St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Orthodox Spiritual Life

ORTHODOX SPIRITUAL LIFE:
A PERSONAL VIEW

As the years go by, I realize and appreciate and cherish

  • How deeply Traditional our faith is. Orthodoxy is the ongoing historical lineage of that original movement which began at the Resurrection of Jesus Christ our God and Lord and Savior.  The resurrection is God’s cosmic victory over the forces of death and sin.  The movement embraces the sacramental life, the writing of the New Testament, the compilation of the entire Bible, church discipline and askesis, and church order.
  • How deeply Biblical our faith is. All churches would claim to be grounded in scripture.  Orthodoxy is not only grounded in scripture, it is formed by scriptural precepts and traditions other churches have long dropped or modified.  The creeds and the councils we hold in esteem and honor were the direct result of the church’s ongoing attempt to remain biblical in its faith and life.
  • How deeply sensual our faith is. Orthodoxy is not the reduction of faith to the mind or to the ear; all the senses are touched in the Orthodox Church.  Indeed the cleansing and opening of the senses which takes place in the baptismal liturgy is the foretaste of the fullness of the faith which we experience from week to week, day to day, as we recognize the materialism of our faith.
  • How deeply mystical our faith is. In the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, in the midst of this swirl of words and images and music and visual signs, the priest confesses that God the Holy Trinity is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, existing forever…”  What greater sign that, for all our efforts to wrap words around the mystery of God, our faith remains mystically bound to incompletion, because the majesty of God is so vast that our understanding will never exhaust it.
  • How deeply logical our faith is, in the sense that it rests upon the Logos, the Word of God, who is both second person of the Holy Trinity incarnate in Christ, and also the Word of Revelation.  This Logos is indeed the “medium between God the Father and humans, the light of our soul, and the master of the inner life” (Lev Gillet, Orthodox Spirituality)
  • How deeply spiritual our faith is, in the sense that it rests upon the Holy Spirit.  The term “spirituality” so bandied about today may be an empty concept, indicating merely human sentimentality.  Orthodox spiritual life is nothing if not grounded in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, whom we implore in these words: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.”
  • How deeply prayerful and meditative our faith is.  Prayer is the communication of the soul with God, as the soul is recollected from all its disparate parts and is healed.  Prayer is part of the therapy that leads us to theosis, to the fulfillment of that word of St Athanasius: “God became human in order that humans might become divine.”
  • How deeply therapeutic our faith is.  The church is a hospital for sick and injured souls, not a courtroom where we undergo judgment.  The Orthodox Church has emphasized the ongoing healing of the soul at the heart of its celebration of the mysteries of the faith.  This is central; this is basic.  Orthodoxy realizes, perhaps more than other churches, that bad faith is not a matter of wrong ideas; bad faith harms us in body and soul.
  • How deeply social our faith is. Orthodoxy teaches us to see sin as isolation rather than the infraction of an abstract law.  We are separated from the source of life and being, so that we are hampered from becoming who God intended us to be.  St Irenaeus already in the 2nd century said, “The glory of God is a human being fully realized.”  Our faith leads us in this direction, and we are in this together, for we are all members of that cosmic Body of Christ.  No one is saved in isolation; we are saved as the koinonia, in that deep sobornost which ties our lives inextricably one to another.  By the same token, the communion of saints takes on vivid meaning as we experience how deeply we are tied together with those who have died and live in the church eternal, be they family members or the saints of previous eras.
  • How deeply compassionate our faith leads us to become. St Isaac’s gift of tears is the continuation of a sensibility that is grounded in the scriptures, indeed in the life of Christ; namely, the chief end of all that we do is Love for God and Love for Neighbor.  If we say we “believe” all manner of things but this does not lead us to give the cup of cold water or feed the hungry, of what earthly good is it!  Indeed with St Isaac we weep for the pain and suffering of people, animals, birds, the creation – and even the demons.
  • How deeply unifying the faith is for our lives. Orthodoxy is about the unifying of the mind and the heart, signs of the unification of our whole lives.  This process occurs over the whole of our lives, not once and done, and ongoing purgation, enlightening, and communion with the blessed Holy Trinity mark it.

April 2006