Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Together in Spiritual Community

American culture advocates individualism and self-reliance. Many Americans have applied these values to their understanding of spirituality. We tend to think that “my spirituality is just between me and God.” We don’t like trusting in or depending on others.

Our Creator didn’t design us to live as isolated human beings. He made each of us to be in relationship with other people. Even within the mysterious being of the One True God, we find three persons eternally existing in one essence: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in relationship with each other. Our Creator possesses relationship within His own being, and He has made us in His image as relational creatures. Furthermore, God has made us male and female, forming a complete humanity, each sex designed differently to complement and complete the other.

After our first ancestor’s turned away from their Creator in Paradise, the entire human race eventually drifted away from the light of the knowledge of God into spiritual darkness. Within the world’s darkness, God gathered together a group of former slaves, the Israelites, to be His own people, a people of light. For centuries, God’s presence dwelled with them, He revealed Himself to them, and He taught them the path of true religion, the spiritual way. In the fullness of time, our Creator came into the world as a human being to gather together all of humanity, both the Israelites he had chosen centuries before and every other group of people living on the earth. Jesus Christ, the One through whom all things were made, chose Twelve Apostles and built His Church upon those Apostles.

The Church was not an institution, but a family with a common Father, and a spiritual community of disciples with a common Master. The Church was an ekklesia, a sacred “assembly” of those who believed in Christ. The original Church was not an organization to be served by people, but an organic community gathered together around the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. The organization within the community served the people, not the other way around. The family included a hierarchy, with Christ at the top, but the hierarchy existed within a family, a brotherhood of believers, that will endure until the end. I find comfort knowing that if I am sick, someone will bring me medicine. If I am also hungry, someone will bring me food too. If I need conversation, there is a close friend within the Church, my family, who can listen. God has brought us together, gathering us around Him, for our own good. We have not been rescued from darkness, evil, chaos, corruption, and death individually, but together as the Church. Christ has revealed Himself to His Church and will remain with her through the presence of the Holy Spirit until the end of the age. He has made her one body, His own body to minister to each other within the Church and outside to the people of the world, whom God loves. Within the Church He has kept the Orthodox Faith, the fullness of the Truth, preserved and lived for generation after generation until now.

We can’t heal ourselves of the spiritual sickness inflicting our souls and preventing us from spiritual growth. The Church is the divine hospital established on earth in the middle of human existence where we can find healing for ourselves. Christ, the Great Physician, restores us to wholeness through His Church. Only in the Church can we find the holistic medicine, called the Holy Mysteries, that purify and restore us to good health. Through the Holy Mysteries, the love and grace of God transforms our lives, bring us into union with Him, and also unites us with each other.

The Orthodox Christian Church today is the same Church founded by Christ upon the Holy Apostles generations ago. We have been called to preserve the Faith we have received and embody the Faith in the world around us, as our ancestors have done for thousands of years. As imperfect as some of us are (let me speak for myself), we live a common spiritual life and walk together down the same illumined path toward spiritual perfection (theosis), the way leading to selflessness, humility, love, healing, peace, harmony, and the open gates of Paradise.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. Photo copyright © 2004 by Dana S. Kees.