The Nonsense of Being “Spiritual But Not Religious”

Fr. Gabriel Bilas | 07 June 2020

Blessed Feast of Pentecost!

I greet you today, dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ, with the joy of the feast overflowing in my heart, and I hope that is something that you all share with me as we have reached the epilogue of our 4 months journey through Great Lent, Holy Pascha, Ascension…and have now reached the incredible celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

We come to the Church this morning and are greeted with the sight of trees and various greens decorating the icons and the rest of the temple.  This would have been a normal sight to the Apostles, who were celebrating the Feast of Shavuot, where the Hebrews would bring the first fruits of the year’s harvest into the temple, to offer them to God.  Today, throughout the world, Orthodox Christians carry on a similar tradition.  The trees and plants outside are in full bloom, and the landscape has changed from a dead winter wasteland to a scene that is full of life.  We bring that life into the temple of God to remind us of the new life that sprouts within all of us on this day, when the Holy Spirit comes down upon us and changes the outlook of our lives for all eternity.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, in his conversation with Motovilov, says that “Acquiring the Holy Spirit of God is the true aim of the Christian Life.”  All of the virtues that we build up throughout our lives…prayer, fasting, almsgiving…all of them are a means for us to shape our lives in such a way, that we allow the Holy Spirit to descend upon us so that we may become “spiritual beings.”

That word “Spiritual” is an interesting word in today’s culture. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a conversation with someone, and when I ask them what Church they go to, I sometimes get this response: “Oh, I don’t go to Church…but I am pretty spiritual.”  While I typically just smile and nod my head, what I really should be doing is to putting my arm around them and saying“My beloved…I don’t think you know what that word means…”

Spirituality has somehow, over the years, taken on this stigma that equates it to things like “trances” or “vibes”.  I get calls every once in a while like the one I got recently from someone who told me that they were a “spiritual seer”, and they “for-see” things like how there will be a gold watch that will be left on the front doorstep of the Church, that is meant for them.

Strange vibes…being one with nature…or being a person that is “spiritual but not religious”, from a Christian perspective is utter nonsense.  There is no spirituality without the Church…without Pentecost…without the Descent of THE Holy Spirit of God.

So then what is true spirituality?  We should all know what it looks like, because we not only see it, but we experience it every time we enter into the Church.  We witnessed a few weeks ago, the baptism and Chrismation of baby Theodore, a child who was literally infused with the Holy Spirit through the Mysteries of the Church. Today, after we receive the Holy Body and Blood of God within us, what do we joyfully proclaim in our prayers?

“We have seen the true light!  We have received the heavenly spirit!  We have found the true faith…worshiping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us!” 

Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, the Divine Life that we all share as a community, being possessed of and led by the Holy Spirit in all things…these are the reasons that we come to Church!  It is these things that lead us to becoming “spiritual beings!”  This is why coming to all of the services are so important. This is why missing one Divine Liturgy can completely derail one’s spiritual well-being!

When we take this tangible spirituality from the Church into the rest of the world, our perspective on life completely changes.  We begin to see things a little bit differently than those who find themselves not living a spiritual life.  I remember hearing a shining example of this difference when traveling with an Orthodox Bishop during my time at seminary.  He shared with me a story about an Orthodox Christian family who had a child who was severely handicapped.  The parents knew from the moment that he was born, that they were going to spend the rest of their lives taking care of their son, who had no hope of ever living on his own.

When the boy was 13 years old, the family was invited to a family reunion, where the son was having a particularly difficult day.  The parents, despite keeping a smile across their face, seemed to be struggling a bit. After things had settled down, one of the relatives came up to them, and while trying to be sympathetic said:

“I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you.  I just don’t understand why God would allow you and your son to live through such pain…”

The parents, who had spent the last 13 years receiving the eucharist, and participating in the Orthodox Spiritual Life replied:

“We give thanks to God for the numerous blessings our family has received in this life.  However, we are humbled to know that the greatest gift he has received from God, is that he was given to a family that would never consider him a curse, but rather a blessing that goes beyond comprehension.” 

A New Life…A new perspective…A new understanding…this is what it means to live a spiritual life, brothers and sisters…one full of the Holy Spirit.

St. Simeon tells us that it is not enough for us to simply believe that that our lives are infused with the Holy Spirit, we have to get to the point to where we can actually feel the movement and operation of Him within us, like a pregnant mother who after several weeks, becomes aware of the new life that stirs within her.

Becoming Spiritual beings…this is the true aim of our faith, and the true aim of our entire life.  A God-filled life is one that is powerful, personal, and one that changes the way we view the world.  So as we approach the Holy Eucharist, let us do what we say in almost every litany, and  ”…commend ourselves, each other, and our whole life unto Christ our God”, allowing the Holy Spirit to penetrate and mold us into truly spiritual beings!

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