To realize that your cares are earthly, and that they will not and cannot accompany you into eternity is already a revelation. “Dust you are, and to dust you return” the priest will pronounce at your burial. All that is earthly shall remain in the earth. That includes cares you consider so momentous that your entire focus is on them. But like everything on earth, they will change, dry up and disintegrate in time. They are not of paramount importance—salvation is. Let your cares go the way of the world. You are among the people of God reaching upward to be with the Lord in the air. Your soul wants to rise like a helium-filled balloon; but your cares are weighing you down—all around you are ascending, but you are still on the ground. Why is that?
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I remember, as a child in my particular sect, wondering why I would still sin and struggle after I was “saved.” There were times when my ponderings brought me to the conclusion I might not be saved, that the various sins I was challenged by were an indication I was without grace. That can be a terrifying thought and I think more than a few us secretly kept asking Jesus into our hearts on multiple occasions, always seeking a fresh start after we had fallen. Certainly these issues were a driving force behind many, even long term church members, coming down for the “Altar Calls” that would often close our services when I was a Baptist pastor.
In coming to Orthodox Faith, though, among the gifts given to me, interestingly enough, was the gift of being a sinner. I should explain.
It’s not that being a sinner or committing sin is a good thing in and of itself. In truth Orthodoxy has a very high standard for conduct and while, unfortunately, many Christian communities have officially redefined or even sanctioned certain kinds of sin, Orthodoxy still has the basic original list.
Even while unambiguously maintaining that list, though, Orthodoxy understands sin and struggle are part of the Christian’s life here on Earth and it freely admits it with no illusions that it could, would, or should be any different. You will fall, you will rise, and you will do it over and over again through all your life. By admitting this freely the Orthodox Faith also doesn’t require us to lie about what we face and who we sometimes are in order to belong and it has no need to redefine sin as a way to soothe a guilty soul. You also need not struggle and spiritually torture yourself trying to maintain an illusion of righteousness while hiding the burden of sin.
You are a sinner, saved, and being saved, by God’s grace. You are a traveler on a journey towards God and the path will sometimes not be as direct as it should. Despite your highest aspirations you will sometimes, or often, fall short and we’re not about to change the rules to make that challenge any less. Yet, it’s also in realizing this that we can begin the path to becoming better just like knowing what an illness is can often be the first step to recovery. This is Orthodox Faith.
Along that journey towards God, towards wholeness, towards authenticity the Church, in Christ, has provided us with gifts, sacraments, graces, and methods of healing that assist us not just in the realization of our status as sinners and strugglers, but also in the healing process. This isn’t a license, of course, to sin but rather a hope that our sins and struggles will not be the final definition of who we are and the realization of being a sinner, far from being a sign that we are without grace, is actually the place where grace comes into our lives with all of its benefits.
And therein lies the gift.
should not be the place where ethnic and racial differences and rivalries are celebrated so much as it should be the place where they are resolved in a new community, a new people, a new nation, a new race, rooted in Christ. In the Church we are not called to baptize the old but to be baptized in order to become new and that newness means that the earthly things that identify us, even if they are pleasant, are not the final definition of who we are either as people or as a Church but rather we are called to be a new nation, a new people, as a way of bearing witness in the present to the world which is to come.
sting sometimes, with an uncanny ability to expose the lies we tell ourselves and penetrate beyond the carefully crafted exteriors of our lives.
Mostly, of course, we don’t wish to be disrupted from comfort, even if that comfort is an illusion and so we resent being exposed, challenged, and corrected, even by someone we would at least theoretically understand to be the Son of God. So we create exceptions, economias, and sometimes just flat out ignore what we don’t want to hear. Perhaps that’s why we sometimes leave the Bible on the shelf, pious in its placement but largely unread. We’re afraid of what we’re going to discover, afraid of what challenge may come our way if we open it and take what Christ says seriously.
Yet the wounds our Lord may give us are not the wounds of an enemy but the wound that a surgeon must necessarily do for the greater healing. Within all of us are spiritual cancers of various kinds, and all of them left unchecked would certainly take not just our lives but our souls as well. They have to go and if we are willing to accept the diagnosis and the treatment we can recover. If we choose to ignore the path of healing then we will lose the very life we think we’re trying to protect.
An enemy will always tell you what you want to hear but a friend will, when necessary, speak the truth even if that truth is troubling, or by our thin skinned society’s obsession with constant affirmation, offensive. When Jesus gets in our faces, despite what we may think at the time, he’s neither angry nor trying to hurt us. Rather, he’s trying to help us find the life we were actually meant to have in a world of illusions so real we often mistake them for fact. There is wisdom if we understand this.