The Orthodox Faith, Worship, and Life by Hieromonk Gregorios caught my eye when I was browsing through the St. Herman’s Monastery bookstore in California. Since I was baptized as a child, I had never been properly catechized in the Armenian Church, so I figured I could use some additional instruction. (Note: The Armenian Church is in the Oriental Orthodox branching of Orthodoxy which is deemed schismatic by the author and those in Eastern Orthodoxy because of a Christological issue.)
What is faith?
Faith is the unreserved acceptance of divine revelation and the full conviction that all things preached by the grace of God constitute the only truth. (St. Basil the Great)
When man asks something of God, he must do so with unshakeable faith and without hesitation or ambivalence, in other words, without harbouring doubts. According to the Lord’s brother James, let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for let know that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord (Jas. 1: 6-7). Those who ask something from God with faith are always heard, for Christ said: Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive (Matt. 21:22).
You need to know why you believe what you believe
The Apostle Peter urges us: always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you (1 Pet 3:115), in other words, to know how to answer anyone who asks us about our faith. St. John Chrysostom states further: ‘If Christians do not know how to answer non-believers and heretics who question them about their faith, they will say that the Christian faith is a lie.’ It is therefore unjustifiable for an Orthodox Christians not to know what he believes, especially in our own times which are characterized by an excess of diverse information.
I’m not inclined towards theological debates, but oftentimes someone—usually a Protestant—will try to finagle a debate out of me. Since I’m a public witness for Christ, I aim to educate myself on important points of doctrine.
The belief that creation happened accidentally is a delusion suffered by modern man who uses scientific achievements only to feed his egotism and distance himself from God, a foolishness worse than idolatry.
Atheism is a form of mental illness. I’ve gone through this stage as a youth along with perhaps most other Westerners, and it’s only when you snap out of atheism can you clearly see how deceived you were. You will wonder what type of state you had to be in to fall for lies that don’t even provide rational answers.
The Church will not be defeated
Since its early years the Church has endured assaults from its enemies both from without and within. From without, Jews and idolaters sought with hatred to destroy the Church, but in doing so only succeeded in strengthening it. The schisms and heresies that have arisen from within, however, have tormented the Church to an even greater extent and continue to do so.
Process of salvation
In this present life ‘we emerge from the water of Holy Baptism without sin, we receive the divine gifts through the Chrism and we live the life of Christ by partaking of the sacred Table. In the age to come we shall be “gods surrounding God” [cf. Ps. 81:1], inheriting with Him His riches, reigning with Him in His Kingdom, unless of course we willingly blind ourselves in this life and rend the royal garment. For our only contribution to the life in Christ is this: that we preserve the gifts that we have received, retain the graces bestowed on us and do not reject the crown which God by much sweat and toil has prepared for us.’
In Orthodoxy, salvation is a process. Christ tells us to endure until the end, so it is incorrect for me to say right now that I am “saved.” When I am in my resurrected body and serving God at His right hand then I can confidently tell you that I am saved. Until then, I must continually work on my salvation by living obediently to God’s will and properly using the gifts that He gave me.
If we understand that to be persecuted for Christ’s love is a divine blessing, not only will we not want to do evil to our persecutors in return, but we will even love them as benefactors of our souls.
The importance of prayer
Prayer is the strongest weapon that Christians have in their struggle against the passions. And because the Devil knows how greatly a soul is strengthened by prayer, he strives with every means possible to keep us from it.
Prayer needs the participation of the body through physical toil for it to bear fruit. A prayer ‘wherein the body does not toil and the heart is not afflicted is a miscarriage, for this prayer is without soul.’ The toils of the body contribute to the humility of the soul and then man can say to Christ, behold my humility and my toil, and forgive all my sins (Ps. 24:18)
When we try to restore human nature to its natural state through ascetic endeavours, we are met by strong resistance: firstly, from the powers of the soul, which, as we said, have degenerated and so consider their unnatural state to be normal; secondly, from the body, especially the bodily senses; and, thirdly, from the Devil, who is envious of man’s spiritual progress.
If the ascetic struggle is to bear fruit, man must fully renounce earthly pleasures and even hold life itself in contempt. Christ said, whoever comes to me and does not hate… even life itself, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26; cf. Luke 14:27 and 33).
Man’s deification is accomplished within the Church and is a gift of God. It is not something that we can bring about by ourselves. According to the holy Fathers, we ‘suffer’ deification, while it is God who enacts it. On our part we must, nevertheless, also struggle to make ourselves worthy of receiving and keeping this great gift. The first prerequisite for attracting God’s mercy and help is humility, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace of the humble (Jas. 4:6).
The further man advances in purifying his soul, the more he experiences spiritual states and the workings of divine grace. The first bitter tears of repentance turn into tears of profound peace and finally into tears of love for God. The intellect is enlightened and gradually starts seeing things, people, the whole world, in a different way. The state experienced then by man is called dispassion (apatheia). There are four types, or stages, of dispassion: ‘The first type of dispassion is complete abstention from the actual committing of sin, and it may be found in those starting out on the spiritual way. The second is the complete rejection in the mind of all assent to evil thoughts… The third is the complete quiescence of passionate desire… The fourth type of dispassion is the complete purging even of passion-free images.’ About this last type of dispassion St John Climacus writes: ‘He who has been granted such a state, while still in the flesh, always has God dwelling within him, governing all his words, deeds and thoughts.’
I would say I’m on the second type, where I still vigorously battle with prideful thoughts. It is correct that tears of repentance precede tears of love. I had not experienced the latter until my second year walking with Christ. Perhaps that is how long it took me to realize what God has truly done for me.
Overall, if you’re new to Orthodoxy or thinking of converting, I believe Hieromonk Gregorios’ book will be of great help since it presents the basics of the faith without going too deep into theology. Since I read this book when I was pretty well-versed with the Orthodox Church, it served more as a review, but it was nonetheless important to rounding out my understanding.
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