Being a Christian is not easy. It was not easy 2,000 years ago and it is not easy today. Jesus told us in the Gospel of John to remember that the world hated Him before it hated us (John 15:18). When we claim ourselves as Christian the world will turn against us and we have to be ready for that. Christianity is not for the faint of heart.
If being a Christian is not easy being an Orthodox Christian is even harder. It’s harder because we have a belief system that has not changed in 2,000 years. We believe that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God and that we are living Icons and that humanity needs to be respected as a gift along the entire spectrum of life. This is why the Psalmist says in Psalm 139:13, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” And there is no law created by man that can change the law of the Lord. This is why Orthodox Christians cannot support abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and war. All of these disrespect the person that was created by God.
We believe that man is fallen and as such has a propensity toward sin, but that is not the end for “God so loved the world that He have his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). We believe that Jesus is “the way” the only way to salvation. We believe that sin exists in the world and we need to turn away from sin. We believe that sin darkens the soul and estranges us from God, it does not estrange God from us, but sinning is a rejection of God. Jesus constantly pointed out people’s sins to them and showed them how to get their life back on track. God loves each of us and calls us to repent and change our lives. We are called to conform to Christ not to the world. We believe that the actions of people are sinful not the person, again they have been created in the image and likeness of God. We are called to love our neighbor, but we are not called to accept their behavior. Some have said “love the sinner hate the sin” a little simplistic but it works.
We believe that all are welcome to the Church as a place of healing and reconciliation but if your behavior is not in concert with the beliefs of traditional Christianity as revealed to us through God and the tradition of the Church, you must repent of that behavior and seek reconciliation through the Sacramental life of the Church. We believe in fasting and abstinence during certain times of the year as prescribed in Scripture as well as the tradition of the Church, not for punishment but as a tool to aid us in controlling the passions, and pointing us toward virtuous living.
We believe in traditional values such as chastity and virginity. There are only two ways to live our life; if we are not married then we are called to virginity. We are called to abstain from sexual relations until we are married. Sexual intimacy is a gift from God, but that gift, like all gifts God gives, requires responsibility. Fornication is therefore sinful and not in concert with the life of a Christian. We also hold that if married that relationship is sacramental and should remain monogamous. Sexual relations with anyone other than then the person you are married to is adultery and therefore sinful behavior. Fornication and adultery harm not only your soul but the soul of the person with whom you are having relations and cheapen the gift of human sexuality. Chastity in marriage and the single life is how true Christians are called to live.
We believe that pornography (on any level) is wrong and that making an object out of women, or men is an abomination as it disrespects the creation. When a man or a woman participates in pornography their minds turn to lustful thoughts and have the potential of leading us into sin. We objectify the person in pornography by seeing them only as an object and not seeing them as created human beings in the image and likeness of God. The person is someone’s daughter or someone’s son. Would you want your daughter or your son to be used for gratification only? In the Orthodox view of sexual intimacy it is not only about the needs of one partner but for the needs of both, the two become one flesh, as I quoted above. Your body ceases to be your own, it now belongs to the other person and theirs belongs to you. This is what true marriage is.
We still believe in traditional values that marriage is between one man and one woman as was blessed by God in the Garden at Creation and we believe that this is what Jesus was making reference too in Matthew’s Gospel, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5). We believe in the traditional definition of the family and that marriage is forever. Divorce is allowed because we are weak, but it is an abomination as is taught in Holy Scripture. We do not say in the marriage ceremony “till death do us part” as marriage is eternal. Remarriage after the death of one’s partner is rare and should not be entered into lightly. This is the reason the second and third marriage ceremonies in the Orthodox Church are different from the first one.
We believe that children are a gift from God and therefore should be cherished. Parents have an obligation, as the first teachers of their children, to instill in them a true sense of the moral life. As Orthodox Christians this means that same sex couple should not be raising children, unless of course there is no sexual relationship between them. Children need both the mother and the father in their relationship. For this reason the family is considered sacramental and a smaller version of the church, as community. Men you need to be dad’s to your children. Being a father is the easy biological part, being a dad takes work. We need fathers to be engaged in the family and to own up to their responsibility. The family needs to be of one faith and they need to worship together whenever possible. The family is under attack in our society and we need to instill in our children the values of the traditional family. However, we do understand there are reasons why fathers and mothers of their children do not live together but that does not remove the responsibility of either party. Parents need to raise their children, not television and certainly not the government.
We believe that the doctrines of our Church were established during the first seven Ecumenical Councils as revealed through the Holy Spirit and although we have a different way of expressing them today, we teach what has been handed down to us. We teach what the Church teaches not what we think, as a priest my opinion does not matter; it is what the Church teaches and has taught that matters. As such we do not change out doctrines because a majority of people believe this or that. We do not change our beliefs to make it easy for people, it is not about making you feel good, the Church should be challenging you to reach and unlock the potential that we all have to live the life and to be the people that God has called us to be!
We believe in daily prayer and Scripture reading. Talking with God, your Father is an important aspect of the life of an Orthodox Christian. I have written before about how impressed I was with the spirituality of the Romanians I met on my first trip to Romania in 1992. Their faith in God and their spirituality is what got them through years of brutal dictatorship and the hard life they were endured to live. It is what helped those who were imprisoned for the faith to endure their imprisonment and led them to pray for their captives. We need, and strive to have, a deep spirituality that will enable us to live to the potential that we have all been called to.
Being an Orthodox Christian is not easy, it requires us to reject most of what the world holds dear. It requires us to modify our life to that of Christ and His Church, but this process takes a lifetime. We believe that each person needs a spiritual father to help them along this path and we believe in complete and frequent confession. In confessing our thoughts and desires and sin we are asking God for help. Saint John of Kronstadt, said “A priest is a spiritual physician. Show him your wounds, without being ashamed, sincerely, openly, with son-like trust and confidence; for the confessor is your spiritual father, who should love you more than your own father and mother; for Christ’s love is higher than any carnal, natural love. He must give an answer to God for you.” The priest does not forgive you of your sins, only God can do that, but as a fellow sinner and traveler on the journey, the priest is there for help and assistance in the journey. Sometimes he needs to help you carry your burden, and other times he is just there to show you the way. But if the confession is not true and open, then help cannot be given. We need to teach more about confession and the reasons for it.
Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This is our cross that we have to pick up each day. This is the cross that we are called to bear each and every day and it is a commitment that we have to make each and every day. The Church exists here on earth to help us to do that. The Church needs to challenge our behavior when it goes astray not validate it.
Being an Orthodox Christian is not easy. Holding to traditional beliefs is not easy and if that makes me narrow minded, as I have been accused of in the past, then I guess I am narrow minded for Jesus told us His way was the narrow way. That is the life I chose to follow, the way of Christ, the way that has been the way for lo these 2,000 years. If you choose to follow it will not be easy, it will be hard work and you will be scorned. But if you live it to its fullest potential it is indeed a beautiful way to live.