  

So then, to return to the beginning and the title question, How does what I believe apply to my life? What do I do? What about evangelism? Should I not be concerned with the salvation of others?  

If I grow in Theosis, become more like Christ, in love, in compassion, in knowledge then the Holy Spirit will be working in me. My life will be as a beacon and others will be drawn to me. My primary job, function, desire is to be like Christ. Jesus saves people, not me. I need to concentrate on getting close to Him and being like him. 

One more thing that I think needs to be addressed. This subject will soon get its own article because the subject is too broad to be handled quickly but here is a taste. Many heterodox make a big topic of having a “Personal” relationship with God. It is often said they ask if you have received Jesus as your “Personal Lord and Savior” and these questions tend to chain into others. So in the context I have started let me address these kinds of questions. 

I have two sons, they are adults with family lives. Neither of them has ever ask me for a “Personal Relationship” and for good reason, it’s a meaningless request. Of course we have a personal relationship because they’re my sons. A son never needs to question his relationship with his father, at least not a son in a healthy family. This is also true of an immortal soul, we know that we have a personal relationship with God by virtue of our creation. We don’t need to ask. There are references that people declare “My Lord and My God” but nowhere in scripture are we instructed to seek such a “personal” as in ownership of a relationship. 

The Orthodox are said to “bristle” at the question and some think it is because we are not comfortable with the question. The most likely reason some think we bristle at the question is because it really isn’t Orthodox. We were born of water in baptism and the Spirit through Chrismation when we were received into the Body of Christ. The immortal soul cannot ask for what it knows exists. We are children of God and that relationship exists. 

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we begin it, not MY Father but OUR Father because our relationship to the communal family is where we focus. When we pray we sometimes mingle the community with us singularly but that’s not the same thing that is stressed by the heterodox when they ask us about a personal relationship with God. 

I find it odd that those people who stress such ideas and fads, never find a scripture reference that declares that we must seek this relationship. The people that say that “if it is not in scripture then it is not a valid teaching” yet there’s no place in scripture that even THAT is stated. If it is important for our life, shouldn’t it be there?

Important teachings that are clearly stated, believe and be baptized for the remission of your sins. Jesus said, “Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you have no part of me.” So communion is shown as necessary, not simply a memorial. When Jesus gave bread and wine to his disciples at their last supper He told them it was his body and blood. It became clear to them that this is what He was teaching them and it became part of what they taught the Church. 

So now we see that each person in the Church has a clear mission, to become Christ-like, Theosis. Each person is not tasked with immediately going out as an evangelist, but their theosis will bring others to Christ. They don’t need to “save others” by going out into the street “witnessing” because Jesus takes care of bringing others. Their primary focus is to build their knowledge and draw closer to God. Walking in their daily life, exercising under the direction of the people God has placed in their life. This “exercising” isn’t physical as in running etc. it is learning to pray, fast, study, experiencing God in the Divine Liturgy. Orthodox life is experiential in nature, it isn’t static but dynamic, it isn’t abstract. 

Orthodox worship is different then most are aware of. Is there “ritual”? Yes. Man is designed for ritual, a prescribed method or pattern in worship. Sometimes people recoil from “ritual” as if the word has some negative connotation. Ritual gives us a pattern so that we can experience God. The Church has been liturgical from the beginning, many books have been written to address this and it follows the fact that all religion before was also liturgical. The disciples were Jews and had a pattern in their history of how to worship. The ritual of pattern gives us a foundation. In times of doubt, stress, even in times of plenty we have a foundation.  

As the newly enlightened people, those who are building their knowledge and experience with God, grow, they learn first the basic Liturgical patterns. Later we all focus on what is needed for our own lives. We apply what we are taught to our lives and we grow. Theosis is becoming like Christ, we don’t get to experience God’s Nature or Essence but we experience His Energy in action in our lives. Each of us is gifted in different ways. Just like the early Church, there are spiritual gifts that build up the Church. How terrible would it be if our church offices only had Pastors and Teachers? There needs to be managers, administrators, people who can budget and handle different business items as well. Just like God provided to Moses when he was building the Tabernacle in the wilderness, God provided craftsmen to do all the special things needed. 

Are You Saved?

This question is one of the Protestant Evangelical questions that often starts conversations. I know it has been for decades even when I was an evangelical. To the Protestant Evangelical the belief in a “Salvation” that is instantaneous and tied to a moment in time is essential.

My friends in that community are often put off by the teaching of the ancient Church. Many times their answer is “If that’s what you believe then in your eyes I’m not saved.” That conclusion often leads them to be instantly offended. Let’s look at that belief.

The idea of an instantaneous salvation began with Martin Luther. It was not taught before the reformation. The teaching was firmly rooted in Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura which said that Scripture Alone was the basis for all teaching.

First to understand is that the New Testament was collected and canonized in 386-389ad clearly 356 years after the Church began. The Church did not wait to teach until there was a New Testament, as a matter of fact the Book of Acts, history of the beginning of the Church says: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Acts 2:41-42 NKJV

It’s notable that in these two verses that after Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost, those who received his words (nothing says receive Jesus) those people were baptized and they continued in the Apostles’ doctrine fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. The focus I am putting on the Apostles’ doctrine is intentional. There is no place where St. Luke (writer of the book of Acts) defines this phrase. We simply know they were taught and continued in that teaching, that doctrine.

The areas where the Apostles went, they preached this Gospel and baptized. The local churches needed overseers and the overseers (otherwise called bishops) were ordained to care for and teach the local churches. Timothy and Titus had been left behind by St. Paul with instructions to take all that he had taught them by word or example and teach faithful men who could teach others. These are two that we know about because he referred to this task. If St. Paul used that plan in those two places, I think it is safe to conclude the other Apostles either did it themselves or had others serve that function for them. After all, the twelve were special, we are certain, but there is the reference to the seventy that also were sent out by Jesus. History tells us they also went out preaching and founding new local churches also. Zebedee the father of James and John, who also was referred to in history as Aristobulus took a group of disciples to the area now known as the British Isles.

The Church was seriously concerned and the apostles made sure to tell the local churches that all of the people spoke and believed the same thing. The letters from St Paul were ways that he redirected the local churches when they strayed from his teachings. He made sure to tell the Corinthians: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

I Corinthians 1:10 NKJV

The Apostles were not allowing divisions, denominations or other separations in the local churches so that the Church could be ONE. Jesus prayed for his disciples before the crucifixion that they would be one. So divisions were not tolerated and teaching was uniform throughout the Church.

As the Church grew, many more local churches grew up and the organization of the Church solidified around the local bishops. History shows us that as the local churches grew up, administration of the overall Church was organized. Why do I mention this? Because many in the modern world want to disregard the organized Church in the ancient world. Saint Paul mentioned various spiritual gifts in his letter to the Romans and still others in his letter to the Corinthians. In his letter to the Romans he made specific mention to a gift of administration or government (depending on who translates the passage) and it is clear that God gifted some to do organization.

If we look to ancient Israel, when Moses was being given the task of creating a Tabernacle (a temporary place for worship) and God told him there were already people gifted to accomplish each task, metallurgy or fabric or anything else. If God took care to provide artisans for the image in the desert for those people, it is clear that since the Apostle Paul noted there was a gift of administration, that the organization of the Church, and by extension the local churches, was similarly provided for.

The growth of the Church, the adding of local churches, continued into the beginning of the fourth century. After Christianity was made legal, and Constantine made it the official religion of his empire, a new division cropped up. A preacher named Arius decided that he could interpret teachings his own unique way. He began teaching that since Jesus was begotten of the Father, there was a time in eternity where Jesus didn’t exist so Jesus was a created being. This caused great division among local churches and distressed the whole Church. The only way to settle this division was to bring all the bishops together in a council to examine the issue. This was the pattern shown by the twelve apostles in the early church when they examined a seeming division between Paul and Peter.

The Council of Nicea brought the bishops of the Church from all over to examine and expound on the teachings of the Church. They each were afforded time to declare what they had been taught from the beginning and basically compare notes. The teaching of Arius was deemed to be heresy, and refuted, and all who had taught it were afforded the opportunity to submit to the teaching of the Apostles or be expelled as heretics. The year this happened was 325ad and the council wrote the first two sections of the Creed and sent it out to all local churches to be taught to everyone so that the Church could “speak the same thing” and uniformity in doctrine was possible. NOTE: they still had not collected the entire New Testament and many local churches did not have most of the writings of the New Testament that we have today

In 381ad another Council was called this time meeting in Constantinople to address a new teaching that was dividing and confusing the Church. The teaching about the Holy Spirit that claimed He was not God, not the same as the Father and the Son in essence and being. Some were saying the Holy Spirit was simply the effect of God being around. So the bishops, once again compared notes, expounded what they had been taught from the beginning. The last parts of the Creed were written. The group of the Church leaders finalized the Creed so that the written doctrine of the whole Church was clear, then they committed that none of it could be changed. The consensus was that anyone changing any of the Creed was to be accursed and labeled a heretic. This would mean that they could not be part of the Church as a whole. The local churches all agreed and taught this Creed. Finally the overall Church had doctrine that conformed to what had been taught and passed down from the Apostles.

The last action of the Council of Constantinople was to commission a committee or board of scholars to examine all writings that claimed to be scripture. All of these writings were examined for three years and compared to what the Church taught and thus some were found to not be consistent with the knowledge of the Church. Only those books that were consistent with previously established revelation were kept as scripture. From that collection, we have the New Testament. This was then canonized as the New Testament Scriptures and disseminated to the whole Church.

So what happened? Why did some people abandon centuries of unity to create doctrine of their own? In the 16th century, Martin Luther came along. He was part of the Roman Church. They had separated from the rest of the ancient Church in 1054ad and shortly thereafter started changing the teaching all had been following. They changed the Creed, many argued then and some argue now the change was minor but it was not minor and the Great Schism became part of history. Jumping forward and Luther was trying to reform the Roman Church. He decided that he would translate the New Testament into German for his German parish. This way he got to decide what books were included and also could use his translation to make sure the German translation fit his own doctrine. Kind of stacking the deck and do it was on.

One of those convenient teachings was one that said that only SCRIPTURE could be used for doctrine. A kind of idolatry that makes the written book superior to everything and everyone. If it’s not found in the pages of the New Testament then it’s just not valid. Odd but that teaching itself is not found anywhere in the New Testament. People rolled with it anyway. Then, there came another Luther-created doctrine, instantaneous salvation. If someone professed faith in Christ they were declared “Saved”. It is real convenient since the ancient Church never taught that.

In the ancient Church, someone heard and believed the Gospel and they were baptized and chrismated being received into the Church. The newly enlightened person would begin to learn and participate in the sacraments of the Church, the chief among them is communion. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for forgiveness of sin and healing of soul and body. The Christian would then seek to grow and become continuously more like Christ, a process the Church came to refer to as Theosis. Salvation was the end result when at the Final Judgement the Christian would hear Christ say, “Welcome, my good and faithful servant”

Luther came up with this idea that if someone professed faith and said the right things they could be declared “Saved” making it an instantaneous event.

Following that reasoning, modern Evangelical Protestants have evolved over the past few decades to a point that it goes something like this. A person feels guilt for being a sinner, they’re told they need to be saved, they respond in some fashion and are then told they must receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. They are often led through a prayer often called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and afterward they’re told that they’re “Saved”. So the result of reciting this incantation means they’re saved and often they’re told that all sins they committed in the past and any that they will commit in the future have now been forgiven. Nice neat package.

Well, to those who want to be part of the Body of Christ I want to tell you, it’s not reciting a prayer like an incantation. It’s not going to happen in an instant. You aren’t saved until the end when Jesus welcomes you into that salvation. You aren’t saved now.

Here, now, today you can choose to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Christian Church and begin to become more like Christ. You can begin Theosis. You will be part of the Body of Christ.

I cannot tell you that in the end you WILL or WILL NOT be saved by your religion. I can identify whether a religious belief is or is not Orthodox. To be Orthodox, something has to fit the definition of that word. Orthodox is a compound Greek word meaning right teaching. So correct teaching makes some religions Orthodox and others not Orthodox. It’s not just another school of thought or theology that is equal to others. There are multiple schools of theology and thought that are equal. For all intents and purposes that group would be called heterodox which would be multiple teaching. If you are thinking that the thousands of religious teachings that call themselves Christian are equal then that is heterodox thought. The baptists of various flavors and the charismatics of various flavors and the Pentecostals of various flavors all accepting each other as Christians are a group of heterodox churches. Can you still “make it” in the end? I cannot presume to tell you that. No one can because who God chooses to save in the final analysis is exclusively in His prerogative. Anytime someone claims to be “saved” they are presuming on God’s exclusive prerogative to decide.

So what CAN be said? I know that the best place to find the path to Theosis is the Body of Christ. This is not some invisible group as some would claim that is made up of “all true believers in all churches and denominations” it is a defined, visible, and easy to find Church. The Church says the same thing no matter what ethnicity you find it, no matter what nation you are in, that’s what is meant by the word CATHOLIC. Catholic means UNIVERSAL. Catholic is not a trademark of the Roman Church. While in the USA it seems like it. The Creed is clear when it says: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

Jesus established His Church. It’s not mine, it’s not created by a specific man, it is Christ’s Church. If you want the full experience of God, you can be part of it. It is genuine.

So if you get offended in this, that’s really something you should examine in yourself. I am often told, “I can go to God directly, I don’t need a priest.” Well everyone can, you’re not special. However, I can also fulfill the scripture that says “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you can be healed.”

Theosis is not about concentrating on a few singular ideas and fulfilling those and forgetting the others, it is about concentrating on the whole counsel of God. Letting Him work on each area of your life and making you a little more like Him every day.