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.