||Last Updated: Feb 8th, 2011 - 05:50:02
Source: The Missionary: The Internet Edition of St. Luke's Mission Periodical
This is an ongoing question. From the earliest days of our Lord’s ministry He was asked to show people how to pray. He was asked to show people the Father. He was asked how is it that one may attain eternal life. He, who is perfect prayer, the image of the Father, Life Eternal. Strange that He would be asked these things, that “His own” did not recognize Him as the fulfillment of all heir questions and desires. And yet, the reason people asked is because they were not looking for the right thing, in the right place.
So, when people today ask: “What is expected of me?” they first need to look into their own hearts to see if they are looking for the right things. Because without a proper desire and orientation there can be no convincing answers to the above question.
I do not presume to have all the answers myself, but I will attempt to present a guide that may help us to hear the Word of the Lord and then to know His will.
First step: repentance. By repentance I mean – in the literal sense – to change your mind; to decide to be committed to the Lord. Without true and real repentance, all of our efforts are useless, in vain. The Lord Himself said: “For where your heart is, there is your treasure, also” (Mat. 6:21). So, you must first orient your heart toward the Lord. You do that by making up your mind that your relationship with the Lord is foremost. Jesus said: “If you love your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your husband or wife, son and daughter, more than Me, you are not worthy of Me” (Mat. 10:37). Do you love Him, or is your relationship with Him a casual one? This type of self-examination is the first step.
Second step: confession. With the thought in mind that you have placed the Lord where He belongs in your life, the next step is to confess your sins and to receive the grace of Absolution. This being done, you must understand that mistakes will be made, backsliding will occur, and the temptation to return to the life with the Lord not in the forefront is expected. Not wanted, but expected. That is why the Lord established the sacrament of penance and the grace of forgiveness of sins, in the Church. He knows we will fall, but he provided for our return – we who are prodigals seeking the Lord. We can find Him, again and again.
Third step: prayer. The only way we can make the will of the Lord alive in us is by prayer. An active prayer in our lives, more important than our wedding day, or even the birth of a child. That is how important the Liturgy is.
Fourth step: Worship the Lord continually. Once you have come to this fourth step, you should be aware of the fact that there is never a time when we can put the Lord aside in our lives. So, with that in mind, we go on to what is expected of us, because we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, shed for You and for many, for the remission of sins.” There is no free lunch, as the popular saying goes. And it is true, especially with the great gift of the Eucharist. We are responsible for this gift the minute we take it. Once taken with faith and with preparation, we are called to witness to this gift of life. And the best way to do this is by example. Just recently I heard a person who was searching for a church say: “Why do the Orthodox make so many excuses for not coming to church?” Good question. I do not have a clue. If it were up to me, I would be having a service every day. But since I cannot, I do the next best thing. I make sure that nothing interferes with my worship of God. We in our parishes are called to worship Him liturgically every Saturday, Sunday, Feast day, during the four Fasts and most especially during Holy Week, Bright Week, and more often, if possible.
Fifth step: study. Everyone who considers Himself an Orthodox Christian must learn the Faith. Not just from parents and grandparents, but from the Scriptures, the hymns of the Orthodox liturgical life, the writing of the fathers of the Church, the Canons and decisions of the Ecumenical councils, and through all these things, ultimately from Christ Himself. This can only happen, though, when we make a sincere effort to study the faith, on our own and with the guidance of the Church.
Sixth step: living a Christian life. The Lord tells us who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and that we are going to be held accountable by Christ for our practice of love: are we helping our fellow brothers and sisters? (Mat. 25 – the Parable of the Judgment). Not just when we can afford to, but now, when we can lest afford to. Now is the time, not tomorrow, or when we feel like it. We are expected to live the Christian life at all times. Once we start, we cannot stop. The rewards are great, but for heaven’s sake, do not expect them here on earth. Rather live with the knowledge that they will come in abundance from the Lord when He returns in His glory.
Seventh step: remember the youth. As Christian parents, we are expected to teach our children when they are young, and we are to pray for them all our lives. This can be easy when they are still babies. The challenge comes when they begin to develop on their own and are influenced by the world around them. That is the time when a parent needs most to set the example. See to it that Christian education is understood by the child to be “at least” of equal importance as secular education. Encourage your child to serve Christ. Love them as the Lord loves you.
Eighth step: stewardship is a must. Be a Christian steward of all things that come to you. This means – give of your time, talents and money to Christ’s Church. Again, here it must be stressed, not when you are ready or can afford it, but now! Because, if you wait for the appropriate moment you will never be ready or able to afford to make an offering. You were given all that is necessary for salvation, without question. So, too, must you give without question, whenever the opportunity arises. that may mean helping out with a project, taking care of the beautification of the Lord’s house, or giving even beyond a tithe for a just and right cause, as may be needed by the local parish, the Diocese, or the National Church. Our being faithful stewards also means “giving cheerfully” (2 Cor. 9:7) and if possible in secret, not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing (Mat. 6:3-4).
Ninth step: call on the Lord! This final step can also be seen as the first. When all else fails and you feel as though you cannot see any progress in your Christian life, fall down on your knees and say: “Lord, I need help.” Then call your priest and pray with him. Remember the Lord loves you and has called you to salvation and is waiting for you. Are you coming?
Concluding remarks: Please remember that this is meant as a guide, not an end in itself. Our faith is organic. It is alive and always there, in every generation, for those who reach out. You have been invited to reach out – will you?