Orthopraxia: Living a life in Christ

One of the differences between the eloquent philosophy of the Greeks and the faith of Christians is that the Greeks’ philosophy can be clearly expressed in words and understood through reading.  But the Christian faith cannot be fully grasped in this way.  For the learning of the Faith, the example of its teacher, Jesus, is indispensible, and both reading and practice of what is read are necessary.  The truths of Christian faith are better understood by practice. 

These words of Bishop Nikolai of blessed memory communicate the importance of not simply reading about the Faith, but living the Orthodox Christian Faith.  Maintaining a correct faith is of course a blessing beyond measure, but it will be of little worth if one does not manifest a love for God and all of His Creation.  For as Saint John Chrysostom preached:  “Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, yet if he lead not a right life, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation.” 

This is why Father Paisios of blessed memory taught the faithful to:

“Love Christ, be humble, do your duty, and Christ Himself will reveal your virtue to others.”  [He continues his explanation by noting that] Virtue has a rule of its own by which it will reveal a person wherever he may be.  Even if one should conceal himself, or even pretend to be a fool for Christ’s sake, virtue will definitely be revealed, even at a later time, and the stored treasure, revealed all together at last, will again help many souls; perhaps then even more.

God does reveal the virtue of some to not a few, but to the whole of Creation when He sees fit.  The saints in each generation, all of whom we call to mind on this Sunday of All Saints, provide living examples of virtue for imitation and serve as living proof that God’s likeness can be realized in practice.  Reflecting upon the virtue of the saints, those who are first and foremost holy in the sight of God and then revealed to us, Aristides the early Christian writer concludes: 

Christians walk in all humility and kindness and lying is not found among them, and they truly love one another.  They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan.  Those who have, distribute liberally to those who have nothing.  If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him as if it were their own brother, for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh but after the Spirit and in God.  If any of their own passes away from this life, and another believer sees it, he provides for the burial of the poor man.  If they hear that any one of their own is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of the believers provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him.  And if there is any among them who is poor and needy and des not have an abundance of necessities they fast two or three days that they may supply the need with available food.

Regardless of the region of the world or the years in which these holy men and women lived, as recipients of God’s Grace they choose to cooperate with the Lord, living virtuously, unto salvation.  Choosing wisely with our free will is absolutely necessary as Bishop of Gerasimos of Abydos of blessed memory explains:

Even though sanctification is God’s gift, free man is called to cooperate with divine grace and to make that free sanctification his own.  First of all, he has to recognize his weaknesses and believe that Christ is the source of his sanctification.  Secondly, he has to live a virtuous, spiritual and sacramental life in order to be united personally with Christ.  With the help of God, he checks his weaknesses and allows the Holy Spirit to direct his life according to the will of God; to form in his soul the image of Christ which helps him to become an imitator of Christ.  That was the goal Adam had to attain.

In another instance, when reflecting upon the importance of living in Christ, Bishop Gerasimos concludes:

Practicing love is life and must be expressed, practiced.  First of all, it must be expressed as practical love toward our neighbor in his daily needs.  One cannot say that he believes in the Christ of love and remain unmoved before the misfortune of his neighbor…Without practical love, faith is dead, non-existent, perhaps even satanic.  “Even the demons believe…and shudder” (Jm 2: 19), but they do not have love.

What are we to do if we fall short in expressing love, or in more general terms, living our Christian faith? St. Tikon of Zadonsk suggests:

In order to correct yourself and become a true Christian, that is Christ’s, set the holy life of Christ before the eyes of your soul, and look upon it often and imitate its example…  Beloved Christian!  You must go by the safe way if you wish to enter surely into eternal life.  What is the safe way?  Live in this world according to the example of the life of Christ.  Then live thus, and you shall be saved. 

Saint John of Kronstadt likewise provides this instruction to the faithful:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  How are we to seek first the kingdom of God?  In the following manner: let us suppose that you wish to go somewhere on any temporal business; before doing so, first pray to the Lord that he may correct the ways of your heart, and then also the present way of your body, or that he may direct the way of your life in accordance with his commandments; desire this with all your heart, and often renew this prayer.  The Lord, noting your sincere desire and endeavor to walk in accordance with his commandments, will, by degrees, correct all your ways. 

To those who preach in the Church, clergy as well as those who bear the more contemporary title of theologian, the early Christian writer Lactantius reminds us, “The things you teach cannot have any weight unless you be the first to practice them.”  In more recent years, Father Paisios taught:

Our goal is to live in an Orthodox way, not simply to speak or to write in an Orthodox way.  This is why, you see, a sermon does not inform, does not change the life of a person, no matter how good it is, unless the preacher is actually living the faith…. It’s relatively easy to think [or to speak] in an Orthodox way; to live the Orthodox way of life requires effort. 

Regardless of whether one is ordained to the deaconate, priesthood, or episcopacy or is simply a member of the royal priesthood of Christ, a distinction that each of us bears by virtue of our baptism, we are all called to live in Christ.  I therefore close with the words of Saint John of Kronstadt who offers a poetic and timeless testament as to the blessings afforded each of us by God when we choose to practice our Orthodox faith:  
If you love your neighbor, then all heaven will love you; if you are united in spirit with your fellow-creatures, then you will be united with God and all the company in heaven; if you are merciful to your neighbor, then God and all the angels and saints will be merciful to you; if you pray for others then all heaven will intercede for you.  The Lord our God is holy; be holy yourself also.