For all who seek the fullness of life in Christ, ancient Christian faith is deeply satisfying. Rather than justifying one’s self as she is, prayer that humbles one’s own spirit and invites the Holy Spirit into the heart gives one new life. This re-birth returns one to the original purpose to which life is created: to be in Communion with God.
God is Love. To become like God, one chooses to have a relationship with Him. A person repents and takes responsibility for the sins that naturally separate one from God. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and given every good thing, God asked that they not eat from the tree of knowledge. They did because they desired to be like God, without God. Their disobedience separated them from God. When the Lord asked them why they had eaten the forbidden fruit, Eve blamed the snake and Adam blamed Eve. Their sins—disobedience and desire to be like God without Him, and not repenting and becoming responsible for their sin—separated them from God. All separation between God and mankind occurs because human beings choose to follow their own way instead of God’s way. God is just, and He is merciful. Because He is so, Christ’s humanity returns all to their intended communion with God. Fr. Andrew Clements writes, “For what the first Adam lost in his disobedience, the Lord, as ‘the New Adam,’ reclaims for us all in his becoming obedient” (Daily Meditations for Great Lent 3).
Today, we continue turning to ourselves, rather than to God. Often, it may seem one would be happier to do what she wants, rather than submitting to God. With this feeling, it becomes natural to justify not loving others as ourselves, and prayer begins to seem obsolete. In truth, we hurt ourselves with this attitude and consequent behavior because we cut the line to God. We separate from the source of Love, and God’s judgement is upon us who do not know Him as He is. The sign that we do not know Him is our unwillingness to love others. A person’s heart develops the willingness to love throughout a lifetime. The Kingdom of Heaven grows inside as one is empowered through the Holy Spirit to become more and more one with God. The ancient Christian Church teaches us the way. As Presvytera Vassi Haros explained to me: The Church is those who have entered into the covenant with God through Orthodoxy and are obedient to her teachings. Through this, she teaches the Faithful how to relate with God through the sacraments of the Church, the writings, the dialogue of prayer, and the examples of those who went before us.
Change is difficult, and it can be painful to realize the ways one falls short. The Church is a compassionate teacher, and becomes a refuge, a hospital, for those who wish to become well. However, just as our ancestors Adam and Eve chose not to repent, we may also turn away from repentance. This is so because facing that which separates one from God means that one is willing to realize the need to change herself. Even more, one who repents is to “go and sin no more.” The process of realizing the things we think, say, and do separate us from God occurs over a lifetime. We have no right to judge anyone else because it’s hard enough to realize one’s own sins. Additionally, it is not one’s own doing, but God’s, that saves the soul. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Tradition of Faith shows the way to holiness. “We did not create these traditions, sacraments, and teachings. They were revealed to us as the proper way to relate to our creator” (Haros).
One late afternoon in early spring, I stopped over at a friend’s home with my daughters. Her young son greeted us incognito, growling like an animal and drawing us into his play. The home was open and incense filled the air. My friend’s blue eyes smiled, her feminine laugh drawing us to tea and conversation. We were both new to the neighborhood, drawn to one another by more than a shared interest in wellness of spirit and body. She spoke with clarity and confidence, though gently. Her humility attracted me. She had suffered a drastic decline in her health that doctors hadn’t been able to diagnose. At one point, when she wasn’t able to walk up the stairs and mental fog was increasing, when doctors were considering if she had multiple sclerosis, she prayed with her whole heart for God to help her. There seemed nothing to do and no way to understand her suffering, and she gave her life over to God’s care. Shortly after, she viewed an advertisement for Celiac’s Disease and realized the symptoms described matched some of hers. She changed her diet with an elimination of gluten. Some of her health issues improved.
Faith increased because of her suffering, cry to God, and God’s personal response to her. She continued to seek wellness and pray. This was natural to her; she had always been conscious of the spiritual. Even when doctors found a suspicious tumor, in faith and hope she decided to fight against the odds outside of traditional chemotherapy and radiation. She treated her body with whole foods, clean water, and balanced exercise and sleep. She seems well, though she has yet to return to doctors for a diagnosis. My friend’s faith in God is central to all that she does in her life. I am challenged by faith like hers because it isn’t called “Orthodox”. She wore a cross, and she had Buddhist sayings around her home. She didn’t speak of religion, but her love of God was felt. It was felt by a sense of her loving me, loving her son, loving plants and life itself. Love was an energized patience in her. I realized I could not judge her soul, that one could not know another’s innermost faith, and the knowledge of this sent chills down my spine.
The Church welcomes all who come with the hope that each will choose to follow Christ by repentance and the Holy Sacraments. The Church rejoices with each baptism because “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia.” The goal is to teach each one the Faith that the Holy Spirit inspired, and inspires still. It is by God’s grace that I came to the ancient faith, and it’s not a done deal. Faith is a process, and God alone knows a person’s unique path. The way to God is through prayer, through one’s entire life becoming a prayer, and this takes effort and focus. Thankfully, one needn’t re-invent the wheel of the Church, and her teachings are to help us understand that the spirit of the law is always love. This means that rules like no sex before marriage, no gay marriage, no abortion, open up in life-giving ways. The Commandments preserve the sanctity of life by helping us obtain purity and realize our potential. Nonetheless, as Archimandrite Sophrony claims:
In the atmosphere of the world today, prayer requires super human courage. The whole ensemble of natural energies is in opposition. To hold on to prayer without distraction signals victory on every level of existence. The way is long and thorny, but there comes a moment when a heavenly ray pierces the dark obscurity, to make an opening through which can be glimpsed the source of the eternal Divine Light.
Even for those who are not Christian, benefits in realizing the body-spirit nature of prayer may help reveal how Christianity is not so unlike other spiritual traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism that use yoga to express the relationship between the body and spirit. However, the Jesus Prayer is not a Christian yoga. Archimandrite Sophrony discusses how, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” differs from transcendental meditation, though in our time even this Christian prayer has been distorted to seem a sort of “Christian yoga.” Sophrony argues that every culture (not only religious cultures) is concerned with ascetic exercises. While some aspects of prayer to God and meditation may appear alike, the inner content of prayer to God differs. Prayer is about freeing one’s self “by the power of God from the domination of passions” because Jesus is the only Savior, and His Name evokes actual prayer. This means, then, that meditation without His Name is not prayer. Because meditation is not prayer, the act of freeing one’s self from personal passions in order to be filled with God’s love is not the inner reality of meditation, as it is in prayer. A person is not lost but found in this union with God via prayer. The Source of Life enables one to realize her own life most actually. This matters because then one desires with all of her heart to know God, to serve Him, and to become more loving to all others.
1. Hymned at each Holy Baptism.