Abiding in Christ

transfiguration of Christ - stained glass - orthodox-smallCome…let us be transformed this day into a better state and direct our minds to heavenly things, being shaped anew in piety according to the form of Christ. For in His mercy the Savior of our souls has transfigured disfigured man and made him shine with light upon Mount Tabor. [1]

In my last post, I attempted to emphasize the need for us to look exclusively to God as our source of love and fulfillment. Regarding the “Five Love Languages,” they are fine practices for us to edify others, but we should never expect anything in return.

That is a hard teaching, especially when society tells us the root of our problems is that we don’t love ourselves enough, which is completely wrong because truthfully we love our flesh entirely too much.

How will we ever find fulfillment if we do not take time to “love” ourselves? We do so by taking the self-emptying example of Christ, being crucified with Christ, dying in Him, and rising from the dead in Him.

In order for us to find true, lasting fulfillment, our entire being must be completely oriented to living life in Christ, which is far more than a lofty philosophical position; it is a mode of being that comes from a conscious daily effort.

HOW DO WE GET THERE?
FINDING THE RIGHT PATH

We will never enter into the fullness of Christ by following our own cleverly devised path. We must be part of the Body of Christ, that is the Church, in order to live in Christ. Abide in me, and I in you, states Christ (Jn. 15:4), and for the past 2,000 years, those who truly enter into the Orthodox Church have been entering into the fullness of Christ.

I mention that in order to disclose that I will be discussing this entirely from the perspective of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as I believe it is the truth.

ENTERING INTO THE MYSTICAL LIFE

Once baptized, a Christian dies to his flesh and begins his entry into the life of Christ. As St. Paul writes, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom. 6:3) and For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:7) Entry into the Church is the first critical step.

The baptized person is Chrismated, that is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then they are given the Divine Eucharist (holy communion).

As I have written in a prior blog, we believe that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not metaphorical nor philosophical, but actual.

Our Lord attests to this fact Himself,  

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (Jn. 6:52-56)

St. John Chrysostom explains,

As St. Paul says, we become one body and ‘members of His flesh and bones’ (Eph. 5:30)… so in order to become one body with Christ not just through a feeling of love but in actuality, let us be mingled with Christ’s flesh. This is achieved through the food which He has given us, desiring to show us the great love He has for us.” [2]

In another homily he states, “He changes us into His own Body, not in faith only but in reality. [3]

And in another place, St. Chrysostom describes our Lord’s great desire to be completely unified with us,

I am not simply joined with you; I am interwoven, I am eaten, I am attenuated little by little so that the mixing, the interweaving and the union can be greater. For things that are joined preserve their own boundaries, whereas I am interwoven with you. I do not want there to be anything between us. I want the two to be one. [4]

The above quotes may sound like lofty, pie-in-the-sky theology to some, but it is the reality which we teach, the truth which so many Christians have lived.

If the scriptures and the Church teach that Christ wants to abide in us, and he specifically does it through the mystery of the Eucharist, why is it that we do not seem to have quick results? Why is Be ye perfect still a daunting command?

UNTILLED EARTH

christ-sower1 from lukedingmanIn the well-known Parable of the Sower, Christ shows Himself as the Sower who is sowing the “seed” of the Gospel message into the “fields” (hearts) of mankind.

St. Gregory Palamas notes that the Gospel says, ‘A sower went out to sow his seed…’ But the Lord did not say that He went out to plow the human fields, or to break up the ground two or three times, dig up the roots of the weeds and smooth out the clods of earth, that is to say, to prepare our hearts for cultivation, but that He went out immediately to sow. Why? Because this preliminary work on our souls prior to sowing ought to be done by us.

That is why the Forerunner…says ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Matt. 3:3), and ‘Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matt. 3:2) Our preparation and the starting point of repentance is blaming ourselves, confession, and abstention from evil. [5]

For this reason, we Orthodox Christians fast and have a lengthy prayer rule while preparing to receive the Eucharist.  Our efforts, when met with the grace of God and humility, prepare the stone and thorn-filled fields of our hearts to receive the King of Glory.

There is nothing magical about any of the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church. Unlike what I believed in my Protestant years, God does not hover over us with a magic wand, awaiting the right words from our mouths, a perfect prayer, or a moment of emotional ecstasy before He will suddenly change us.

My heart is a field full of thorns, stones, and weeds.  Perhaps one week I resist temptation, repent when I fall short, and practice a few virtues.  As long as I am not proud of myself, I am cleaning the field a little.  Grace trickles into these areas, sometimes completely unnoticed by me.

At the Transfiguration of our Lord, the Church teaches that our glorious Lord’s appearance was limited to the extent to which the disciples were able to bear Him. [6]  It is still that way with us.

BABY STEPS TO FULLNESS

Thou hast taken me captive with longing for Thee, O Christ, and hast transformed me with Thy divine love. Burn up my sins with the fire of the Spirit, and count me worthy to take my fill of delight in Thee, that dancing with joy I may magnify both Thy Comings, O Lord who art good. [7]

Once we begin the grace-filled path of preparing our hearts to receive God through the virtues and mysteries of the Church, we will find that God begins to pervade our being as much as we are open to Him.  This trickling of Christ’s presence into our hearts fills us with an even greater longing to enter into Him.  Through this grace-filled presence, we begin to understand that the “love” that the world offers us is a cheap decoy that will never beget true life and beauty in our soul.

With an even greater fervor, we may find that we run to Christ in attempts to continually be at prayer, that we become more sensitive to our sinful state of being, and that we slowly begin to shun worldly attachments for more glimpses into the greater pleasures of paradise.

In such a state, the Church becomes our haven, our home.  As St. Nektarios wrote, The Church is God’s Kingdom established upon the earth.  And quoting St. John Chrysostom he stated, It is a place of angels, a place of archangels, the Kingdom of God.  The Church is heaven itself, and, The Church rejuvenates, refashions, and transforms man into a true icon of God. [8]

As lofty as it sounds, this is the call of every Christian: to enter into the Church; to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord through prayer and the virtues; to be filled with His grace through the mysteries; and to commune with Him, the angels, and the saints in this age and the age to come.  There is one Body of Christ, and as we mystically enter into it, we become aware of the Lord and His saints who are perpetually contemporary with us.

It is a daily struggle, but it is far from impossible.  God is with us and He eagerly bestows His divine help to those who are at least making some effort to be cleansed and purified.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. (Heb. 12:1)


END NOTES:

[1] Small Vespers of The Transfiguration. Festal Menaion, Mother Mary & Met. Ware, pg. 468
[2] Homily on John, 46.2-3. Quoted from The Divine Liturgy, Hieromonk Gregorios, pg. 23
[3] ibid. On Matthew 82.5
[4] ibid. On 1 Timothy, 15.4, pg. 24
[5] Homily 47.13, St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pg. 371
[6] Apolytikion (troparion) of the Transfiguration, Festal Menaion, pg. 477-8
[7] Second Canon of Matins for the Transfiguration, ibid, pg. 494
[8] Christology, St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, pg. 250-252

 

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Jeremiah

Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.

5 thoughts on “Abiding in Christ”

  1. I love the connection St Gregory Palamas makes between the parable of the sower and St John the Forerunner!

  2. Bless Jeremiah … Will remember you in Prayer … learning much … also from Protestant background … as far as the East from the West .. and NEVER the two shall meet … God Bless …

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