by Fr. John-Brian Paprock
O God, have compassion on us, and bless us, and manifest Thy presence to us, and have mercy on us. Amen.
The spiritual teachings of Eastern Christianity, the rituals and the traditions of the Orthodox Church, have a transformative power. They have been repeated on every continent, every year for centuries. In some places, they’ve been repeated for more than millennia. One can see in them a preparation of the life to come, that kingdom of peace, the restoration of the garden – a homeland we spiritually long for. One can experience in them the presence of God; a healing of the spiritual woundedness that comes from a material life in competition with God’s presence.
The practices of Holy Orthodoxy have been preserved in many ethnic churches – the most ancient of those in the East, from the Caucus Mountains, along the Nile River and following the trade routes to Southern India and China. The Syrian Church followed the Apostle Thomas into the farthest reaches of the East. The Greeks, too, followed the Apostle Andrew into the Slavic lands to the North. From a small region to the east of Mediterranean Sea, this deep and abiding spirituality has been given to the whole world, including the New World.
It is this New World that has brought about modern society, a global reality of nearly instant communication and travel beyond the speed of sound. And it is in this modern time that the ideas and spiritual teachings of the most ancient church are relevant. Yet, there is a need to bring these expressions of antiquity and ethnic idiosyncrasy into modern terms for the good of all people.
There are four themes of the spiritual life that are reflected in the Orthodox Christian year. These are important Christian concepts for spiritual development:
INCARNATION – God becomes flesh and dwells in the world. This can also be understood to be the process for God to come into one’s life or heart; for light to be born in the darkness (see John Chapter 1).
PREPARATION – In the Orthodox Church, there are several times throughout the year intended for physical, mental and spiritual preparation for an event of epic proportions – even if the event seems to be routine. The greatest of these periods is Lent, merely called “The 40 Days” in most Orthodox Churches, being the 40 days of fasting before the death and resurrection of Christ.
RESURRECTION – The resurrection of Jesus Christ after three days in the tomb is the sublime and seminal event of Christianity and in the lives of every Orthodox Christian. It is the culmination of the transformative power of Orthodox Christian life; by fasting and perseverance, those that follow the Way of Christ prepare for the life to come.
INSPIRATION – Left in the world, the Apostles of Christ waited for the Holy Spirit to come to them as a comforter and giver of the strength and power to carry the Gospel message of Christian renewal.
By aspiring to reach the spiritual ideals and struggling to live out the spiritual principles, this is a proven path of spiritual progress toward enlightenment. In Holy Orthodoxy, this process is called “theosis.”
Theosis is not just a spiritual process but it is the realization of the fullness of God in this world, now – and in the time (age) to come. This requires personal effort in moral and practical matters, as well as discipline and practice in religious activity. By participating in Holy Church, in the Divine Services, not just attending them but learning to fully participate, it is possible to see the Spirit at work in the congregation in sometimes surprisingly physical ways. To some, it may be a light; to others, a song; and still others, a fragrance. It may (be) in the ritual, the kneeling, the prostration, the singing, the praying – the fullness of God is there, and the Orthodox faithful are witnesses through time of the power of the Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Triune God) and of the mystery of the redemption and salvation of all creation.
May the Lord bless and keep you, my dear one, fully alive and fully awake in His presence. May His mercy be with us all.
Source: Introduction to the Book 'FULLY ALIVE' A collection of short sermons on living the Orthodox Christian life by Fr. John-Brian Paprock, 2010 - Holy Transfiguration Publications
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