“Orthodoxy is all about community. The fierce individualism found in much of what claims to be Christianity is in opposition to the Orthodox understanding of faith. The Church as the Body of Christ is where we are united in Christ, becoming part of community. The ancient Greek word Ecclesia literally means to be called into authentic community.
It is within the Church that our personal transformation is intimately connected with the interaction we have with others and runs side by side with our fellow believers. Ecclesia in modern usage refers to the Church and her role as a spiritual hospital, a place wherein we receive the healing that comes from Christ.
This truth is demonstrated by the fact that we are called by the scriptures to be at peace with our brethren before receiving the Holy Mysteries. We are asked to forgive others as we would be forgiven. We are even called upon by Christ to love our enemies.
Our Christian faith can not be lived in a vacuum. Our personal transformation requires working out our salvation within community. Even the confession of our sins takes place within this community, for each time we sin, we sin against the whole of the Body of Christ.”
With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon – All-Merciful Savior Orthodox Monastery – Vashon Island, WA
After reading the Abbot’s post this morning, I had to share it with all of you. He usually has something very worthwhile to say, pretty much every day. I get his posts on my Facebook page and they usually are accompanied by a wonderful Icon. Today I thought I would add the Abbot’s face, as his words just seemed so wise to me.
I have been thinking about this for quite a while now, because we have been floundering in finding a spiritual home, here in the Pacific Northwest. The words of the Abbot ring true for me, because although my faith has not wavered (and in fact, I think it is has grown stronger due to adversity in the situation we find ourselves) I do miss that rudder, that stability and confirmation you receive when you worship within a community. As a homeschooling family, we are more isolated than most families, in that we do not have the intrusiveness of the local school and its schedule invading our lives. It is also a reason many homeschoolers find themselves part of a larger homeschooling group. When our older sons were home, it did not seem so isolated, because there were three children running around. Now that we are down to just our youngest son, things are much, much quieter! I miss the interaction of weekly (and because of our schedules, quite often also during the week) time with our faith community, praying, worshiping, and helping the poor in our area. We used to attend twice weekly Evening Prayer, and one night a week we assisted in serving the poor in an evening meal. It was a joyful time…in our mind’s eye.
One of the vagaries of human nature is that man will quite often act one way and believe another. When we relocated, people we had been close to, seemingly so, were in fact what is colloquially termed, “fair-weather-friends” in that once we were “out of sight” we were most definitely “out of mind.” I believe that feigning friendship because of proximity is a form of falsehood. “Falsehood – and only falsehood – separates us from God … False thoughts, false words, false feelings, false desires – Behold the aggregate of lies that leads us to non-being, illusion, and rejection of God.” (St. Nicholas of Serbia) Within our faith communities, which is the place where we are “united in Christ” and where “our personal transformation is intimately connected with the interaction we have with others and runs side by side with our fellow believers” we work out a personal, and highly intimate, salvific journey. If this connection is a pretense, or a falsehood, this can have disastrous effects on our fellow parishioners, and ourselves. It would seem to me that if we are false with our “neighbor,” then the salvation we are working on is also based on being false; therefore our salvation itself is at stake. Trust me, the empty feeling you have when you discover people have been false, were asking, “How are you?” because it is the socially correct thing to do, makes you less likely to dive into another community. We are supposed to head to this Eccelsia, or Body of Christ, for respite, healing, love, and a sense of belonging to the Body of Christ. If we find falsehood where we thought was sincerity, then it deeply affects all of us. Because “each time we sin, we sin against the whole Body of Christ.”
And I mourn what I thought was a faith community, because there was very little “community” actually present. I treasure the friends I have, who have stuck with me as I have made this salvific journey, a journey for me that is a daily progression toward that goal we all seek – heaven; the “Beatific Vision,” the place where our intimate relationship with our God is finally, and totally, fulfilled. And I mourn those I have lost along the way, due to time, distance, or falsehood. And I mourn, also, those faith communities who struggle with people who prefer pretense to honesty, because it truly tears against the fabric of our universal Church, the Body of Christ.
Some of the most intimate encounters I have had with Christ have been in the presence of a priest or monk, and a community; more-so than I have experienced solely. One time, when a priest blessed me on the feast of St. Thomas and blessed my throat, I actually felt momentarily blinded and my throat burned. It was pretty awesome. Another moment I will always treasure was during Lent, during the Presanctified Liturgy, when our Pastor processed in with the Presanctified Gifts and the incense was strong, the singing incredible, and his vestment wafted over me, as I lay prostrate on the floor. The moment his vestment touched me, I felt an electrical shock go through me. I dared not look up, but rather, just enjoyed the “Presence” of Our Lord. The sights, sounds, and smells of faith. Later on, in fact it was weeks later, this particular priest asked me about that incident and we both fell to talking about the experience, because he had, too, felt a jolt as he processed by me. The Lord was present in His Sanctuary, in His priest, and in His people. And I miss those moments of clarity and sanctification, because I know God allows moments like those to touch us, to allow us a glimpse into His unfathomable grace. And it helps us to long for it, more fully.
When our children were very young, in fact we had just two children at the time, we were blessed to go on a personal tour of the Church and grounds in San Juan Capistrano, CA. Our tour guide was a friend who attended school there. We were about to enter the Church proper, when we were stopped, as the Norbertine priests were there, and had just ordained a new priest. Our tour guide, also being friends of the Norbertines, asked if we could slip in and just sit in the Sanctuary, as the ceremony had concluded. We were granted permission and in we went! We were lucky to sit in the first few rows and my sons were mesmerized by the incredible altarpiece and all the carved statues, the gold trim and candles glowing everywhere, and just the atmosphere of the Church. While sitting in the pews, the Norbertine choir, situated above us in an unseen Choir loft, started to chant…in Latin. My eldest son looked at me, his eyes so wide, and asked me, “Mommy, is that the angels singing?” What a precious memory that is for me. Experiences like that do not happen in a spiritual vacuum and I am blessed to have had these wonderful moments, fully feeling the presence of God. I do not mock, nor do I downplay personal prayer time, time spent solitarily communing with God. Not at all. Many ascetics have preferred caves and remote places over the centuries since the time of Christ. I remember hearing about the Stylites, who sat atop pillars! [Stylites (from Greek stylos, “pillar”, Classical Syriac: ʼasṯonáyé) or Pillar-Saints are a type of Christian ascetic who in the early days of the Byzantine Empire, stood on pillars preaching, fasting and praying. They believed that the mortification of their bodies would help ensure the salvation of their souls. The first stylite was probably Simeon the Elder, who climbed on a pillar in Syria in 423 and remained there until his death 37 years later.] I do appreciate those who feel the need to remove themselves from culture as a whole, in order to reach a more intimate relationship with God; that is completely different from someone who just doesn’t get off the couch to attend Church in some format, and opts to live their faith in a vacuum, outside of consultation or direction of a Spiritual Director of some sort, and definitely separate from a faith community. For me, having someone to consult with, who will be honest with me and tell me I am leaping off some spiritual cliff or something, and whose wisdom I value and appreciate, is a valuable aid to my spiritual journey. I just feel that I cannot do this alone. My friends keep me grounded; my spiritual adviser keeps my soul on track. I also truly believe that the Church is a spiritual hospital, where we all go to be healed of our soul’s infirmities. God grant me the wisdom and blessing to find this place, once again, where my soul and spirit will be nurtured and where my family can find welcome and peace, without falsehood and pretense!