My guess would be that, for the vast majority of people, their experience with the Orthodox Church would have to do with encountering the Orthodox at a Liturgical service. We often say to people who are interested in Orthodox to “come and see” it is in seeing us that you come to know us. By being in the presence of God in the Temple and letting the sights, sounds, and smells of Orthodox liturgy wash over you that you truly get to know what it means to be Orthodox.
Spirituality needs to be much deeper than just the surface. I often use the image of the iceberg when I describe the spirituality of the Orthodox Church. What you see, what you encounter, is just the beginning, the very beginning of our spirituality. If you choose, you need to descend the depths of the water to see what it is all about. Orthodoxy is not a religion of the surface, as so many of the world religions are today, but it is deep and abiding faith that will transform from the inside out.
From our very creation, we were intended for a close, personal relationship with God. The writer of the Book of Genesis uses the image of Adam and Eve, our first parents, walking with God. They were in the very presence of the creator and had fellowship with Him is a way that we humans can never experience in this life. The fall of humanity was due to humanities disobedience toward God’s command. Humanity wanted to do what it wanted to do, and that led to a separation or a severing of that relationship with God.
In the third chapter, of St. John’s Gospel, John the Baptist, speaking to his followers, tells them “He must increase, but I must decrease.” On the surface, this can be taken two ways. One way is that John must personally decrease; he told his followers that he is not the Christ, and so the role of John as the forerunner needs to end so Christ’s role can begin. Another way is that we, all of us, need to decrease we need to die to self to make room for Christ in our lives.
Listening is the key that opens the door to our transformation. Earlier this year I wrote a little book called “Listening the Heartbeat of God.” I used as an inspiration for the title of this book, the image of St. John leaning on the chest of Jesus during the Last Supper. We see how John reclined against Christ he pressed his ear against the chest of the God Man Christ and could feel the warmth of His body, but he could also hear, and feel, the very heartbeat of God.
“He listened to the very center of creation and the center of life. The ancients believed that the heart was the center of our being—our very essence resided there they thought—so in this sense St. John was listening to the very essence of the Creator of all.” Listening the Heartbeat of God
Imagine what that must have been like for St. John! St. John was listening to the heartbeat of Him who created his own heart. This is the relationship we are called to have, but in order to obtain this relationship we have to set aside, as we say in the Divine Liturgy, “all the earthly cares of life” we must decrease so He can increase.
The transformation of our life involves becoming a new person, a new creation, one that no longer lives for the worldly pleasures is life, but one that lives for what comes next. We read in Scripture of the man who was continuously building larger barns to store his stuff. He would bring down one barn and build a larger one. He was more concerned with this life and paid little or no attention to the next life. This is easy to do; we want to ensure that our physical needs are taken care of, but what of our spiritual needs?
Jesus was always concerned with those around Him. He was concerned for their material as well as their spiritual needs. He always fed those who came out to hear Him speak and He calmed to storm that was raging around His apostles, but after all of this He always took time for prayer.
We see many examples of Jesus going off alone to pray, to recharge His batteries if you will, to center Himself where He needed to be and to have a conversation with God. That is what prayer is, conversation with God. Prayer is what transforms us prayer allows us time to be alone, just us and our creator. Prayer is that time when we put our ear against the chest of the Creator and listen; listen to the very essence of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Recently someone asked me how I am able to find the strength to do what priests are asked to do. The answer is straightforward, the only way I can do what I am called to do is with prayer. I need to spend that time each, and every day sitting in God presence and just listening to Him speak through the prayers of the Church and His Scriptures. The more time I spend in prayer, the more time I sit and listen, the longer I rest my head and listen to His heartbeat, the more I realize that I need to continue my transformation of my life, and that is what draws me back. My own desire to continue the conversation is what brings me back into the presence. My own desire to, walk in the presence of God, is what brings me back to prayer each time.
Dying to self takes a life time, but every journey beings with that first step why not take that first step today.