We talk a lot about Communion; after all, communion is central to what we do as Orthodox. At each Divine Liturgy we come into communion with the living God when we approach the chalice and receive communion. This is not some mere symbol or reenactment of an event that happened thousands of years ago, we Orthodox believe that when we come forward we are approaching the “real presence” of Jesus Christ. We believe that Christ is truly present in the chalice not just a memory of Him, but him, actually present.
We have spoken of this before. Our entire Christian journey is one of communion with God. We move in and out of this symbiotic relationship each and every day. In his great book, “On the Incarnation” St. Athanasius says that “God became man so that man might become God.” He is speaking of the process of divinization, or theosis as it has become known is the slow, deliberate process where each and every day we move closer to God. This is an awesome thought, God took on our flesh, our frailty, our humanity, to show us the way for us to take on and share in His divinity. That is why we are here.
This process is deeper and much more intimate than simply “taking Jesus in your heart” this is actually becoming Jesus. Just as the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, we are called to transform our lives, not just on the outside, but all the way through to our very core.
But aside from that how do we come into communion with God?
In today’s Gospel from St. John we hear Jesus praying. This is not just any prayer, for the first time we hear Jesus praying for Himself. In this prayer He says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who You have sent.” This is eternal life knowledge of the only true God and His Son Jesus Christ. We get to know God by knowing the Son and all that He has said and done.
The Orthodox Church teaches that there are three ways we come into, and maintain, our communion with God; prayer, Liturgy, and our neighbor.
It has been said that communication is the key to any relationship. If people are not communicating with each other than knowledge of the other breaks down. We cannot know someone better if we do not understand them and that is hard to do if we are not communicating with them. Sure we can learn some things about them from others and perhaps what they have written, but if we truly want to know people, really know them, we have to have a discussion with them. This is prayer. Pray, put simply, is communication, conversation, talking and listening. It is through this process, an intimate process if you will, where God reveals Himself. God knows us, the psalms tell us that He knew us before we were born when He knit us together in our mother’s womb. God knows us better than we know ourselves, but do we know Him, His will and His desire for our lives, not our version of His will, but His will.
Knowing the will of God is not easy. Sometimes, and I put myself in this category as well, we think we are doing God’s will when in essence we are doing our will. Discerning the will of God is not easy. Our Church teaches that before we undertake any, life changing event, we need to seek the advice of our spiritual father. We believe that everything we do needs to be in the will of God, from marriage to buying a house or a car, to choosing the college that we attend, changing jobs etc. each life altering event needs to be taken to God in prayer.
Liturgy is another way we come into communion with God. The Liturgical services of the Church, and by this I am not simply talking of the Divine Liturgy, but the entire public Liturgical cycle of the Church brings us closer to God. This building is not just some building, this building, the walls, the floor, the windows, the physical structure, has all been consecrated by the bishop to God. This is a Holy Place, not just a place that is set aside to be holy, but an actual holy place. This building has been anointed with oil, just as were at our baptism and our Chrismation.
The Church teaches that each time we gather, be it formal Liturgy or a less formal time like a meeting of the parish council or a general assembly that we are meeting as Church and in a way this is a liturgical function. We being with prayer and we ask that the Holy Spirit is present with us to guide us in the work that God has called each of too. We sit here in the very presence of God. Sure God exists in all of creation, but this is where He dwells, we believe that God is physically present in this place and it is here that we physically and spiritually come into communion is a very real way, with God. This is a special place.
Finally, and I think is one of the hardest, we come into communion with God through each other. We have talked about this before but it bears repeating, we must love our neighbor. During the priestly prayer in the Liturgy of St. Basil, the priest prays for “those who love us and those who hate us” that is who our neighbor is.
Let us not forget that each and every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. No human is born evil, evil is a learned trait, no human is evil, their actions are evil, but not the person. If we ever forget that all of humanity is given as a gift from God, then we simply reduce that humanity to a thing, and when we do that we dishonor the image that is in each and every person. People, no matter where they are or what their background, deserve to be treated with dignity. No matter what the person has done to you the fact remains, they are human.
We disrespect people when we reduce them to things, liberal, conservative, rich, poor, black, white etc. we need to move past the outside and toward the inside. We need to move from the intellectual knowledge of people to a more intimate knowledge of them. Some of us show more respect for the icons in the Church then we do for the living icons that walk among us each day. We come into communion with God when we come into communion with His creation, all of it.
Jesus challenges us today to come into a deeper communion with Him and His Father. He is asking each of to take that step of faith and move closer to Him. This relationship will cost us, it might even cost us our lives, but it is the reason we have been created.