Several years ago, the monks of the monastery of Esphigmenou on Mount Athos unfurled a banner reading in Greek, “Orthodoxy or Death”. The slogan had one particular target: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the soft stands on ecumenism he and his fellow travelers had taken in recent years. The protest from the monks of Esphigmenou continues, in schism, to this day.
For each of us, the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death” has a very personal, spiritual consequence, quite apart from its jurisdictional significance. Every Orthodox Christian lives with the reality that without Orthodox Christianity – without the fullness of faith lived in our everyday lives – any one of us will undergo spiritual death. This can happen even while we going through the motions of life as a “good citizen”, or even a “good Christian”.
The Devil is not fussy about the way in which any of us are brought to this spiritual death, and the paths to death are many, as the scriptures tell us (Matthew 7:13-14). In our day, life without Orthodox Christianity offers us endless options:
• Relying on books (instead of people and experience) to teach us our faith;
• Picking and choosing our confessor or spiritual father – or not having one;
• Following a “prayer rule” that fails to stretch our limits a little bit each day;
• Holding grudges because we think we have a “right” to do so, and failing to pray for people in need;
• Assuming school and church services will be enough to prepare us (and our children) to lead a fully Christian life;
• Avoiding tithing to Christ’s Church, while we enjoy eating out, travel; entertainment, and a cell phone plan.
Death – spiritual death – is easy to come by. The fullness of Orthodox life is much more difficult. The choice is ours.