Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"orthodox" or "Orthodox"

Over the years, I've come to learn that one can call oneself by a name, but in all actuality not really be what they say they are.

Of course, sinful humans find that happening all the time for themselves, thus we pray "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner."

That doesn't mean that we get a pass, though.

In my former life it was just as apparent as it is now. I'd visit a parishioner, one whose name was "on the books," so to speak. They were "Lutheran." And they would loudly proclaim it. But, they had no clue what a Lutheran was or was supposed to be. Often I'd hear, "I'm a Lutheran, even though I don't go to church, because my Uncle was .... (change the family relationship, it doesn't matter) an elder, (or it could be pastor, or teacher, or whatever). That is to say, in all reality, they were "lutheran" but not "Lutheran."

That can be said for many who claim to be "Christian." They are "christian" but not "Christian." Over my six plus decades, I've met all kinds of people who tell me they are "Christian." "I'm a Christian because I am not Jewish." "I'm a Christian because all Americans are Christians." The list goes on, and you get the point.

However, the fact remains: calling oneself something doesn't really mean that one IS what one says one is.

And that is serious business.

We can and do proclaim that we are Orthodox, don't we? We are baptized, chrismated, and perhaps we even attend the Divine Liturgy on a fairly regular basis. We may even give some money and serve on this or that committee. All of those things are indeed part of what it is to be Orthodox, to be Christian.

However, the larger question might be phrased this way: Have we indeed denied self, taken up our cross, and our we following Jesus, every moment of every day?

That's a question that makes me nervous, as it probably does you. Truth is, we do NOT always deny self, and we'd just as soon NOT take up that cross ... and more often than not Jesus, and our life in Him, is "fit in" where it can be between work, home, sports, TV, and the list goes on.

Confessing these things doesn't mean that we can merely continue on doing things as we have.

What to do?

Seek God! Pray daily, regularly, in the disciplines of the Church. Speak to your Priest and receive his direction. Make these things a priority -- it may well mean that we don't watch as much TV, and it may mean that the party invitation is sometimes refused, or we say that we have to be late. Get up in the morning, Pray, make the sign of the holy cross, do your prostrations, venerate the Holy Cross and your icons.

Fast! Actually, our Lord didn't make this an option, a nice, quaint religious practice to be used when convenient. Fasting and prayer go together. The fasts and feasts of the Church Year guide us in living in such a way that we go give glory to God for all things ... and that we receive them with His blessing, using them and enjoying them in His blessing. The gifts are NOT the gods (although it is very easy to live that way). Fasting should be done with the direction of a spiritual father, but I dare say that we often don't seek the guidance of our spiritual father because then we reason that we don't have to fast. Fasting is part of taking up one's cross, by the way.

Give Alms! Almsgiving is part of loving one's neighbor as oneself. It is part of taking up the cross. It is part of self denial. It means that when we look at our neighbor or our neighbor in need, we see Crhist and would serve Him. It isn't about the recognition, or the rewards, or the payback (Let's see: if I give $10 then eventually I'll get $100 back!)

To be Orthodox is to be Christian. It is to give glory to God in all things and for all things. It is to seek Him and to live in the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit, as we give not only lip service but life service in the name of Jesus within Holy Mother Church.

In an interview on Ancient Faith Radio, Mother Gabriella of Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI was speaking of her childhood in Romania. She commented on how her family lived the fasts and feasts of the Church Year -- as a matter of course, from the heart. She speaks also of growing up under Father Paisios. In her school years, she sought his direction. He told her to pray the Jesus Prayer during the day when she thought of it, and morning and evening to pray the Our Father and to make 12 prostrations. It was a simple direction, but in her words, not so easy to do, and often she would report to Father that she had failed. But, that didn't mean that she should stop working at it.

Living in Christ isn't an easy thing. We will often fall and fail. And we go to Him for forgiveness and blessing that comes from the Holy Trinity. But failing and falling doesn't mean that we ignore or make excuses. It doesn't mean that we have a pass, that we can just claim the name and let everything else rule in our lives. We pray and live with St. Paul: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

When what we claim with our lips is lived in our lives we will indeed say "Glory to God for all things!"

And, we will be on the path from being "orthodox" to being "Orthodox!"

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