Experience of Faith is most important
I have been involved with the catechizing of adults for almost 20 years. In my experience there is only one way one becomes a true Orthodox Christian. It is by experience. There are seekers who long for the original historic Church, who want to gain the proper understanding of doctrine, or only are rebelling against a leader like the pope in the Catholic Church. Also, there are those who have married into an Orthodox family. Their interest is primarily to learn the traditions, both religious and cultural, of their spouse, to fit in, to support their spouse, and to become a dutiful mate. In none of these cases will one readily adopt the Orthodox way of life. To become a true believer requires an experience of God, an inner realization of our higher purpose and destiny. This may be aided and nurtured with a study of church history and church doctrine, but that is not sufficient.
Why do Children fall away when they become adults?
Likewise Orthodox parents frequently see their children fall away from the Orthodox way of life. This happens even though they have been brought up in the faith, attended Sunday school regularly and required to take communion each Sunday. Something changes when then become adults and begin to make choices based on their own will, they often do not continue in the way of life they were taught once they feel liberated from parental control.
So How can we bring one to a faith based on the love of God and a sincere desire to perfect oneself in their ability to live by everything Jesus has taught us?
Can we just explain it in clear and simple terms?
No! Faith is something that must be experienced and rooted in the heart. It is not something that can be grasped by the mind. Can you have a conversation about your sincere faith with someone who is not practicing the Orthodox way of life or not yet familiar with the way of the Church? What have you experienced as a result?
I always thought it was important for a person to understand the underlying idea behind any situation. So why is it that we can’t explain our faith using simple language, why we go to church and what for, and why we need to have Holy Communion and Holy Confession? How successful have you been even with close friends and relatives?
We can’t nurture a feeling of love of God with threats of fearful images?
We should not threaten them with stories about hell and eternal damnation or separation from God. They don’t now fear being separated from God. They are immersed in their own belief in the superiority of their own will. They don’t experience the need for God.
One needs to have a proper fear of God?
This is a feeling of awe, not being afraid. It includes a feeling of respect and of love. To have this proper fear requires a feeling of the presence of God in our life. This is different than the fear we feel when facing difficulties in life. This is often when one calls out to God for help, but how long does this last? What have you observed? When we face a dangerous or difficult situation we naturally think of God, but his is not necessarily the proper fear of God. It’s more self-centered.
The only way we can develop the appropriate fear of God is through a personal reconciliation with the eventuality of death. When we seriously reflect on our death, we become uncomfortable about what happens after death. This discomfort cannot be eliminated until we experience His presence, His love and the hope of eternal life He promises those who choose to follow Him. It is to no avail to try and scare someone telling them they will go to hell if that don’t do….
What is needed is this feeling of awe.
Awe is when we acquire a realization of God’s ever presence, when we experience His love. This only comes through a personal experience.
This is the basis of our problem in trying to bring others into the true faith for their salvation.
We can provide the context for this experience through the teaching of the Gospel, the understanding of proper doctrine, and the knowledge of the ascetic practices that open and cleanse our hearts of sin. The Church services when conducted in a mystical fashion, the hymnology when sung with angelic like voices, and the communal activities provided can all help. They alone still are not sufficient. We can pray that God will at some point awaken those we love to experience His presence. Once they have this personal experience of His presence and love all the teaching and practices will take on meaning. Then there will then be a motivation out of love to follow the way of life taught by the church.
Inspired by Archpriest Maxim Pervozvansky